"I'd love to see you without clothes."
That line really caught me off guard! It's not every day someone says that to me. Ok... let's be honest... that's the FIRST time someone EVER said that to me! What was really weird, though, was the fact that it was coming from an elderly man in a motorized wheelchair...
I knew he was quite the character the first time he found his way into the coffee shop. The casual conversation led to his frustration at his physical decline. He actually had to strap his legs together to keep them both on the seat. After a few simple complaints, he shifted gears "I just have to remember... I'm not 75 anymore!"
He was determined to live as full a life as possible for as long as possible. And he always kept a positive outlook. After that first visit, he became a regular. A couple of times a week, he'd come in and drink a cup of coffee... or part of one... he really wasn't that into coffee. He admitted that he couldn't taste any difference between the best coffee and the worst. He was really there for the friendships.
He told stories of a long, adventure-filled life. From a family road trip through the Americas in a van to teaching English in Asia, where he met his current wife. I got the sense that here was a man who wanted to experience everything life had to offer.
The exclamation at the start of this story was the result of a comment I'd made about trying to keep my beard trimmed so that it didn't just cover my face and join to my chest hair in an odd kind of mane. He said he found the diversity in body hair fascinating. That's when he told me his family had been nudists when his kids were young.
The stories never stopped. And he I almost never saw him have a negative attitude with anyone. Only once. When a young, outgoing, Christian man was having a coffee with me and tried to "witness" to him. He sounded a little too much like a televangelist, with over-the-top proclamations of "the good life." The next visit the distinguished gentleman (I'd think he'd like that moniker... he made a point of telling me that he went by his full name rather than a nickname for precisely that reason), informed me that he didn't think much of that young man. His perception was that he was a "smarmy bullshitter."
That's not to say he had disdain for religion. He thought quite a bit about it, as a matter of fact. And he'd had some pretty serious mystical experiences.
One Wednesday morning, he arrived just as our prayer group was meeting. After chatting a bit, someone asked if he had any prayer requests. As a matter of fact, he'd been having unexplained pain in his knees that woke him at night. More frustrating to him was the fact that his pain required his wife to wake and assist, depriving her of rest when she needed to get to work in the morning. So we prayed. He respectfully joined the prayer time, bowing his head and crossing his heart. After prayer time, he said his knee already felt better, and he excused himself to go run errands.
That Saturday, he rolled into the shop, declaring "I'm here to report a miracle! Since that prayer meeting, I've had no pain in my knee. And my diabetic neuropathy went away, too!! I reported it to the doctor at my appointment yesterday, as well! That prayer really works. I'm coming back for more next week!"
The following week, another man wandered in, carrying his Bible and asking about meetings here. Since an ESL group was meeting here at that moment, I asked him to clarify what he was seeking. He said he'd run into a man in a motorized scooter at a bus stop who'd told him we could pray for him. Turns out our distinguished gentleman friend was telling everyone who'd listen that he'd found relief through our prayers.
A couple of months ago, at another prayer meeting, the discussion got a little "inside" and he was confused about terminology. He said he'd never really understood what people meant by "being saved." One of the prayer team explained that it was about accepting Christ as Lord and having eternal life. She asked if he knew he was in right standing with God. He said he didn't have any assurance of that. After asking if he desired to make that move, she walked him through a traditional "sinner's prayer."
Yesterday, I received word that the distinguished gentleman had passed away. I'll miss him. He never claimed "membership" in our church, and never attended a weekend service. But we connected with him, in a way no other church had opportunity. And because of that connection, we made other connections. And he told people of the power of prayer and made positive reports of God's activity in our neighborhood.
And really, that's what ministry is all about when you're a missionary pastor in a coffee shop...