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On Bridges and Barriers

Recently I taught at an evangelism seminar for pastors in Mexico. So much of evangelism is about building bridges and breaking down barriers in order to reach out to others on behalf of Jesus Christ. It was a good conference. Connections were made, language barriers were overcome, relationships of friendship and trust were created, and most importantly, the Holy Spirit moved and people were empowered to act.

I’m reminded of a little book of essays I received a few Christmases ago called, A Writer’s Paris: A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul by Eric Maisel. One of my favorite of Maisel’s essays is one in which he talks about the footbridges of Paris. Bridges in Paris aren’t miles long and clogged with traffic, although there are some that are purely functional – all steel and cement. Most of them, however, are short and sweet, inviting a lingering stroll with a relaxed stop to watch the world go by. Many have been there for hundreds of years, evolving from footbridges, to heavily trafficked pathways and back to pedestrian walkways.

Bridges are fascinating things. I remember seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco for the first time. What an awesome construction! And the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, with all its lights. The awesomeness of these bridges reminds me of the awesomeness of the task of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others. The gulf we need to cross can seem so great – a huge gap between our experience of the love and acceptance we receive in Jesus Christ and the experience of suspicion and rejection we often experience in the world.

Maisel’s words about the bridges of Paris teach me something about scale. He writes about writers, saying, “You want to show a war, but you must show a battle instead. You want to prove the greatness of a great love, but you can’t do it through hyperbole – you can only do it by a careful noticing of the way your lovers hold hands.” He goes on to recount a time when he found himself on the Pont Saint Louis near a 30-year-old man and his 60-year-old mother. The son was pouring out his heart to his mother. After describing their conversation, Maisel says, “The setting has allowed him to speak. This conversation never could have occurred in their living room, at the supermarket, or at the Louvre. This bridge creates a place safe enough for a boy to speak to his mother.”

Maisel is right. It’s not about the awesomeness of the bridges. It’s about the intimacy. It’s about the way the footbridge subtly draws you to the middle to stop and absorb what’s going on around you, to see how the water flows, how the streets lead to and from, how the buildings grow up and out.

It may just be that we don’t make connections between our experience of being in relationship with Jesus Christ and the experience of the rest of the world through massive efforts and structures. It may just be that it’s about the intimacy of crossing a footbridge to meet another in the middle.

Maybe evangelism is not as much about creating grand strategies and programs as it is about making connections of love and trust in the individual relationships we encounter in our daily lives. Maybe it’s not about proving the great love God has shown in Jesus Christ through hyperbole, but by noticing the way Jesus comes to us as a lover – holding our hand, easing our fears, forgiving our faults and shortcomings – loving us anyway. Maybe it’s about creating places like the bridge where the son was able to talk with his mother, places that are safe enough for us to talk about our faith, the meaning that it has brought to our lives, the difference Jesus Christ has made in our experience of the world.

We live in a time when bridges are one of our greatest needs, but barriers seem bigger and more prevalent than ever. In that kind of environment, what bridges are we able to create in our lives? What next step do we need to take to create places that are safe enough for us to talk about the deep things of our heart? What person in your life is quietly awaiting an opportunity to meet you in the middle of a bridge, to make a connection, to deepen a relationship, to hear or speak a word of faith and hope and love?


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