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Friday, September 10, 2010

I Love My Church, Starbucks II!


I’ve just dropped my car off to be serviced, and have a couple of hours of waiting, so I go to the Starbucks across the street. This is my second time at this place.

As I sip on my coffee, I notice a couple walk in together. The man walks up to the counter and after ordering his drink, he turns around and asks the lady behind her what she’d like to have. He pays for his purchase and goes to the end of the counter where he’s to pick up his order. Anyone watching the couple would have no problem assuming the two are together, but this is not the case.

When it’s the lady’s turn to order her drink, the barista tells her, “Your drink was already ordered and paid for.”

“By whom?” asks the lady with a very confused look on her face.

“By that guy,” the barrister points to the man who’d walked in before her.

The woman walks up to the guy and thanks him insisting to pay the stranger back when the man says, “Lady, I’m grateful to be alive. Riding my bike here, I almost got killed by a driver who didn’t see me. So, please accept my gift to you.” He then walks out.

“Did you see what just happened?” I ask the gentleman sitting across from me.

“No!”

I go on to explain what just transpired and finish by saying, “May God help us all to see life the way this man just experienced it.”

“Amen!” responded the gentleman.

His quick response causes me to ask, “Where do you go to church?”

It turns out that Mike is a worship leader of a very large church in the neighborhood. We hit it off very pleasantly. We spend the next two hours talking about our faith, worship and the church.

As we’re talking I notice a young lady standing in line can’t take her eyes off me. Eventually she walks up to me and says, “Do you remember me?”

I really don’t, but I fake it. “Of course, I remember you! But can’t remember your name.”

With tears in her eyes she says, “Mehri! I’ve been thinking about you so much lately.”

As soon as I hear her name, I remember her totally. Over ten years ago, she used to be one of my church members. She goes to this Starbucks often, and as fate has it today, she’s come in later than usual. If it were any other day, she would not have run into me.  I introduce her to Mike and after exchanging contact info, we promise each other to meet soon.

Eventually Mike has to leave which gives me a chance to fire up my Mac and update my status on Facebook when another young man sits next to me.

“Are you on Facebook?” he asks with his thick African accent.

“Yes, I am.”

“My name is Zach! Can I be your friend on Facebook?”

“Why do you want to be my friend? You don’t even know me.”

“I’ve never met many of my friends on Facebook. At least I’ve seen you in person.”

I find it fascinating what his generation considers friendship.

“My name is Shah. You’re from Africa, correct?” I say, as I shake his hand.

“Yes, but you’ll never guess where.

“Cote d’lvoire”

“No! Benin. I told you, you’ll never guess.”

I’m not going to argue with him about the fact that I was only a country or so off the mark.

“I have over 350 friends on Facebook, but except for a handful, I’ve never asked anyone to be my friend. They all requested to be my friends,” I continue.

“Why’s that?”

“This way, I’m assured that these people wanted to be my friends because they know who I am and what I believe, so my comments and thoughts will not offend them.”

“So, what is it that you believe?”

I know that question was going to come up, and am ready for it.

“Being from Benin, I assume you’re a Muslim,” I tell him.

“Yes, I am.”

I begin to share my testimony with him from a shame-based perspective, a culture he was raised in. He finds my life-story to be interesting and identifies with much of what he hears. He goes on to tell me about some of his Christian friends who’ve been sharing the same kind of life-stories with him.

As Zach and I are talking, I notice another old friend standing in line. I haven’t seen him for over 8-9 years. It’s good to renew our friendship.

Eventually. I get a call from my mechanic. The car’s ready, and I have to leave. As I walk across the street, I realize, “I had church at the Starbucks this morning.” I had fellowship and renewed friendships, exchanged ideas on church and worship, met some new people, and shared my faith with a Muslim man.

When was the last time you did all this at your Sunday service?

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Since our first meeting, I’ve met with Mike again, and have had the honor of being given the three CDs he’s produced. He’s one talented man of God. I also had a chance to meet with Mehri, my old church member. She’s been through a lot these last 10 years including a divorce, unsuccessful attempt to move back to Iran, the loss of all personal possession, a new, but painful start in America, and battling leukemia.

In our last meeting, after sharing all she’s been through, trying very hard to hold back tears, she said, “Pastor Shahrokh, do you remember the first day I came to your church? I’ve never been the same since. Thank you for introducing me to the Lord. Throughout these past 10 years, He’s been my only true friend. I would have never made it without him in my life.”

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I Love MY Church, Starbucks I


The Bible college where I teach is an hour away from my house. To avoid the morning rush hour, I leave home early, which gets me to the college an hour before my class starts. I spend the hour in the neighborhood Starbucks where I get my tall “Awake” with a maple scone, and get a chance to review my teaching notes for the day.

On this particular day, as I sit down, I notice the young lady sitting across from me is reading her Bible. I automatically assume she’s one of my Bible college students, and ask her, “Whose class are you studying for?”

“It’s a Lit. class,” she tells me.

I’m confused. I know there are no literature classes at the college I teach.

“Do you go to LIFE?”

“What’s LIFE?”

“The Bible college a mile south of here.”

“No, I go to CSULA working on my master’s degree.”

“And, you use the Bible in your class?”

“Yes, one of the assignments is studying the Old Testament as a literary document.”

I’m so intrigue by the conversation, I decide to forgo reading my notes, and spend the next hour getting to know this young lady. From then on, till the end of the semester, I keep meeting with Lisa once a week at Starbucks to talk about life and The Old Testament.
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Lisa is not a believer, but her knowledge of the Old Testament would put many of my students to shame. After getting to know her well enough, I asked if she’d be willing to be interviewed by the students in my “Evangelism and Discipleship” class, which she agreed.

On the day of the interview, Lisa sat on a stool in front of the class and let the students ask her questions about her beliefs. Although she was a bit nervous at first, it all went fairly well.

After the class, a student walked up to me and said, “ProfeShah (that’s what they called me) you amaze me. You not only can walk into a Starbucks, and start a conversation with a total stranger, but you can also convince her to come before a class full of Christians and be questioned about her beliefs.”
 “As I’ve been trying to teach you, evangelism is all about a relationship built on trust. Lisa knows I’ll be her friend for life whether she ever decides to follow Christ or not,” I told him.

During the same semester, along with a group of students, Karen and I had Lisa over for a BBQ where she taught the students how to swing dance.

Throughout the years since our first meeting, I’ve continued to stay in touch with Lisa. She’s always been open to hear about my faith and how I became a follower of Christ. At the same time, she’s always made it clear that she prefers to stay a secular person, enjoying her own moral values. So, what took place next was quite a surprise to me.

Last week Lisa called me. She is getting married and she wants me to do the wedding. Apparently, her Catholic fiancĂ© wants to have a church wedding, but doesn’t want it done through the Catholic Church, so, she immediately thought about me.

I met with the couple yesterday. I feel quite honored to officiate the marriage of a young lady I met at my church, Starbucks. I'm looking forward to the privilege of sharing a Christian perspective on marriage with a group of people whom, otherwise, might have not heard it.