Tim, a street pastor in Melbourne, Australia, shares this story of a “dispiriting” encounter with a man with atheist views, and what he learned from it.
Some people who notice us in Swan Street are wary, or indifferent. A few take the view that they are superior to us as Christian believers. Most, once they find out what we do, respond very positively. It is extremely rare to come across anything even remotely like actual antagonism. But it occasionally happens.
On one patrol we were accosted by a self-professed atheist, who started to denounce our Christian beliefs and behaviour. We replied politely, but it was clear that he didn’t want a discussion, he wanted to deliver a lecture. We remained polite, and eventually he departed with his friends.
It was slightly dispiriting, but when we discussed it later at our break, we agreed that engaging with people who are hostile to Christians is actually an important part of our role.
Interactions like this may well be more important than many of the more pleasant experiences we have. When we pray that God will be at work through us, we should be grateful when he sends us tasks that answer that prayer, even if they aren’t necessarily tasks we would choose!
We went back out after our break and continued the patrol, resolved to deal cheerfully with whatever happened. Right at the end of the night it looked like that resolve was going to be tested. We were watching the last patrons straggle out of a bar, checking that they were all safe, when the atheist man and his friends approached us again.
I can’t speak for my team mates but I was steeling myself for another abrasive encounter. But I needn’t have done. The man was very apologetic for his earlier behaviour, and he and his friends began asking about what we were doing.
We had a good, lengthy, discussion about spiritual issues, gave a bottle of water to one of the group who was dehydrated, and eventually parted with goodwill.
I realised that this experience was a gift to us. God was showing us that even the least promising situation may, even if we don’t know it at the time, have some small incremental effect on the people we meet. The presence of street pastors encourages an atmosphere of spiritual engagement, and even if it is not always a comfortable time, I’ve got lots to learn through it, too.