Over a two-week break in the States over Christmas, I prayed about some changes the Lord wanted me to take during my last two months in Barrouallie. Some were huge (doing Bible clubs at Church instead of home) some had to do with taking better care of myself (drinking purified water) but out of them all a seemingly insignificant one had the greatest impact….making time for small talk.
Now to be perfectly honest I’m not very good at making small talk with people, actually I am terrible at it. Some of this has to do with my being an introvert at heart so it takes a while to get from the basic “good morning” to longer conversations. But I’m also task-oriented so success is evaluated by how many things I was able to accomplish, so having a long talk with someone seems like a waste of time (even when it isn’t).
This view of small talk as an interruption to productivity actually created a deeper problem that the Lord convicted me about late last month. People almost never saw me outside of the house until Bible clubs started at 3:00 in the afternoon. In a way staying inside the house was a good thing because it allowed me to focus on research for sermons or discipleship studies, communication, writing, and education. All of these things are important parts of being a pastor. But at the same time this kept me from interacting from Church members and unsaved in the community.
There were times I left the house but usually there was a specific reason for it. Anyone who saw my quick purposeful stride (they call it my American walk) and lack of eye contact would know I wasn’t interested in chatting. And without meaning to I created an idea in their mind that Pastor John wasn’t interested in talking to them.
This revelation led me to make some small but significant changes in my daily schedule:
- At least once a day I take a walk of 30 minutes at least that emphasizes stopping and talking with people
- During those walks I take the initiative in communicating with people (even if I make myself look like a moron)
- Two hours a day will be spent working in the Church building instead of home with the door open so anyone can come by and say hello
- At 5:00 every day I change into shorts and play with kids at a playground near home (good chance to chat with their parents)
As I began to leave the house more the Lord allowed me to connect with people in a deeper way
- Like a woman who sits out in front of her house almost every afternoon shelling peas, and keeps an eye on the Church for me
- A five year old boy who excitedly starts saying “Pastor!” as he sees me walk by his mothers shop and gives me a fist-bump
- A mother who brings her little girls to Bible club and sits in so she can hear the story too
- Ladies who gather to unlock the playground for the children
- Church members who gather at a local shop every afternoon
- And teachers at a local school
Its strange but since I’ve begun my morning and afternoon walks more and more people have started greeting me…I even got a “hey man whats up!” last week which is much better than “white man.” There’s definitely a time and place for privacy so that hard work can be accomplished. In my case this means the house is an impenetrable fortress from 7:00 am till my morning walk at 11:00. But after that (particularly around 1:00) my focus turns to interacting with others and building bridges into their lives.
This morning about 11:30 I sat on the front porch of a shop and talked with a lady for about five-minutes. Our conversation was filled with jokes, good-natured ribbing, and loud laughter. While this may not be the most “productive” use of my time, it’s definitely the most important.