As a way to connect with locals and backpackers in the community, YWAM Byron Bay hosts weekly events in the park, serving free pancakes and quality chai. Last week I experienced “Pan-Chai” night for the first time.
I began the night working at the chai station for a few hours, then someone took over for me so I could go mingle with everyone in the park. I recognised a man I had served chai, so I went up and started a conversation with him.
Little did I know that we would talk for over and hour and a half!
We started talking and I shared with him that I was passionate about my love for Jesus, and I wanted to share that with everyone around me. He disclosed that he “wasn’t religious” so we didn’t dwell much more on the topic of Jesus or religion.
After I changed the subject, I discovered that he was in his late 50’s and had lost his wife of 27 years just last year. I could sense the pain in his heart as he shared that part of his story, and I told him that I would pray for him on that date in February, which really touched him. He explained to me that he was finally fulfilling a dream that he’d had since he was 18, to hitchhike along the coast of Australia for two months. He was one month in, and he entertained me with many hilarious stories of all the people he had met on his journey so far. My favourite was definitely the “mango man” who picked him up in an old, beat-up ute (pickup truck) that was stuffed full of mangoes.
As we conversed, I felt Holy Spirit nudge me to bring up the topic of religion again. I simply asked him how he came to the conclusion that he wasn’t religious, and so began the discovery that he knew almost nothing about the Bible, and what he did know came from “The Simpsons”, not a very accurate source, to say the least! I was able to share a little bit with him about the bible, but mostly I just shared with him why I’m not a religious person either. I shared that I have a personal relationship with Jesus, and I don’t do things to get approval from God.
I do things like serve pancakes and chai because I love God, and I want people to know His love for them.
At this point, I remembered that on a table near where we were serving the “Pan-Chai”, we had a stack of New Testament Bibles to give away. I told the man I would be right back and ran to get him one. When I gave it to him, I explained that the truth about Jesus was in this book, and he accepted it. I told him that my prayer was for him to read it. We continued our discussion about Jesus and religion, and I could sense a softening in his heart as I shared with him about how God is truly GOOD.
He told me that throughout his journey, he has taken videos of people he hitchhiked with or spent time getting to know, as a way to record his memories. I agreed to let him take a quick video of me, and in it, I said that we had been talking about what it meant to have a relationship with God. He said that he plans to post it on Facebook, so I pray that it will touch other hearts as well as they watch it.
As our conversation began winding down, I expressed to him once more time that my hope was for him to read the Bible I gave him and learn the truth about Jesus from it. He pulled it out of his pocket, opened it to the front page, and said to me, “Well, I will only read it if you sign it for me.” I smiled up at him and told him that I would quickly go grab a pen. When I gave it back to him, he said that because I signed it, it is now a gift, and because it is a gift he will read the entire book.
He told me that before he probably would have just thrown it into his backpack, but when he took it back from me this time he placed it in the breast-pocket of his shirt. My eyes filled with tears, and I encouraged him to start with the book of John.
As he left, he gave me a huge hug and I was able to remind him once again of how much God loves him.
I don’t know if I will ever see that man again. But sometimes our job is simply to plant the seeds. I know without a doubt that a seed was planted in his heart that night, and I hope with all my heart that as he reads the Bible, he will encounter the Living Word and discover Jesus through it.
By Jocelyn Barton
YWAM Compassion DTS Student