Thinking Out Loud

May 25, 2014

The Young Girl in the Coffee Shop

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

After about ten minutes, Joe called my cell phone. It turned out that he had the name of the coffee shop right, but had gone to their west-end location. I told him that I couldn’t promise I might not go ahead and order a coffee.

Short StoriesTruth is, I don’t really drink much coffee, but this place has a non-carbonated peach drink that is a refreshing change, even if it consists of about 200% sugar.

I got us a booth near the window and tried to figure out what Joe might want to talk about. He was both a church veteran and a new Christian, if you know what I mean. The discussion could go many different directions.

The two guys in the next booth were obviously regulars. You could tell it by the way the booth seats seemed to conform to their slouching as they conversed while flipping the pages of a local, small-town newspaper.

“Check that out;” one of them said.

While pretending not to have heard, I looked up to see what had got their attention, but the only change was that a family of four — parents, a boy and a girl — had walked up to the counter. These were not regulars. They had tourist written all over them, and I almost wanted to say, ‘Hey, if you’re going to visit our town, check out one of our good coffee houses.’ 

The conversation next door continued.

“Yeah. What’s that gotta be? Twelve, thirteen?”

“I’d say eleven. Damn!”

Okay. A few things came to mind. First, this wasn’t going to be the ideal booth to sit at when Joe arrived. The place was pretty full, but I saw a guy on his last sip in a similar booth on the other side, and if I could watch for the moment he left, Joe wouldn’t be distracted by anything overheard.

Second, I glanced briefly at the young girl. Her top didn’t quite meet her jeans. Clearly the guys at the next booth had the age right. I wondered what might happen if her parents knew that right at this exact moment two perverts were staring down their daughter. The conversation got a little louder.

“What if you knew you’d never get caught?”

“Seriously? Nobody would ever know? For life?”

“Yeah.”

“Life doesn’t give those guarantees.”

“What if God Himself promised you it would be a lifetime secret between you and her?”

The guy at other booth had gotten into a newspaper story, but moved the coffee cup off to the side. I was ready to make my move and make it fast. But first, I had endure more speculative theology at the next table.

“Well sure, what guy wouldn’t?” 

“She sure is a cutie.”

Newspaper guy stood up, and as he did, so did I, swooping in like a vulture to claim the new table, sitting on the side he hadn’t. ‘Thank goodness I don’t have to listen to that conversation;’ I said to myself.

Instead, I found myself staring at the young girl and suddenly there was a voice in my head speaking like I had never heard a voice in my head before.

‘So what if I told you, you could have that girl and there would be no repercussions?’

‘Get out of my head, you stupid voice; I’m trying to get focused for my discussion with Joe.’

‘But play along, what if I told you there would never be any consequences for you?’

‘I don’t even know for sure who you are, but assuming that you’re genuinely able to make that offer, you’re forgetting that I’m married.’

‘You would never bear any — any at all — consequences. Never.’

‘Okay. I hear your offer. A fulfillment of every man’s lustful desire is it? The young girl fantasy? Granted. There would be no consequences for me. But there would be consequences for the girl. You forget there is another human being involved here.’

‘Ah! So it is. You have answered well.’

And then the voice stopped as though someone had turned down the channel on a large audio mixing board, while at the same time turning up the channel with the background sounds of the restaurant.

The girl’s father — who had to be at least six foot four — was now seated thankfully blocking my view of her completely.  Had I just passed some kind of test?

Apparently Joe had already arrived, as he showed up at the booth coffee in hand while I continued with my large cup of sugar juice.  Of all the topics Joe could have brought to the coffee shop that day, it turned out he wanted to talk about some career choices he was facing that might involve him and his wife moving a considerable distance.

“I keep weighing the pros and cons of each possibility;” he said, “but it’s like I hear voices in my head and I think it’s God speaking to me, but then seconds later it seems like it’s more like something the Devil would say, and honestly, sometimes it’s not totally crystal clear who’s who.”

“I know;” I responded. “Sometimes that can be difficult…”

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September 5, 2011

A Lesson in Humility

There are times we can be so convinced that God is leading us to do something, that even afterward, when the particular vision or project doesn’t meet expectations, it’s hard to believe that, in terms of its original goals, the project was a bit of a failure.

Many years back, I would wake up in the morning, have breakfast and brush my teeth, and somewhere between the cereal bowl and the restroom sink my brain would flash this:  “$100,000.”  I tried to interpret this in different ways.  Was it a reference to Canada’s daily Christian television show, 100 Huntley Street? No, I decided that what it meant was that I was to raise $100K for Camp Iawah.

