by Allan Weatherall
It is a rare occasion when I have cause to catch the train. Not being naturally fond of noise or crowds I usually try to avoid the city (and public transport). But some quality dad and daughter time was long overdue, so Justine (15) and I decided to take last Thursday off and catch the train into the city [Melbourne] and go to the National Gallery. My eldest daughter, Elyce (17), was going to meet some friends so she decided to join us for part of the journey too.
Why they chose to sit near us was a mystery. We would have prefered that they didn't because they were foul-mouthed and offensive. The two girls were in their teens and had matted hair, blackened eyes and numerous body-pearcings. The 4 boys were similarly bedraggled. The obvious ring-leader had orange hair, Marilyn Manson t-shirt, and was clutching a 2 litre plastic coke bottle containing some high-alcohol drink. Most of it had already been consumed. The young man opposite the ring-leader was dressed in leather and chains with a red Mohawk hair-cut. The young man who sat closest to us, opposite me and sitting next to my girls, was a slouching dark-hooded character - it appeared that the hood served as a defence against any light that might strike his face. The bottle was passed around.
The group made themselves the centre of attention on the train with their repetitious loud expletives. Most of the people on the train looked relieved that it was us that they were sitting next to and not them! They were boasting about their exploits with sex, drugs and alcohol, falling over each other, laughing and trying to outdo each other with how many times they could use the "F..." word for shock effect. If they were not drunk they were well on their way to being so. For a minute I was tempted to be intimidated until one of the girls accidentally brushed my arm and swung around quickly to apologise. What? An apology from an anarchist?! Hmmm... maybe these guys weren't real anarchists afterall. No, they were just kids! Misguided, rebellious and confused kids!
Justine, Elyce and I exchanged looks and smiled. I knew that my daughters were already praying. But looking across at my girls and then to our travelling companions, I could hardly believe the contrast. Having been homeschooled all their lives my daughters had never encountered such a shocking display of disregard for other people - or heard such profanity. They are two pristine examples of godly young Christian womanhood and purity. In the opposite isle were girls of similar age who had probably literally been everywhere and done everything imaginable - and who couldn't care less what we or anyone else on the train thought of them. The contrast could not have been more pronounced. So how could we bridge this gap and communicate on a meaningful level with these guys? But there was way too much alcohol and bravado flowing to make communication easy. We rode on in prayerful silence. At the next station Elyce got off the train and left Justine and I continue to 'enjoy' our ride.
An argument soon broke out among them. One of the girls had bought a new 'Iron Maiden' t-shirt for her boyfriend (the ring-leader) and was insisting that he try it on. He, on the other hand, did not like being told what to do, so with a string of more expletives he got up and went to stand in the gap between the carriages to enjoy a cigarette. The others joined him leaving her alone with us. She looked across at us and asked, "Why won't he f...ing try it on? He loves Iron Maiden. I bought it for him so why won't he f...ing try it on? I want to see if it fits him." Her appeal was genuine. I felt sorry for her because she seemed to be looking for love from someone who seemed quite incapable of giving it. We didn't know what to say so we quietly prayed for wisdom. The group soon came back and ended any possibility of conversation. Did we miss an opportunity? But how could we get through to them anyway? They were so very different to us.
As the train came to a stop I thought back over my youth and remembered the numerous friends I had known who died either as a result of drugs or alcohol related accidents. The hooded figure remained on the train as his companions got off, and he was looking past us waving goodbye to them on the platform. In an instant something welled up within me. Before I really knew what I was saying I spoke to him, loud enough for others to hear and said, "Are those guys your friends?"
"Yeah, they'll really cool" he replied in a surprisingly friendly tone.
"Well, take a good look at them now because they're all going to be dead by the time they're 30".
I surprised myself with what I had said. He looked at me in stunned silence. Now it was his turn to be shocked.
Before he had a chance to reply I said, "Mate, believe me, I've seen it all before. I have seen friends die from drug and alcohol abuse and unless your friends make some changes you're going to see each of them die too, one by one. And that's exactly where you're heading unless you turn your life around too. There are better ways to live... don't you know how to live better than this?"
I don't know whether it was due to my foreboding appearance and physical stature, or whether I somehow manage to communicate genuine concern in my words. I don't know whether it was the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the fact that he was now alone or whether it was because I had a pretty young girl sitting with me, but my confrontational approach worked! Much to my surprise I had his complete attention, and even more surprisingly, his respect.
I also had the attention of everyone in the train within hearing distance!
As we talked the dark hooded young man sitting opposite me opened up and showed us a different side of himself. Jason had been kicked out of home by his mother and was living with his step-father. His biological father had died 6 weeks earlier and his long-term girlfriend had called that morning to inform him that she no longer loved him. That was where he was headed on the train... to his girlfriend's place to seek a reconciliation. As we were talking she rang him on his mobile. She told him to not bother coming - the relationship was over.
Jason was heart-broken. He confessed to us that he knew he needed to change but didn't know how. He also confessed that it was his destructive ways that had destroyed his relationship due to his tendency towards drunkenness and fits of anger. We listen with sympathy and I encouraged him to get it in perspective. I shared how I had also known heart-break in my youth but was now married with kids, and how disappointments are inevitable bumps on the road of life but whatever we go through, things can get better... there is hope.
Since his plans to meet his girlfriend had fallen through, Jason was getting off at the next station. For some reason I felt constrained not to 'hit him with the gospel'. This was not an exercise in evangelism but in relationship building. Some might call it pre-evangelism but I just wanted to get to know this kid. I invited him to come and visit us sometime and told him that he would be welcome anytime at our place. I gave him my Worldview Interactive business card and told him to give me a call next time he was in the Belgrave area.
"What's this?", he said, looking at the card.
"I publish a magazine that teaches people how to live better." I said. "Jason, how you live and the things that you choose in life all come from what you believe. You need to have a good long think about what you believe... that's the first step to getting a better life". As he got up to leave he genuinely thanked us and shook my hand and said that I could expect to hear from him and put my card into his wallet.
I don't know whether I will hear from him again, but I do know that Jason heard some things from me that he needed to hear - at a critical time in his life. I know that our meeting was a divine appointment. At the next station an elderly lady gave me an indication that Jason may not have been the only one to benefit from our discussion. As she walked past she leaned over and said to us, "I hope you got through to him! Keep up the good work!"
One thing that Justine and I learned from this experience is that it is so easy to judge people based upon their outward appearance. These kids may have looked as offensive and sounded as vulgar as anyone could, yet beyond their outward appearance and behaviour they were typically human and vulnerable. They showed every sign of having the same concerns and fears that we all share, such as "Am I loved? Do I have the approval of my peers? Does anyone truly care for me? Does anyone value my love?" We may not share the same taste in clothes, like the same music or use the same vocabulary, but being different is no excuse for not prayerfully seeking to bridge the cultural divide in order to try and genuinely communicate the love of Christ.
Time and again I have found that it only takes our prayerful willingness, our availability and honest dependence on God to see wonderful things happen. Justine and I did eventually get to the National Gallery and we had a nice time. But meeting Jason was the highlight of our day... and a very educational experience!
Friday, November 10, 2006 printer friendly version | 9676 reads
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