On Ash Wednesday after the 6:30 a.m. service at the church, Beth Walton, Blake Downey, and I took a walk to administer ashes to the workers at the bus stop near the church. It became clear to us after some time that we had missed the rush hour traffic. Beth and I drove down to the Cherry Hill Plaza and after getting coffee at the Starbucks to keep us warm on that very cold morning (I know you must be thinking Starbucks and evangelism? That is another story for another time), we stood off to the side and began engaging people as they entered and left Starbucks to ask if they wanted to be imposed with ashes. It is a transformative experience when one takes the Gospel from the walls of the church into the world.
There were those who made every effort to avoid us and there were those who acted as if we were invisible; and then there was the occasional person who would stop to talk to us and receive the imposition of ashes.
We then moved on to the McDonald’s lot and engaged the customers who were picking up their morning breakfast.
One person expressed shock that in being so busy she had not realized how fast Ash Wednesday had sneaked up on her.
People stopped and we prayed together, imposed ashes and prayed some more with those whose families were in the hospital. Someone even bought us hot chocolate.
In the midst of doing this, I noticed the manager walking towards us. I remember saying to Beth that I guess it was time for us to go. Imagine my surprise when the manager welcomed and thanked us and invited us to come in for a treat on him. I was floored when he asked that I pray for him and his business.
Here I was ready to offer an apology for intruding and then leave, but his decision to come out had nothing to do with what I was thinking. I was expecting that we were going to be told, “You are not welcome.” However, what I received was a meaningful encounter that has left a mark on my life. When we take the Gospel to the streets, the unexpected does happen. God willing, next year we will try drive-thru Ashes-to-Go. People need the Lord and we will be that conduit for making it happen.