During my senior year at the University of Maryland, I was paid a modest stipend as president of our church’s campus ministry. Assuming I was on track to eventual full-time vocational ministry, I poured myself into staging coffeehouses and concerts, leading Bible studies, passing out tracts, and being a leader to the students who were part of our cause.
One of our activities, however, made me extremely uncomfortable, and that was street preaching. The man who had launched the ministry several years earlier was indeed an evangelist, and the leaders after him felt some compulsion to keep proclaiming the Gospel in the open air, so I did the same.
With great trepidation, I would walk out on the mall and start yelling about Jesus and the sin and degradation all around me. The worst part of it all was that people seemed to ignore me. They’d eat sandwiches, toss Frisbees, and act like I wasn’t there. Sometimes it was like being Bruce Willis in that movie The Sixth Sense where he’s dead and only one little kid can even see him. He just moved through this world, dead and ignored, and that’s the way I felt.
I was actually glad on the few occasions when atheists, militant feminists, and other antagonists would get mad and start arguing with me. At least someone was paying attention. The whole business made me so uneasy that I stopped doing open-air preaching, kept a low profile about it, and no one seemed to fault me for quitting.
One fine spring day, I was in front of the Student Union Building, far from my usual street preaching location. I sat on a bench beside another student to eat my lunch, and we starting talking. Just eating and taking interest like a normal person, I steered the conversation toward spiritual matters simply because that’s just the way I am. The guy looked at me sort of funny, and then—it seemed like he was testing me to see how I would react–he said, “I’m gay.”
I told him that the Bible didn’t condone that particular lifestyle choice, and I wasn’t tempted that way myself, but I had problems of my own because I was heterosexual and called to be celibate unless or until I was married. We kept talking, and I was very honest about how tough it was to not have sex, but how Jesus was strengthening me day by day.
He said that at least God might eventually let me have sex when I got married, whereas that wasn’t an option for him. I told him “someday” isn’t worth much today, and I suggested that we need to live life one day at a time, and “God’s mercies are new every morning.” Then I explained how sometimes God takes away not only our sins but even our temptations, but He usually doesn’t, so we become more like Christ by fighting through all those hardships. I also reminded him that Jesus didn’t have sex with men or women either.
The guy finished his lunch and had to leave, so I extended my hand and shook his. “I’m Ray Sikes,” I told him.
“I know,” he said. “I’ve seen you preaching out on the mall. Frankly, I thought you were a real asshole, but now I see you’re a pretty good guy. In fact, I think you are a real Christian, not one of those fakes.”
I thought about those times when I was preaching, when I told myself that all those silent people were actually listening as I ranted about Jesus and sin, and that God was pricking their hearts, even if they showed no response. I was at least sharing the Scriptures, which do have power, so perhaps there was some eternal value to what I was attempting.
On the other hand, sharing my life quietly with honesty and without pretense seemed to have had a more positive effect, at least with that one gay man. And I would have done that without being paid.