DaRT: Prattle, Prayers, and Practical Jokes

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Contributed by Julie Atwood.

Some people just need to talk.

“Naw, don’t need prayer for anything,” Randolph assures Natalie on this gently nippy evening after she explains to him our purpose. “Though I do believe in prayer and that God blesses what you folks are doin,’ praise the Lord.” He breaks into a huge gap-toothed grin. “I’m doin’ good, though. Jus’ on my way back from Florida, where I been to visit my sister who’s sufferin’ from a heart condition. . . .”

Would he want prayer for her? I wonder in silence as I listen to the lively exchange between him and Natalie. But shifting his weight into a more relaxed position against the bus sign, Randolph goes on chatting in a cheery tone. He seems only to need time, before his bus pulls up, to unload his life story.

Diane doesn’t want prayer either. But unlike friendly Randolph, she stiffens at the question. Raises both palms in a warding-off gesture as she fixes us with smoldering eyes. “Got too many people askin’ me that, nobody willin’ to do nothin’ for me. Don’t need no more words. Like it says in the book of James, ‘Faith without works is dead.’ ” But instead of shutting down at that point and turning away, she too keeps on pouring out her story. “What I really need is a job, an’ money so I can get the transportation I need to find one.”

“That’s kind of a catch-22 situation, isn’t it?” Natalie responds with a gaze of sympathy. But as she questions Diane further, asking her what resources she’s already tried and assuring her God does care about her situation, the young woman’s face grows only harder.

“I don’t want to look for work ridin’ no dirty ol’ bus, or drivin’ no trashy ol’ second-rate car. Want me a first-class luxury vehicle. If God can’t provide me with the best, I’ll tell Him, ‘Sorry, Lord, but I’ll just go my way an’ You go Yours.’ ”

Though she refuses a second offer of prayer, we later on—at a discreet distance—hold Diane up to God anyway, asking Him to release her from pride so she’s free to receive His love.

Some people need to talk . . . and want prayer.

“Oh, ya’ll can pray for me, all right.” Sweet Opal beams at us with all her face-lines curved up into smiles. “I’d appreciate prayer for my brother, who’s on drugs. . . .” And the spindly elderly lady launches into her life story. She shares her need for a new place to stay—“I been livin’ with my sister”—then slips into her past life. “I usta take drugs, too. . . .” Over time, she returns to her present plans. “Jus’ come down here to the cleaners’ to collect my sister’s laundry. . . .”

Somehow prayers from both of us get slipped in between Opal’s many rambling narratives. We leave her glowing with gratitude, waving friendly goodbyes before she boards her bus.

“Would you pray that I can be re-united with my kids?” Gary, peering up at us from where he’s parked on a bench in the square, speaks in a tone of gentle yearning. “They’re livin’ right now with my ex-wife. No disrespect to their mama, but I love my kids too an’ I want to be near them. . . .”

One man, much to our surprise, wants to pray.

He sits slumped in silence as Gary pours out to us his petition. An apparent stranger to us all, sharing Gary’s bench but gazing off in another direction. But as we lay hands on Gary, he straightens, turns, and lights up with a smile. Shoots out one strong brown hand and clamps it firmly upon Gary’s arm. “Hey, I’m Clyde. Can I pray for you too, brother?”

And the warmth of God’s love flows out all the stronger over Gary . . . as he’s wrapped in the unexpected agreement of three prayer partners.

Some folks remain cloaked in silence.

Like the Asian man who, when Natalie asks her question, shakes his head one fraction of an inch . . . his almond eyes veiled, his dignified face carved in stone. Or like the little man who also shakes his head . . . while grinning and flapping all his fingers by his ears.

“Can you hear us?” Natalie asks him with curiosity.
He shakes his head again, fingers still flapping.
“Can you read lips?”
Another head-shake, more finger-flapping.
“Do you know sign language?”

A more vigorous head-shake. His fingers perform a tap dance by his ears as his grin broadens and his eyes gleam with a spark of mischief.
As we finally bid him goodbye, Natalie also grins and shakes her head. “I don’t believe he’s really deaf. I think he’s just found a clever way not to engage us. But then I’ve always been a cynic.”
“I always believe everyone,” I admit. But which of us is right in this man’s case remains a mystery.

Some folks surprise us.

Like the employees at Mc Donald’s—where we’ve stopped to buy Robert, our now well-known homeless friend, his usual cup of coffee. “Let’s surprise him this time by offering him a treat of cream and sugar to go with it,” Natalie suggests. But the workers surprise us by pouring both those treats directly into the coffee cup.

When he receives his cup and takes his first cautious sip, stoic Robert—for whom coffee is the one gift guaranteed to call forth his most radiant smile—seems less thrilled than usual by how it tastes. Yet he doesn’t act too surprised. As we turn to leave, though, he surprises us. “Hey!” he calls after us, his voice alive with sudden warmth. “Say hello from me to all the other folks in your group!”

Those others—tonight Henry and Abby—are in the meantime finding out that some people just need to ask questions. At the pizza shop where they share their message of love with Buddhist Lan and Hindu Ravi, Lan engages them in countless questions about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “He wasn’t ready yet to make a commitment to following Jesus,” Abby admits later. “But he’s still curious and very interested.”

And they meet a man who needs freedom from guilt . . . Jerome, who has recently lost his father. “We never got along, and I didn’t get the chance to make peace with him before he died,” Jerome confesses with tears shimmering in his eyes. But as they lay hands on him and wrap him up in God’s love and forgiveness, he does find that peace flowing all through him.

Some folks are in a hurry and just need a little cash . . . like Ron, who’s recently been released from jail. “Thanks, man,” he says, flashing a grin as generous Henry reaches into his pockets for change. “Need to catch my train now.”

And some folks . . . especially certain prayer partners . . . need to pull an occasional practical joke.

“Where are Henry and Abby?” Natalie glances with puzzled eyes around our usual meeting place by the train stop. We’ve just dashed back in time after blessing—and being blessed—by encouraging Pastor Leon, another surprise encounter who chatted with us a bit about our common beliefs concerning praying in faith for miracles.

We wait a few minutes. “That’s strange,” Natalie muses. “It’s not usual for them to be late.” But then she nudges me, points to an oncoming train. “I don’t believe this.”

The train is on the red line—not our usual blue. Traveling south—in the wrong direction from our northward destination of Rowlett. Yet through its windows, plain as day, we spot them. The grinning silhouettes of Henry and Abby.

As the trains screeches to a stop, they both hop off. Both still grinning with mischief. Then Abby explodes into giggles. “I knew you’d have that expression on your face!” She points to Natalie in gleeful triumph. “That’s why I told Henry, ‘Let’s not call them. Let’s just go.’ ”

Turns out the pair decided to check out Union Station—only one stop away from our usual location of West End—as a prospective new place to seek out people needing prayer. They had just enough time there to engage train-hopping Ron before boarding their own train to meet back up with Natalie and me.

Maybe no great miracles happened tonight. But through giving some folks space to chat, to ask probing questions, to unload their inner struggles, or to even offer caring prayers of their own . . . and through allowing ourselves to indulge in a bit of comic relief . . . we could still see God’s love at work on this gently nippy evening in downtown Dallas.


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