A little over thirty years ago I met Steve Sjogren when he arrived in Cincinnati to plant a church. While the notion of kindness and servant evangelism had already been percolating in his mind, I was there when it fully “infected” his heart, and the “disease” became very “contagious” in our city.
I had invited him and another pastor, Doug Roe, to attend the Red’s game with me at the old Riverfront Stadium. Walking into the promenade, there were some Christians stretched across the walkway, pretty much forcing you to take one of the brochures they were handing out. I was later informed that the cool kids in church call these things tracts. Like most everyone that passed them, I took it silently and promptly dropped it on the ground after taking two steps. I did not think much about the swirling papers at my feet other than that they were yellow and black, the color of the dastardly Pittsburgh Pirate’s. Not Steve and Doug. They spent several innings geeking out over the document, talking about what worked and didn’t with regards to the content. I tried to focus on the game as they kept yammering away about evangelism models, whatever that was. I found it pretty annoying and made a mental note never to take a preacher to a ballgame again.
After a pretty uneventful game we left the stadium. Out on the plaza we saw an ocean of yellow and black papers swirling angrily on the ground, scattered by the wind. Then we noticed a city worker trying to clean up the Christian litter. He was cussing and muttering, ” . . .worthless church people. If they care so much about people, why don’t they clean up their mess. Now I gotta work late cleaning all this sh. . .”
The three of us were crestfallen. We saw up close and personal what demonstrating God’s love in an impractical way looked like. Doug immediately grabbed the man’s broom, I took the dustpan, and Steve began scooping up heaps of the yellow and black papers in his long arms with a jaw locked in determination. We made the man sit down, I gave him a beverage from the small cooler I always carry into the games, and we proceeded to clean the entire plaza. After we were done, we chatted with the man and offered to pray with him. We learned his story and it turned out that it was he and his wife’s anniversary and he was planning on taking her out for a burger that night, but until we showed up, he had been worried about working too late. Steve shook his head with an emphatic “no” as this man expressed his concern.
“Not only are you not going to be late to your anniversary dinner,” Steve’s face broke into its wide, infectious Scandinavian grin, “You are not taking her out for a fast food burger. You two are dining on steak, and it is all on us.”
Steve pulled out his billfold, and of course, Doug and I followed his lead. The man began to weep, and we DID church right there on the plaza of Riverfront Stadium. As we drove home, the three of us made a solemn pact to never hand out something in the name of Jesus that would be discarded as trash. Thirty years later, it would not be an exaggeration to suggest I have served thousands of people with some form of kindness and nearly every time I have simply made myself available, God has shown up faithfully, often in very powerful ways.