The icy wind blew across his face as he trudged along the sidewalk, snow crunching beneath his feet, moving to the next house and hoping for a different reaction than he had received so far. The cold had slowed him down physically but his resolve wouldn’t get shaken, he vowed to himself. He had faith yet, and faith was what he needed to inspire. Slowly, he made his way to the last house on the block, which looked no different from all the other ones, with the same green lawn, white painted walls, sloping roofs, single car garage locked down due to the snow, but he hoped this similarity wasn’t a prediction of what would ensue. As he rang the bell, he pulled his jacket a little tighter and waited.
A young woman, probably in her late twenties appeared behind the door, and opened it, frowning at the unexpected visitor. Her skin was tan, her hair brown; she wasn’t conventionally good looking but had an attractive quality about her.
“Excuse me miss, do you have a moment to talk about our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ?” he began earnestly, just waiting for a rejection so he could be done with this for the day – it was twilight already. But no, he must not give up; this was his duty to the Lord and also to his fellow humans, to guide them on the righteous path so Jesus would forgive them and accept them. He certainly wished sometimes that it wasn’t so strenuous, but after all, the Lord tested those he loved the most.
“Sure, come on in! You must be freezing out there. How long have you been walking?” came the reply.
He hesitated; for a second he didn’t believe the woman was letting him in, but then he thanked her and entered. Grateful for the warmth emanating from the house, he walked in to see a modestly furnished home, but with books lining shelves on almost every wall of the house and even strewn across the carpeted floor. Taking it all in, he followed her to the living room and sat down when she said, “I’ll get you some coffee to help warm you up, I’ll be just a moment” and before he could reply, she darted to the kitchen. He suddenly shuddered thinking what could have happened with the dog who had been let out to chase him just a while earlier, but deciding he should not dwell on failures, he started to take out his Bible. He couldn’t help but notice all of the books around him and spotted a few versions of the Old Testament which lifted his spirits slightly.
The woman was quick as promised and then asked him politely, “So, what do you want to talk about?”
Sipping the warm coffee, freshly brewn, he began, “I… I’m on a holy mission to spread the message of Jesus, the Son of God. We believe that Jesus is the key to salvation, that… that there is not another name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved and it is our duty, as humans, to guide… to guide our fellow beings along the right path so we are prepared for Judgement Day”. He wished he had spoken with as much confidence as he truly felt in his faith, but his voice had faltered, in part due to the penetrating gaze that the woman had seemed to transfix him with.
She sipped her coffee for a long moment and then abruptly started looking for a book from the ones lying across the floor. Holding up a title, she read aloud “‘Why I am not a Christian’; it has been a very interesting read for me. Have you read it by any chance?”
He flushed – was she mocking him? He was torn between deciding if he preferred the warm welcome accompanied by the attempt to shake his faith or the outright disrespect he received elsewhere.
He finally managed, “No, I haven’t and I probably wouldn’t. I haven’t been much of a reader – I was homeschooled. All I have needed to live by is written in the Bible”
She nodded, but he wasn’t sure if it was a signal of understanding or approval. A sense of discomfort was rising in him by the moment but he ignored it with some effort.
“You said something about the right path and salvation. What is that path?” she spoke up.
“We will start with a Bible study, where I can guide you about the tenets. We can spend some time discussing it and I can answer questions you may have had, like how we should live our lives. We respect all faiths but I personally believe they are misguided, but that there’s still hope for them” he replied, regaining his composure.
“So I will just say this – I am an atheist. But I am open to listening what you have to say, but I assure you I will not become a believer”
Ignoring the incredulous expression on his face, she signalled him to get started and for about an hour, they had a spirited discussion about the scriptures. Her knowledge was impressive and she seemed deeply interested in his views about the pagan symbolism of the festival of Christmas. Despite her conviction, he still hoped to save her soul, and as he got comfortable, he hardly noticed the blizzard that had begun outside when she rushed to close the windows to prevent the snow from getting in. Only after a few seconds, he realized that he was trapped here for the night probably and by all means she had saved his life. The Lord truly worked in mysterious ways, he told himself, but for the first time, doubt crept in from the crevices he didn’t know had existed before. She offered him the couch to stay for the night, and he thanked her profusely for the generous hospitality that she had displayed.
The next morning he woke up to find a few feet of snow blocking the door, which he offered to shovel as a small repayment for her gesture of kindness and she acquiesced. Last night had made him think, and he felt like he had already overstayed his welcome but in a last effort, before leaving, he said, “I respect your ideals, but why would you not accept Jesus and live a happy life?”
She smiled. “But what will I achieve by that?”
“If you serve God right, if you have empathy…”, he hesitated and continued, “you can attain salvation!”, surprised that salvation didn’t seem to bother her at all.
“If the only thing stopping me from being a deplorable human being was the promise of salvation, then does it really change the type of person I am? And would your God judge me more harshly for that?” she asked calmly, with one of those penetrating stares that seemed to delve right into his soul.
As he walked towards the street, he wondered how he should have answered her. But for the first time, he was returning with more questions than answers, and somehow it made him feel lighter, more joyful and freer than ever.