For several years Joice and I have been going to the YMCA of Waco to exercise. We have gotten to know several people and two of the couples we have had to our house for a meal. In general, however, we only know people casually and the conversations are informal and don’t last long.
We don’t try to evangelize overtly, but we hope to leave some sort of interest in the Gospel, so we try to find out if they have any interest in God and the church. We get some surprising conversations.
I’ll disguise the names a bit, but if you visit the Y, you will soon be able to identify the characters that I mention.
One of the first people we met (and this was almost 4 years ago) was Ronald, the owner of a small business in Waco. He has been coming to the Y almost since it first opened and he knows many people and he seems to remember their names. If he doesn’t, he is making them up and whoever it is that he is talking to doesn’t seem to mind. Ronald is friendly, folksy and a good pal with Jake, who owns a used car business. They sit side by side on stationary bikes and discuss business, money and cars. They pedal for about a half an hour, wipe down the bikes carefully with towels and disinfectant and then leave for the upper room of weights.
Joice found out—she is the ultimate visitor—that Jake once attended Sunday school, but has no information on Ronald. It is hard to say, “Where do you go to church,” in case they don’t, or “Do you believe in God,” in case they do and want to tell you all about it.
We did get to know an older man named Kirby quite well and were invited to share Christmas dinner with him, his wife and their children—one married and visiting from California with the grandchildren. Kirby and his wife were strong on supporting missionaries and once he found out that we had been missionaries, our friendship deepened. We talk easily about the Lord and Scripture. Kirby and his family attend a Baptist church in Waco.
Steve and Ruth Jones always go to the weight area and not the machines because Steve is an avid dirt bike rider and gets plenty of exercise doing that. Somehow Joice found out that they were going on a Pacific cruise that included Papua New Guinea, so we have had a number of chats before and after their trip. They are members of a Methodist church.
Ruby is a large woman who has been working hard to lose weight and she has done well. She knows people whom we know—Joice found this out when they were pedaling side by side—Ruby was involved in politics by helping one of the candidates running for an office here in Waco. She is a member of an Episcopal church.
Cherie is an African American woman who works at the school where our grandchildren attend. She has her PhD in Education and is a strong Christian who often comes with her sister. Joice talks with them a lot, although the sister hasn’t been coming for a while because she has a job.
Recently I noticed that Josh hadn’t come for a while, so when I saw him I asked where he had been. “I’ve been in the hospital,” he said. “What is the problem?” I ventured. “Oh, I’m borderline congestive heart failure, borderline diabetic and need to lose more weight—but I have lost 40 pounds.” Josh still needs to lose about 60 pounds or so, but he says that he already feels a lot better. “Oh yes, I got married in April too,” Josh added as an afterthough. He is 79 and lost his first wife to cancer. His new wife is about the same age and lost her husband to Alzheimer’s. “God must have more for you to do,” I ventured. “Oh no, He looks down and says ‘I don’t have use for those old folk.’”
I decided to push Josh a bit: “God is always ready to help us,” I replied. Josh suddenly decided that he had been on the treadmill long enough—it was 10 minutes at a low, low speed—and without a goodbye, departed. Too much religion and evangelism in the Y can be harmful to the muscles and organs and, apparently, damage treadmills.
Joice has met many more people than I have. She seeks out the pastor of Highland Baptist church and his sidekick, the music minister, and finds out the sermon topics, upcoming trips, mission interest, if they know our family, who go to the church, and so on. I’m more reserved and less confident in approaching people with such questions.
Charles is a business man who often treads on the mill beside me. He attends a Bible study on Thursday mornings and we often talk about any applications from the study.
The attendants at the Y are easy to spot: they wear purple shirts with the Y symbol on them and a few have the message on the back that says “designated role model.” The boss of the Y is a large man, very friendly and once said he wanted to get a picture of Joice and me with our Y tee shirts on. We would probably make the newspaper as the oldest surviving members still working out at the Y. He never followed through—maybe he heard Joice had a fall at home.
When Joice was absent for a few weeks after her fall, our acquaintances would ask about her. And once when she had a near fall on the treadmill, several of the men were there immediately to help. Take a spill and you find out who your real friends are.
I leave my wife do the evangelism but I pray silently on the sidelines.
YMCA Waco West