I opened the passenger door of Steven’s car, got in, and repeated the same sentence I had been saying for the past couple of hours: “They weren’t home.” Yet another mark was made on my list of addresses. After selecting our next target, I started up the navigation system on my phone. Steven and I picked up our conversation where it had left off earlier, occasionally interrupted as I relayed the directions on my phone to him. We located the house and our conversation was subjected to another suspension. I got out of the car. Knocked on the door. Waited. Walked away. Got in the car. “They weren’t home.” Repeat.
To be fair, “They weren’t home” was not the only phrase I had found the need to use after leaving a house those two afternoons. Sometimes, I got to say, “Wrong house.” And sprinkled in were phrases like, “They said maybe.” Or “They’ll think about it. I left an application with them.” (I learned in those two days that “Maybe” and “I’ll think about it” are code for I’m-really-not-interested-but-I-don’t-want-to-be-rude-and-flat-out-say-no. Confession: I would have rather them just come right out and say, “No thanks. I’m not interested.”)
It was in the middle of our first full week of the RAM mission. The rest of the team had gone to do ministry in Mangum for the week. Since Steven and I were going to be serving as youth interns for the 4th and College Church of Christ after the mission trip ended, we stayed behind in Cordell to assist the church in preparations for their camp.
Cordell Christian Camp was less than a week away. There were still open spots for campers. The youth minister, Luke, gave Steven and I a stack of camp applications and a list of addresses for families that he thought might possibly be interested in sending their kids to camp and I got my first experience in door knocking. Steven and I spent two consecutive afternoons driving around Cordell, attempting to recruit more campers.
“It should be on this street,” I said after Steven made the last turn listed in my GPS directions.
“Okay,” he replied. “Here’s 300. 310. 420.”
“These numbers make no sense. I think we passed it.”
“Is this it? I can’t tell. I don’t see a number.”
“I don’t either. I can just go knock on the door and see.”
I got out of the car and approached the house, slightly nervous. Then I heard the barking.
Now, I’ve been around dogs for my entire life. I know that sometimes dogs bark at strangers in a friendly way. I can recognize the “Hi there new friend! Come play with me!” sort of bark. This bark was nothing like that. The giant dog behind the fence was telling me that I should leave. Now.
“I don’t know if that was the right house,” I said as I re-entered the car, “but there was a big scary dog behind the fence.”
As we drove off to yet another address on the list, I got to thinking about one of Paul’s mission trips. In the sixteenth chapter of Acts, Luke records that Paul and his companions were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.” Then, “they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” The Spirit of Jesus would not even let them go into Bithynia. I wonder what that looked like. Maybe it looked something like what Steven and I were experiencing:
Paul, I know you want us to preach in Asia. But we can’t. No one was home.
Ok Silas. In that case we had better head on to Bithynia. Did you get the directions, Timothy?
Yeah…but they’re kind of hard to make out. I think this is it. Here, let me go check…nope!
Was it Bithynia?
I don’t know Paul. There was a big scary dog.
Here’s the honest truth: I strongly dislike door knocking. It’s hard. It’s not fun. It’s repetitive and boring. You do a lot of moving, use at a lot of energy, and spend a lot of time outside your comfort zone for little, if any, tangible results. I know that what really happened to Paul and his companions probably had very little in common with the scene above, except for one aspect: they were wandering. Just like Steven and I, Paul and his companions were wandering around. Trying so hard to follow God. Wanting to spread His word. Getting lost and confused. Failing to see any results. And they were wondering. Wondering whether what they were doing–all of their effort and strife and courage–made any difference at all. Until God sent the Macedonian Call. Then they were off on a journey that forever shaped Christianity. Did their mission get any easier at that point? No. But it did matter.
So you get back in the car. You knock on another door. And another. And another. Wandering and wondering, but trusting in your Master the entire time. You walk up to another house and knock, not expecting there to be anyone home–but there is. A man answers the door. Then you launch into your explanation of who you are, what you are doing, and information on the camp, not really expecting him to listen–but he does. He says that just last night he and his wife were talking about how they wanted their son to get involved with a church and how he might fill out an application and you say well I have one right here and here’s a pen you can use and all you have to pay for is the t-shirt the rest is covered and yes I have change for a twenty let me get it from the car and you rush back to the car smiling and tell Steven, “Yes! We got one!” And all of the rest of the closed doors are worth it because now, one more kid is going to camp.
Ministry is not about forcing results. It’s about working for a loving Master and putting your faith in him. Show up. Love God. Love others. Repeat. Give God your best effort and don’t give up. He will take care of the rest.