On Friday night, I received an invitation from my friend Andrew Liemon to hand out blankets and sweaters to the homeless in Philadelphia. As we were walking through the Center City neighborhood we had some trouble finding people to give stuff to. Many homeless had been shooed into the dark corners and crevasses of the city; my guess is that this “migration” had a lot to do with city officials who want to make a good impression on the hundreds of people who come to Center City on Friday nights. During our adventures we talked about homelessness and how it’s far more complex than we’d like to admit. I wonder why society defines people by what they are without — “Home-less.”Again, at the invitation of Andrew, I rode down to Rockville, MD to photograph an evangelistic gathering coordinated by Pastor Benny Krisbianto of Nations Worship Center. It was hosted by the Chinese Bible Church of Maryland, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was told that someone very famous would be performing–a woman named Lidya Nursaid who is as well-known in Indonesia as Brittney Spears is here (but in a good way). The night before the event, she and Pastor Benny had met with the Indonesian embassy and shared the Gospel with them. A few of the officials accepted an invitation to the gathering.
As I took photos, I noticed the variety of religions and cultures represented in the audience. Though I had never heard of Lydia Nursaid, she was obviously very famous, and it reminded me how God uses art and fame to draw people to Himself. Throughout the entire weekend, I experienced an incredible amount of generosity. I realized that while it’s easy for me to be hospitable towards people I’m close to, it’s hard to extend that to people I’ve just met. Being with people from other cultures challenges me to be patient and hospitable. When we try to connect with people we don’t know, we have to communicate and this can be an awkward process. “Body language” may be 80 percent communication, but sometimes the other 20 percent can make all the difference.
After the event, I was escorted to the train station by Abraham Oetoyo, who owns a limousine company. As we were driving I learned that Abraham’s career started with a job at 7/11. I was inspired by how God blessed his faithfulness through connecting him with the right people and giving him solid ideas. When we arrived at the station I realized I had no cash with me and asked him if they accepted cards for the Metro train. He quickly pulled out his wallet and when I refused his offer of cash, he sharply responded, “We’ve got to help each other!” I accepted reluctantly, wondering how I could return his generosity.
I’ve learned this weekend that one invitation usually begets another. When Christ invites us to know him, He doesn’t just leave it there. After that initial invitation, we are called accept additional invitations to things that aren’t so comfortable. As a Euro-American Mennonite, I’ve been conditioned to decline things when they are given without strings attached, but I’ve come to realize that we’d better get used to receiving. Grace is a gift, the clothes on your back are a gift and the computer you’re viewing this through is a gift. We will spend all of eternity accepting the love of God because of one invitation. I invite you to be generous–and watch how it makes you better at receiving. Do it with more stuff than just money.