The stranger sent by God

I am a Perception Artist, which means I distort the angles at which we see, feel, hear, and understand.  Perception is a fascinating thing because it allows something to be two things at once.  Here is an amazing story of coincidence that deals with perception, and it really affected Andrea and I in a really positive way.

Recently, I was running errands in town, having just come from the gym.  Covered in sweat and smelling like weightlifting, I decided to make a pit stop at Academy Sports to look at some toys.  It was on the way, I wasn’t planning to buy anything…unless it was marked down to a price Andrea wouldn’t get mad at me for.  I’m in the aisle, comparing the intricacies of carabiner keychains and Nalgene bottles, when another man steps into the aisle to look at flashlights.  This story is RIVETING, isn’t it?  After a minute, the other guy casually asks me, “What do you play?”

“What?”  I said. 

“Are you an athlete?  What sport do you play?” he questioned. 

“Oh, uhh, no I’m not an athlete and I don’t really play a sport, but thanks!”

He then told me he asked because he manages children’s recreation and music camps overseas.  He basically attempted to witness to me as if I was a non-believer.  The exchange turned into a conversation and we both discovered that we were both in non-traditional ministry, raising support and moving towards becoming missionaries.  It was extremely cool to meet a stranger that shared so much in common with me.  He had to run, but before he left, he mentioned how raising support was difficult for people not doing the normal thing.  He and his wife just met with a friend, a rich business man in Virginia that had a passion for supporting unique ministries and that he was going to talk to him about a meeting. 

Wow.  Just like that, God seemed to show me just how uniquely he could open doors.  A very similar situation happened recently in which a complete stranger, after meeting us for one day, prayed and said he felt God leading him to give to us.  I didn’t even ask.  Sometimes God does the thing we least expect! 

So, we exchanged numbers and agreed to try and connect soon.  After our last event, this past weekend, I got back home and saw he had messaged me about getting together and meeting his wife for a couple’s date.  It was cool to not only have the possibility of God providing, but to also make friendships with new people in the area.  Yesterday, we met in town and had a great conversation!  We really clicked with them.  It was especially encouraging to talk evangelism with fellow missionaries. 

So it just goes to show you that sometimes our perception of people and situations can’t account for those random, unique coincidences.    

I hope this story encouraged you.

Because it ends darkly. 

When I perform and speak, I tell people constantly that we are targets.  Deception is the pillar by which empires are built upon.  Deception is the instrument of sin. 

As I was sitting at the table with these two new friends, I began to notice some things.  And personally, I believe it was God pointing them out to me because I definitely didn’t pick up on them at any point, and yet they all came at once, like a checklist.  When they spoke about evangelism, there was a strange vagueness.  When they spoke about God, there was ambiguity—they could have replaced God with Karma and what they were saying would have been congruent.  From a psychological angle, everything about their attitude and demeanor suggested an agenda, like there was something they were more interested in talking about but had to wait and get through the soft talk first so as to build rapport. 

At the opportune time in the conversation, he began his script.

“So, I know we had talked about my friend in Virginia and how he supported us.  Sean, I noticed you perked up when I mentioned financial support.  That’s why I think this is something that will totally change your life.”

He launched into a script, complete with well-timed, too-witty-to-actually-be-that-witty jokes with his wife, and lots of psychological cues and techniques such as anchoring, agreement, and appeal.  And it was masterful.  This couple was incredible.  Andrea and I felt like we were at a show, watching one of the greatest performances of psychological persuasion ever.  It was art.    

We were being conned, and they saw us as “marks.” 

Fortunately for us, Andrea and I are the worst choice of victims they could make.  I know every nook and crevice of the cave.  Heck, I’m basically the boogeyman if I wanted to be.  I already found out the names of everyone in his immediate and extended family.  If I was the villain in this story, he’d be moving back in with his parents. 

They were trying to con us into fraud and racketeering that due to subtlety, is just barely legal in this country based solely on a single legal loophole that has yet to be amended.  Nonetheless, the con victimizes people and can result in theft and criminal prosecution for the “mark.” 

However, the most disturbing part of this story is that it all started with a guy witnessing to me at Academy Sports.  This whole plan started with an attempt at evangelism.  We are now convinced they intentionally prey on strangers and look to build rapport via mentioning a list of topics in their small-talk that people can relate to: sports, church, family, music, etc.  

Now the point of me writing all of this is two-fold.  First, I thought it could serve as an eye-opener into just how saturated our culture is with predators masquerading as friendly neighbors.  I’m not advocating paranoia and distrust, but I am advocating awareness.  Andrea and I personally know many, many people who have fallen prey into milder versions of this trap, as well as pyramid scams and Ponzi schemes.  It happens more than we think.  Deception is THE instrument of sin.  It’s the scalpel of lust, the axe of greed, the sword of pride.  Deceit is the papercut that begins the bleeding.  You barely notice it’s there until it gets infected. 

The second reason I wrote this is to encourage you towards the truth.  As followers of Jesus, our two jobs are aligning ourselves with the truth, and ensuring the truth is made known.  We cannot convince everyone, but we absolutely must make the truth available to them.   

As Andrea and I continue to fundraise for our mission, we are so thankful that we have people praying for us in public and in secret.  We are thankful that God provides through love, and not through greed.  And lastly, I’m thankful that God didn’t let me become the villain.

 

|| sean ||