DaRT: Finding Freedom Seekers at Fair Park

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Contributed by Julie Atwood.

At first glimpse through the mild June twilight, Fair Park looks deserted. The waters of the esplanade shimmer their silent beauty between two locked buildings, undisturbed by splashing tourists. Besides the five of us, the only humans seem to be comprised of multicolored paints . . . smeared in murals across the buildings’ flanks. Or else towering sixteen feet above us, gazing down at us from noble faces carved in granite.

Cheryl glances round, points to a distant biker. The first living person we spot. “Let’s keep our eyes out for him. He might be a potential Treasure.” But when moments later he zips past us, he’s gone before we’ve uttered all our “Hi’s.”

A squirrel scurries across our path. “He’s moving more slowly,” Natalie quips with a playful grin. “Maybe he wants us to save his soul.”

“C’mon, you guys,” Cheryl exhorts us after we all laugh. “I know God called us here tonight for a reason. I received the word to get off the train at Pearl Street, where we could catch the Green Line to Fair Park.” She turns back to Natalie. “And you had that clear vision of a Ferris wheel.”

“Let’s head closer to the Ferris wheel.” Henry leads us with a firm stride in that direction.

And the moment we reach an open square, above which peeps the curve of the now-nearby giant wheel, we find them.

Three more living humans.

These young men are also bikers . . . but ones who have dismounted from their racing bikes. They’re standing huddled in a circle, gazing down intently with fingers flashing over their smartphones.

When we greet them, they all glance up and burst into smiles. At least two of them prove eager to chat, to describe to us in detail the game they’re playing. “It’s a role-playing game called Ingress. We use this GPS device to look for monuments and cultural displays around the city. When we find one we snap a picture of it, and the landmark becomes a Portal. . . .”

While Dave tries to explain the game’s basics to a baffled Natalie and Julie—who will later on agree that his phone picture resembles an exploding dandelion—Steve, his carrot-haired brother, expounds to Henry on the game’s higher-level technicalities.

As their talk moves to their own lives—Dave’s a musician, while Steve writes science fiction—their bearded friend Paul remains reserved. He says relatively little, regarding us with thoughtful eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses. But with her own technical knowledge of role-playing games, Abby draws him out with questions.

“Are you guys out here to visit anyone?” Dave asks us at length.

His question opens a Portal for us . . . to finally explain our purpose.

“Would you guys like prayer for anything?” Natalie asks the trio in turn.

“Oh, sure.” Dave shrugs in a cheerful, offhanded way. “You can always pray for my success as a musician, and for Steve over there’s success in publishing his books. He’s already got some great prospects for those, though.”

“Do you have any prayer needs that are more personal?” Natalie presses after agreeing to pray for God’s blessings on their talents. “Any of you married? Do you have families?”

For all three guys, it’s no to being married and yes to having families. But as for needing prayer—

“I’m not a religious person.” Steve rakes a hand through his carroty curls as he frowns in thought. “But if you guys really want to pray, would you mind praying for some larger issues, such as freedom and justice for this nation? Seems like all our freedoms and our rights to privacy are being taken away from us these days. Got the NSA starin’ down at us, watchin’ our every move. . . .”

“Oh, I hear you on that.” Cheryl brightens, her eyes glowing with empathy. “I often feel the same way when it comes to expressing my religious freedoms and acting out my faith. But you know, the God we serve is all about giving us freedom. . . .”

The two brothers eagerly agree with her words, while quiet Paul hangs back in seeming detachment.

“I know a guy who got stopped by a cop while he was playing our game,” Dave goes on to share. “He aimed his camera at a landmark he was gonna use for a Portal, when this cop showed up. Told him he couldn’t take a picture of the landmark ’cause it was government property.”

“Some cops do play the game, though,” Steve points out.

Dave chuckles. “Now, that’s a scary thought.”

As their conversation moves back round to games of Ingress—during which the mission of each team is to collect the most historical landmarks—Cheryl recognizes an analogy. “You guys seem to be kind of like us, the way you’re hunting for Treasures. But instead of landmarks, our Treasures are human beings God points out to us. And tonight we believe you’re the Treasures He’s led us to.” She goes on to share a number of our past divine encounters, including several healings and other miracles. . . .

“Uh, we really gotta get going soon.” Dave’s growing a bit squirmy, and he tosses a meaning glance at Steve as he mentions several of their plans.

“Oh yeah, that’s right. Well, it’s been nice meeting you folks.” The two brothers break back into friendly grins. They pump all our hands, then grab their bikes and mount them to wheel off into the twilit shadows.

Paul, their quiet friend, remains behind.

“You know, I’ve been to a lot of churches in the past where I just didn’t feel accepted. Like they didn’t approve of my tattoos.” He regards with interest the Scripture verse tattooed round Abby’s left ankle. “And there were so many rules they expected you to follow . . . including what clothes you had to wear.” He also takes note of Abby’s cargo shorts.

Abby chuckles, slapping at her shorts. “Hey, at our church even the pastor wears these things!”

As well as going barefoot, Julie muses with a grin. She remembers how at the church where she grew up, her closest friend’s bare feet split the congregation in a major controversy. . . .

“I might want to check out your church sometime.” Paul pauses, strokes his beard in thought. “You guys seem to be for real.”

“Yeah, we try to follow God and show His love to one another, rather than just making up a bunch of rules.” Cheryl nods and smiles, while Henry offers Paul a card with the address for New Horizon Vineyard.

“This Sunday we’re serving free hot dogs and ice cream,” Natalie adds. “It might be an especially easy time for you to drop by and check us out.”

“It’s a ways from where I live,” Paul observes, scanning the card. “But I just might take you up on that.”

After bidding goodbyes to our human Treasure—the most unassuming member of the trio, the one we least expected to take an interest—the group marvels over God’s unexpected ways. A barren stretch of field strewn with statues and locked buildings, with even its Ferris wheel shut down for the night, would prove a site for three seekers of freedom to collect and play their own version of a Treasure Hunt. And because we stayed to seek them out, at least one of those seekers may likely find true freedom and Treasure in real life.

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