Me and Arsenio

I believe it was a divine appointment.

Obviously, it wasn’t on my calendar. I was at the hospital because of a church member’s emergency.

So, neither my hospital appearance nor my conversation with Arsenio was planned by me.

With the restrictions in place, I wasn’t allowed to proceed with typical pastoral ministry. I was stuck outside the ER, waiting with family members for details to develop.

After a few minutes of standing around, I walked to the nearest bench and sat while I continued to wait. I’m not a highly talkative person by nature, but somehow I sensed the need to begin a conversation with the young man that approached. I made an observation about his t-shirt, and then he sat down on the far end of the bench.

It took another question or two, but then I listened and learned a whole lot about Arsenio. He was an African American man in his early 30s, and it was clear to me that he loved his family. It was also clear to me that he had seen his share of struggles. But we soon found common ground as he showed me pictures of his beautiful children.

It didn’t come out in conversation that I’m a pastor or minister of the Gospel until the end of the conversation. I’ve found these encounters to be more productive if I don’t lead with that information.

Me and Arsenio talked about religion, politics, and racism. While I didn’t agree with all of his opinions, I respected his right to have viewpoints that were different from mine.

One thing that disturbed me was that others had obviously hurt him with the Bible. He saw it as an instrument to control others with fear. Carefully, I did assert that reading the Bible for oneself was the only way to find true freedom.

At one point in the conversation, I sensed something important. I stopped Arsenio, and I told him. “I can tell your mother raised you to respect other people regardless of what they look like and not judge them before you get to know them.” He confirmed my estimation of his character and his godly mother.

When the next short lull in the conversation appeared, I looked over at Arsenio. I said, “You know, we’re not following the rules this world has tried to set in place. We’re not supposed to be talking with each other. I think we’re supposed to hate each other.” He gave a slight smile in agreement before he opened up even more.

I’d already learned that Arsenio had brought his sister-in-law to the ER because she had rather quickly fallen ill and needed treatment. But that wasn’t the most pressing concern of his heart.

Arsenio explained, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but I need to.” He proceeded to tell that just a few nights ago, his younger brother had attempted suicide. He was still hospitalized in a different hospital with his mouth wired shut. The failed attempt involved a firearm. Arsenio was heartbroken with a wide range of emotions he was still processing.

We both sensed the appointment was almost over, but Arsenio reached out to shake my hand. At that moment, I wasn’t about to withhold my hand. A handshake is often the most godly gesture of respect and compassion that could be exchanged between two men. I assured him that I would be praying for him, his brother, and his family.

I believe it was a divine appointment for Arsenio and me. God knew where we’d both be on that Friday evening. He also knew what we’d both need. Arsenio needed compassion and someone that would listen to his concerns without rushing to judgment. I needed to show compassion and be a gentle witness of the Good News.

For the record and just in case you’re wondering. As a responsible citizen of the God’s Kingdom and my local community, of course I cleaned my hands as soon as possible. I like to maintain clean hands and a pure heart for all life’s appointments.

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