Hello, my name is Linda, and you’re . . . ?”
“I’m from Kenya. Where are you from?”
“I’m from Texas.”
“We are out here just giving hugs as part of our mission—and here to spread God’s Word. We are from the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
And the brief conversation started. It ended with a hug. And a smile.
Linda Oyier, a 30-year-old from Nairobi, Kenya, is part of the Impact San Antonio young adult group focusing on community service in the city center this week. After morning worship and a training session involving community and prayer, about 500 Impact delegates split up to various locations in San Antonio. The group of 50 that included Oyier went to the Alamo fort to give free hugs and offer people on the street a dollar for their story.
“I wanted to do the city center project to meet different people and spread God’s Word, His love, in a simple way,” Oyier said. “To tell them that God is love—you don’t have to be in our religion to know that God loves you. We are all loved.”
The outreach involves the Impact delegates holding signs advertising free hugs—and approaching people near the Alamo. The delegates offer the hug, using it to start a conversation. Delegates are supposed to relate to, sympathize with, and encourage the people they meet—then surprise them with a dollar for participating. According to Impact city center hug coordinator Josue Peralta, delegates practiced verbal exchanges on the bus, asking each other about work or school and sharing a quick story about God in their life. “There’s no better ice breaker than giving someone a genuine, caring hug,” said 19-year-old Peralta. “And following up with a word about Christ in their lives, you’re pointing them to Christ.”
Hundreds of people were approached and engaged. A handful of men and women resting in the shade in front of the Alamo were pleasantly surprised by their exchange with one gregarious group of young delegates who doled out hugs, chatted, prayed with the group, and finally sang “Happy Birthday” to one of the men, a cancer survivor.
“It was good,” said a woman who received a hug. “And they prayed with us too. At first I said, ‘No, it’s too hot to be hugged,’ but he said it would be just a short [hug], so I said, ‘O.K.’ I liked when they asked to pray with us.”
Peralta, born in the Dominican Republic, moved to Wisconsin in 2002 and will study economics and political science at the University of Wisconsin this fall. He knows the team made a difference. He’s glad to be part of Impact and part of the city outreach: “God is good, He leads. When I got the call from the volunteer coordinator, I didn’t even let her finish speaking, and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m willing. Let’s do it.’”
Although the exchanges with Alamo passersby were short and dollars weren’t given out, the group believes the outreach was a success. The bus trip back buzzed with excitement as the delegates sang hymns.
“When it’s meeting other people, when it’s leading out and trying to get other people to fall in love with Jesus Christ, it’s just basic logic,” said Peralta. “It’s win-win; can’t lose. The Lord really blessed.”