I was terrified of missional things as I felt I was terrible at building relationships and would therefore suck at everything and hide in the shadows and do behind the scenes stuff. In some ways I still am terrified of these things. My main relationship building adventures have included impressionable middle schoolers. Sometimes I would say hi to them, wouldn’t even learn their name, and next week I was the coolest guy ever. It is different now, in many ways, but some amazing things have happened.
I headed out this late afternoon to walk around and pray, something I haven’t found the time to do lately (thank you naps that go longer than expected). But coming up the hill to the soccer dirt patch, I hear sharp and loud grenade-blast shots. War reenactments? What gives? Turns out a game had recently concluded, played by legit soccer teams and firework bombs where for celebration. Walking to say hi to friends Daniel and Trinity, I run into our Afghan friend Asa, also come to see the soccer duels. He crashed a scooter a while ago, spent two days in the hospital, and got quite the black eye. He has been wearing sunglasses. But he is fine otherwise, which is great. He said he was going way too fast. Understandable.
He asks what I am doing next, and so, in what terms I could with limited use of two languages, I inform him I would be walking presently to Piramide, the place where we do Saturday and Sunday deals. (History lesson time: Piramide is so named because one caesar, I believe, visited Egypt and liked the pyramids so much he came back to Rome and had a small one built. It now stands across a large piazza from the metro station that took its name.) Asa says that he was going there as well. Mainly he just invited himself. And I think, well, there goes my prayer time, but might as well! As we walked away my thought goes up, well, Lord, let this time with him be a prayer.
We take the usual route back, fighting the ever present cold and struggling though a wonderful conversation about anything we can. Talking with him helps his English and certainly helps my Italian. At the station, we say hi to some of the soccer boys, but as it was dark and getting quickly late, he was going to take a bus to Termini to thus catch his train to where he lives outside of the city. And he invites me to come. Certainly, sir, I will certainly do so.
On the bus I hear Asa say with simple importance, ‘We have problem.’ I glance quizzically to him, and he points me to the middle of the bus (we were sitting in the back) and lo and behold, pushing their way through a wall of riders come the finger-men, thought police, gestapo officers, on their whenever checks of who has a bus pass and who does not. Two men, sharp faces, menacing dark suits, ID cards to show their towering officialdom, call out the person in front of us. Asa is worried; he has no pass. As long as these law men don’t show (their appearances are mercifully rare), one is fine riding the bus without a ticket. The fine if they catch you bereft of a pass is ridiculous, so I hear, and must be paid on the spot, otherwise the ridiculousness gets more ridiculous to be paid later. But here we are, two of us, and one ticket. Sharp face points to me, ticket please, and to Asa. We reach for our pockets. I keep money and pass in a little folded piece of cardboard so that it is not destroyed in its flimsy paperness by the endless contortions of my walking pockets. I open it up and show the man what he wants; he turns to the man behind. Asa still has nothing. Opening the cardboard ‘wallet,’ the enforcer’s attention distracted, I casually flick the pass into Asa’s lap, give him a wink, and return my cardboard empty to its place of rest. The sharp man leans back and Asa waves up the other side of my pass. The man nods and goes back to dealing with he who sits behind. Crisis averted. Asa smiles gratitude. No problem, my friend. Any chance to stick it to the man in little ways, I will take.
We hang out a bit more, peruse some books at a bookstore inside Termini, and eventually go our separate ways.
A few hours later I go back to the Piramide area as usual with Lindsey. I talk to a few friends, greet the soccer boys, meet a guy who had lived in England for four years – four years! – before his fingerprints in Italy finally caught up with him. In that time he had been going to school, worked, fallen in love, and one stupid thing from long ago sends him out onto the streets again. How can they do that? He has become a working member of society in England and just because of his finger prints in another country they take it all away. That makes me legitimately angry. Four years!
He goes off. The soccer boys have pulled out Caleb’s ball and are kicking it around in the parking lot. The joker from yesterday, the cool dude kid, leader of the pack, sees me looking, waves me over, welcomes me into the circle, offers me a cookie. This was huge for me. They know me now. We play some passing game of keep away and the star player picks me for his team. We play a little impromptu game after that, kicking around and over cars. Every once in a while kicks will be where garbage sleeps and a bit of glass will shatter a little more, or a plastic spoon explodes as the fight of feet over ball ensues. at one point cool dude accidentally trips me and I fall backwards off of a curb….into a nice action roll and get right back onto my feet. We all laugh and he is very sorry. It’s ok, it’s ok, don’t worry, I’m fine, you’re alright, it’s ok, I assure him as he hangs on my arm laughing apologies. Eventually the game sputters out and they go their way. But every moment was a lot of fun. The downer is that they had the ball. Noori didn’t. I didn’t see him at all today, and fear he has actually left as he has been saying he might for weeks now. Such is the nature of the ministry. I hope that France serves him better than Rome was able to.
Tonight was Caleb and Mindy’s last night at the train station. They were both awfully quiet, and I was sure I saw a subtle tear wiped away by a silent Mindy on the metro ride back. I may or may not ever see either one of them again. It is weird to think that will be me in just over a month. I try not to think about it.
I check the time on my phone, walking the few blocks to the apartment from Lindsey’s place, and see I have a missed call. I don’t know the number, but it is the same number that gave me a missed call yesterday that I ignored. But then a thought enters my head. I call the number. And yes, as I expected and hoped, it is my friend who left for Paris a couple weeks ago. He knows so little English! Talking was more him just asking how I was doing and how other people are doing. But we talked! He called from Paris! Me! I never thought he would. What a blessing.
And so I am a little amazed. I am actually meeting people and building relationships. God continues to surprise me. And I am certainly not angry about that.