Iawah — pronounced the same as Iowa — is an acronym for In All Ways Acknowledge Him. It’s the camp my wife and I met at, and the camp where our two boys served on staff this summer. I guess I was hoping that in the process of raising some money for them, I would be welcomed more warmly when I arrived on the property. The camp — though already a second home — would become my “Cheers” bar, where everybody knows my name and they’re always glad I came. Plus, like most parachurch ministries, they could really use the money for capital projects. Secretly, I hoped my efforts would raise $200K.

My strategy was to advertise in Canada’s national Christian magazine, Faith Today, a publication of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. To draw in interest on a national scale, I would focus on the ‘mission field’ aspect of eastern Ontario, the part of the province designated by the “K” postal code.

It’s important to note that this area stands in contrast to the relative ‘Bible belt’ of western Ontario. “K” at the time didn’t have more than 100 churches where there would be more than 100 adults present on a Sunday morning. Most of these were in major cities like Ottawa, Kingston, Peterborough, Belleville, etc. and “K” wasn’t the home of any major Christian organizations or Bible colleges.

“Name a mission field that starts with the letter ‘K'” was the tagline for the advertisements.

Yes, several ads. One for Camp Iawah. One for Northumberland Christian School, a ‘diamond in the rough’ where I had taught part-time for a year, which really needed a financial kick-start; and one for CHRI radio in Ottawa, Canada’s first-licensed commercial Christian radio station. The series of three advertisements would be a win-win-win. The magazine would be an immediate winner with some advertising revenue. My three (at the time) bookstores, also all located within the “K” code, would get fine-print mention at the bottom of the page, also ensuring a business write-off. And of course the organizations in question would be placed on the hearts of readers across the country who would respond with donations.

The first advertisement hit a bulls eye of sorts. The magazine was already running a cover story on Christian camping, and within a week, I was emailed that a family had signed up their kids for that summer. But after a couple of months, I was told, “If any donations we’ve received are a direct result of the advertisement, we aren’t aware of it.”

That was disappointing, but by then the next advertisement was already running. These were 1/3rd page display ads, and I was reminded that, “The effectiveness of any advertising campaign increases after several repetitions.” And due to a technical error, that second one got run twice. But six months in, money was neither pouring into the camp nor the school, and my attempt at raising awareness of ministry need in “K”-land was clearly flawed. I ran the third one anyway for CHRI Radio in Ottawa. After the eight month campaign, I wondered if just giving the money directly to the organizations in questions might not have been a better use of funds.

These were good advertisements, persuasive, informative and well written. So what went wrong? Here are some thoughts, you might have more to add:

  1. The first one, for the camp, was done with mixed motivation. I wanted greater acceptance there, so I sought to earn it somehow.
  2. I acted as a lone ranger, “gifting” my promotional and writing abilities to the organizations, but not working with those people to optimize the opportunity.
  3. I overestimated those same abilities, forgetting that I was, after all, a person who once held a yard sale to which absolutely no one came. A bit of a record, wouldn’t you say?
  4. I possibly needed a lesson in humility.
  5. I got confused by thought patterns like the “$100,000” thing that got stuck in my head, forgetting there are people who, every time they drive by a certain tree or stop sign on the way to work have a song that triggers in their brain for no apparently connected reason.

Since then, I’ve also learned the line, “The voices in your head may be due to the pizza you ate last night.”  But there are also some things that came out of this I need to remind myself:

  1. I did provide some needed revenue to the magazine.
  2. There was the family that signed up for camp, and apparently one that learned of the school.
  3. I will never know if some donations were sent as a direct result of the campaign but just not connected by the donors or the recipients. Or perhaps the ads served as a reminder to people who were already on the mailing list of those organizations.
  4. Despite a lack of tangible results, I did raise awareness of the needs in the “K” postal code, an area that continues to struggle.
  5. I was obedient to the vision I thought I had received with no negative complications or side-effects for pursuing that vision.

Fall is a time in ministry to dream dreams. You need to know with clarity that those dreams are God-sent, but that won’t always present itself with 100% assurance; some of it has to be a step of faith. You need to be willing to risk failure. You need to be willing to do the necessary analysis afterward to see if there’s anything you can learn. I believe that doing something is better than doing nothing.

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Camp Iawah is growing and meeting spiritual needs in the lives of hundreds each year. If someone were wanting to invest in the lives of the next generation, this ministry organization would be at the top of my recommended list.  CHRI Radio has moved from being a commercial music station to the financially-safer format of selling blocks of air-time to radio ministries, but still requires donations to meet its budget. I believe that the Christian school still faces some long-term challenges, though its larger family of schools is worthy of support. 

And yes: The magazine Faith Today continues to be published by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, our equivalent of — but not connected with — the National Association of Evangelicals in the U.S.

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