January 17, 2007

An Impromptu Witness

2007 1502 page22 capHE FAMILIAR SMELLS OF THE bookstore engulfed me as I opened the door and went in. I enjoyed the quiet solitude of the place and imagined—especially after my hectic daily schedule—that it would be a nice place to work.
“Well, Nancy, it’s official,” Lisa, the manager, called out when she saw me. “We have a ghost in the store.”
Lisa and I often chatted whenever I visited. She was friendly and outgoing, always interested in people and current events. However, the subject of religion and spiritual beliefs had never come up.
“A ghost?” I asked. “What makes you say that?”
“Strange things have been happening around here,” she said. “I’m sure it’s a ghost.”
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” I said, trying to keep the conversation light. “I believe in demon spirits and the devil, but not in ghosts.”
Explain This
“Well, how do you explain this then?” she said, and proceeded to tell me the following story. A few days before, she and a customer—the only people in the store—had stood chatting by a display window in front, when they suddenly heard a sliding noise and a thump at the back of the store. They both remained motionless for a moment, and finally the customer asked, “Aren’t you going to go see what that is?” Both women finally walked back together, only to discover that a large sign with the word “Mystery” emblazoned on it—announcing that section of reading material—had fallen off a high shelf, where, according to Lisa, it had been firmly secured.
2007 1502 page22I remained unimpressed, and I told her so, reminding her that this was California. A small tremor or a shifting foundation (especially after recent heavy rains) could have caused the fall. Even a rodent scurrying along the shelves would have been enough to trigger it.
“But there’s more,” she continued. “As we returned to the front of the store, already spooked by the incident, a book ahead of us fell off the shelf and landed at our feet; another flew out and landed a few feet away. The customer was so spooked she ran out of the store and hasn’t been back since.”
I’m a practical person by nature, not given to flights of fancy, but there was no getting around this one; something was definitely going on here. I quickly breathed a silent prayer and asked God for the right words. In moments like these, all the accumulated knowledge of my Adventist upbringing comes to the surface—so much I could say and explain—that I need God’s help to clear the clutter and see clearly the few simple words He wanted me to speak.
Seeking Answers
“Usually when something like this happens, there is a triggering event,” I began. “Have you recently delved into the supernatural or paranormal?”
“How about a palm reader or a medium—have you been seeing one?”
“No, nothing like that,” she said pensively.
I was running out of options here, and starting to consider if maybe there was no reason other than the fact that this bookstore—like most others—despite its extensive selection of inspirational and educational books, also carried a section on the paranormal and the occult. Maybe that was it. Maybe as a Christian I shouldn’t even be in a store that carried such materials. Maybe if this was the devil’s ground
I should get out of there right now. But that would exclude me from most bookstores. No, there had to be something more here.
“Is there nothing else you can think of that has been happening in your life recently?” I asked.
“Well,” she said finally, “I think I know what’s going on. I think my dead grandmother is trying to contact me.”
Okeydokey. What do I say now, Lord?
She continued: “A couple of weeks ago I started praying to her, asking her to contact me. I think this is her way of trying to reach me.”
An Opening
Lord, I need Your help here, I prayed. In that moment all that came to mind was, Keep it simple.
“You know,” I said, “the Bible tells us that we should never try to contact the dead.”
“Really? How come?” she asked.

Questions for Reflection

1. When was the last time a casual conversation turned into an opportunity to share your faith? How did it happen?

2. Which is the greater temptation—to say too much or not enough?

3. Why is it important to have a relationship with someone before getting into a detailed conversation about something as personal as religion?

Mention someone with whom Jesus had a personal conversation. What communication techniques did He use to transfer information to them? List at least three.

“Because we might inadvertently contact demon spirits.”

“I didn’t know that!” She seemed truly amazed. “Can you show me where it says that?”
Her interest was genuine.
“I can do better than that,” I heard myself say. “I can bring you a Bible study on the subject.”
“Could you really?” She was excited now. “I would be very interested in that. You know, for years I’ve been searching for the truth about God and the Bible. I grew up Catholic. My family is Italian and very Catholic. But I’ve been visiting other churches, searching for the truth. I even began attending a Bible study group on the Old Testament, but it disbanded and I’ve been missing it. I would love anything you can bring me.”
Wow! How easy was that?
“I’ll be happy to,” I said. “I work with a Christian television program called It Is Written, and I have plenty of material I can share with you.”
I thought about the encounter as I drove home in silence. Just two days before I had flown cross-country for six hours and had been unable to bring up the subject of spiritual matters with my seatmate. I had felt depressed at my inability to witness. I had even convinced myself that I was inept at it. Despite years in the ministry, despite giving countless Bible studies and helping lead others to Christ, when it came to witnessing to strangers, I was no good at it. Not like those outgoing people who engage anyone—cashiers, bank tellers, airline seatmates—in all sorts of spiritual discussions.
With this simple encounter God showed me again that He could use me in His own special way. I was reminded that I should let God lead my encounters and not worry about making them happen. I had certainly not made this one happen; it had come right to me, served up on a platter. All I had to do was be willing to let God speak through me.
When I got home there was a message on my answering machine: “Hi, Nancy, it’s Lisa. I just called to thank you for your offer. I want you to know I’m really interested.”
I had to smile; this was a first. Usually it was the other way around—me calling to confirm a Bible study and getting the run-around.
Lord, You made this happen. Give me the wisdom to lead her to You.
Nancy Costa is an administrative assistant for the It Is Written television ministry.