Editor’s note: Today we welcome Kelly Wahlquist to the New Evangelizers blogging team!
I have never been the picture of the typical American Woman, because I loathe shopping. To me it is a waste of precious time, and thus I am completely content buying whatever the mannequin is wearing.
I own probably seven pairs of shoes, the most prominent being my sandals. They are not quite “Jerusalem Cruisers”– more like an impulse buy at Macy’s–but for as often as I wear sandals it is imperative that my toenails are painted. So when I got to the Augustine Institute in Denver to take a class in the New Evangelization, slipped on my sandals and looked down at my chipped toenail polish, I was not thrilled.
Sitting in a class on the New Evangelization by Dr. Mary Healy, the announcement that we would have to “evangelize” someone as part of our final exam didn’t really scare me. I felt contentment, perhaps even a prideful air of ease.
I recently recognized that I have spent the past five years evangelizing: evangelizing on the phone, evangelizing through social media, evangelizing in my talks, but most of all evangelizing on a plane to whomever was sitting by me.
At the time, I didn’t see what I was doing as evangelization, but rather just a joyful sharing of stories. I look back now and see that as I was giving my story, I was showing how my heart and life were transformed by the intimate relationship I found with Jesus Christ, an intimacy that I found through the love of Scripture. I realize now that I was evangelizing.
However, the last thing I should have thought was that I was responsible for this, that it was me picking and choosing who I would evangelize and when.
What I knew, but had to relearn in reading Acts of the Apostles, is that converting a heart isn’t ever because of me, it is all the work of the Holy Spirit. I am just a vessel, and a broken one at that, which He uses to proclaim the Word. I am not the cause of someone’s conversion of heart, but rather the unworthy and extremely blessed conduit of the greatest message ever, the proclamation of the Gospel -in Greek, the kyregma.
As I flew home from Denver I thought for sure I would have the same evangelizing encounter I had experienced so many times on a plane and that I would get home, write about it… and voilà, question 8 on my take-home test would be done.
God had a different plan. The man sitting next to me wasn’t really interested in talking and I was exhausted, so I arrived home thinking “opportunity missed” and fearful that I would have to create another opportunity to evangelize. Again, I wasn’t giving the Holy Spirit credit for the time and place.
I prayed for the opportunity to present itself and due to my past experiences at 30,000 feet, I was certain it would be someone of a different faith or a fallen away Catholic. As I sat in the chair getting a pedicure I reviewed my notes from my New Evangelization and the Acts of the Apostles class and went over my evangelization assignment, while those busily working on manicures and pedicures talked back and forth to each other in their native tongue, Vietnamese.
Standing up to look at what I was reading, the young girl painting my toes said in broken English, “Are you studying?” I responded that I was studying for a masters class and she immediately asked what I was getting my masters in. I replied, “Biblical Theology,” and seeing this confused her, I furthered my answer and said, “Sacred Scripture.”
Then she said something that I hadn’t heard yet in my evangelizing experiences, she said, “I’ve never heard of that. What do you mean by biblical? What is Scripture?” I sat astonished that the Holy Spirit would drop me right in front of someone who didn’t even know what the Bible was and in ear shot of several others, so I proceeded to tell her the Bible is the written word of God, but before I could go further in my explanation, the phone rang and she was off to answer it.
Walking to the table to get my nails done, I prayed that the Holy Spirit would allow me to continue the conversation and that He would give me the right words at the exact moment that she needed to hear them, but I wasn’t sure how to bluntly ask her what faith she was.
Turns out, I didn’t have to, this 22-year-old young woman sat down and the first thing she said to me was, “So you are close to God then?” That began a conversation and quite possibly a friendship.
I told her I was working on being close to God. She said she tries to pray, but isn’t very good at it, even adding, “I’m not like you.”
I laughed and said, “I’m not like me either. In fact when people I went to high school or college with hear what I do for a living, they do a double take.”
She smiled and I went on to say that my life, my prayer life, and my closeness to God all changed when I fell in love with Scripture. I asked her if she was Christian, and she said, “I’m Catholic. That’s the same thing, right?”
With a big smile I assured her it most definitely was and she told me that she and her boyfriend go to Church at St. Al’s every Sunday; yet, she had no idea what the Bible was.
I couldn’t believe it, the Holy Spirit didn’t direct me to a person of different faith or a fallen away Catholic, He led me to a practicing Catholic who didn’t know what it was she was practicing.
The conversation continued for an hour and we talked about Sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testament, how Scripture reveals God’s plan for our life, and the importance of letting God talk to us through the Bible and talking to Him through prayer.
I told her of the power of praying to Mary, why she was considered the Queen Mother, her relationship with her Son, and the purpose of the rosary, which she said her mom prayed every day, but she found it to be boring.
We spoke of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, redemptive suffering (turns out many know what it is, they just don’t have a name for it), gifts of the Holy Spirit (as she shared with me she dreams of Mary and Jesus), the Mass, the Real Presence, the Communion of Saints, and the Trinity.
As I look back, it was truly an amazing conversation with someone so hungry to learn more about her faith. We merely skimmed the surface in the 90 minutes we spent together. I encouraged her to keep praying and to perhaps just start with doing one decade of the rosary thinking of it as a meditation on an aspect of the life of Christ, like His birth; and I encouraged her to read a Gospel and learn the story of Christ. “Perhaps start with Luke,” I said. She said she wasn’t a very good reader but would listen to it on CD.
As she went to charge my credit card I frantically dug in my bag for something to give her, a rosary, a prayer card, a book, anything! Having traveled on a plane that morning, I had put my normal contents of my computer bag in my suitcase to make room for my notes and books from class. Then, I found one item, a CD by Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio called, “Why be Catholic!”
I handed it to her and said, “This is for you.” She joyfully accepted the gift and I said, “Katie, it has been really nice talking to you,” and she replied with a smile, “It has been really really nice talking to you.”
As I drove home I couldn’t help but think of Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Once home, I read the next two verses and it opened my eyes to how the Word of God meets us where we are at: But they have not all heeded the gospel; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from what is heard (and sometimes that might just be in a nail salon), and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.” (And that might just be whilst getting Miami Beet painted on your toes.)
You never know what the Holy Spirit has in store, and you don’t have to. You just need to be open to His prompting, no matter where you are.
Copyright © 2012, Kelly Wahlquist