The year was 1971, which was probably the worst year of my life. I was in my second year of college and due to terrible grades, I was facing expulsion. My most soothing thought at the time was suicide. I couldn’t face being such a failure to my family who had made many sacrifices to send their oldest son and brother to the United States to become an engineer.
I lived on campus at the time. One day walking to the bookstore, deep in thoughts with my head down, I passed a student who was just coming out of the bookstore, whom I didn’t notice at first.
“How are you?” he asked
Not expecting any reaction, I said, “Not well!”
To my utter astonishment, he did something that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
He stopped dead in his track, turned around, caught up with me and looking straight into my eyes, he asked, “Is there anything I can do?”
I was surprised to see someone actually caring about how I was doing, especially someone I only knew by face (I wish I knew his name so I could look him up and thank him). Later, when I became a follower of Christ, I found out that he was also a believer and a part of an acting group called “His Players”.
I have never forgotten that simple act of kindness and have made a point of practicing that every chance I get.
Let’s fast forward to 1999 during my last year at Fuller Seminary. Once a year, the school had a “Muslim day of prayer” when students from what was then called, “School of World Mission” would gather together to pray for the Muslim world. I was asked to say a few words to encourage the students prior to Brother Andrew, who was the main speaker that day.
I started my talk by first thanking the students who had invited me and made a few comments about the great work that Bother Andrew’s ministry, The Open Door, was doing and then made the following statements:
I have been attending Fuller for the past 10 years —Yes, I am so smart that I managed to cram 2 years of graduate school into 10 years. The sidewalks on our campus are no more than 5 feet wide. I know! I’ve measured them! When you pass someone, your shoulders almost touch each other. However, there has hardly ever been a day when anyone of you passing me has squarely looked me in the eyes and greeted me. How can you care and pray for my Muslim mother whom you have never seen when you don’t even bother to greet her son whom you can see?
Needless to say, I was never invited back.
I wish I could say that young students at Fuller were the only group of Christians who acted this way. Years ago, attending a Christian convention in Atlanta, I walked up to a group of men on the street and said:
“Gentlemen, you must all be pastors.”
“How did you know?” one of them asked.
“Because I noticed you all kept to yourselves and never acknowledged a passerby with a simple greeting or a smile.”
Yes, I know I am harsh, but I believe, sometimes, that’s what it takes to wake the Christians up to the reality that, according to Jesus, the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself and that that act of love can start with a simple smile followed by the heartfelt question, “How are you?”
I offer this to all passersby every morning as I sit at the base of the foothills across the street from our house while playing with Cocoa, my dog, knowing that my sincere smile and question can change the life of someone who might be thinking of killing themselves that day.