Riding the train home from a weekend spent with a friend, I put on my headphones and settled back, looking forward to a few hours of solitude.
The train slowed a half hour later and a single passenger boarded, a man who looked to be in his forties. Was he homeless? I couldn't help but notice his dirty, well-worn clothing and unshaven face as he lumbered up the aisle, looking for a seat. There – an empty one, but a lady hurriedly placed her purse on it and turned away. He paused, scanning the rest of the aisle. The car was nearly full, but he noticed the empty seat beside me and gratefully collapsed into it. I acknowledge him politely and turned back to the window.
“Where you headed?”
I took off my headphones and told him I was on my way home from visiting a friend. He nodded but didn't turn away.
He smelt like he hadn't bathed in a month. Ashamed of my reluctant attitude to talk to this stranger, I remembered the gospel tracts I had slipped into my purse as I packed for my trip, praying that God would provide an opportunity to give them away. The man was still looking at me. Okay God, so much for solitude – use me if you can.
“What about you? Where are you going?”
The next half hour we talked, and the stranger told me all about his broken life. He was an alcoholic. His wife couldn't take it any more and had left him. His two sons thought he was a bum and hated him. He had been fired from his job and couldn't find work. He was tired of trying to fix things, tired of being without hope. He had no money and was going to try and stay with his sister for a while.
The next station was announced. I hadn't said much throughout the whole conversation, and now his stop was next up. I fingered my purse nervously, aware of the silent passengers that sat around us, dozing or maybe listening. Help me, Father.
Taking a deep breath, I pulled out the gospel tract from my purse and gave it to him. I was surprised that my fear seemed to melt away as I launched into a condensed version of the gospel. When I finished, he leaned forward and put his head in his hands and when he sat up again and looked at me his eyes were red. Had he heard? Did he understand? He was crying – he didn't care that people were obviously all ears now. “I’m nothing!” he said simply. The train slowed as we approached his stop and he seemed at a loss for words. Cramming the tract into his jacket pocket, he stood up and then turned back. “I won’t forget this."
I couldn't see his heart or the decision that he might have made, but God knows. He arranges circumstances for a reason, and graciously allows us to be used to spread the good news of salvation, insignificant as we are…sometimes when we least expect it.