In August, George Kane moved to Evansville to join the Missionary Company. This article, which he wrote, originally appeared in the Nov. 15, 2013, edition of The Message, the weekly newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville, IN. It is reprinted here with permission.
By George Kane
Missionaries don’t always receive warm welcomes. Sometimes, our neighbors don’t know how to react when we show up in their front yard. In fact, I ran into this situation on my first day of mission work in Evansville.
It was Monday; and man, it was hot. The August sun hit the asphalt and cooked up into our sandals as Dan and I walked along a deserted street. We crossed an intersection and saw three people talking by the curb a few houses down. “How about we talk to these guys?” Dan asked. I grinned and shrugged, “Sure.” As a new missionary, my job was to listen and learn from the others, so I was happily off the hook when it came to starting conversations.
“How y’all doing today?” Dan asked cheerfully, extending his hand first to the 300-pound bald man standing on the curb, and then to the man and woman straddling a moped. The big man took Dan’s hand coolly. “I’m Dublin,” he said. He avoided Dan’s eyes and let go quickly. The man on the moped squinted at Dan’s open hand, smirked, and shook his head. “Naw, man, I’m not interested.” A cold ulcer of embarrassment stung my stomach. I was unfamiliar with this kind of outright rejection, which some of the veteran door-knocking missionaries affectionately call “eating doorknobs.”
Dan was undeterred, “Hey, do you guys want to hear a story?” The man on the moped revved its engine, and he and his passenger pulled away. “Holla a’chu later, man!” Dublin called, and then turned towards Dan and me. “Man, I don’t want to be rude, but I’m busy.” As he walked away around the corner, I felt defeated. Not only did they not want to hear about the Gospel, they didn’t even want to hear a word we had to say! All we had done was annoy them.
Though I was upset about this then, I found out later that Pope Francis actually may have been thrilled that I had gone out and been annoying that day. When speaking about proclaiming the gospel, the Holy Father has said, “Let us ask the Holy Spirit for this grace of apostolic zeal…and if we annoy people, blessed be the Lord!”
At that moment, watching Dublin’s broad shoulders disappear around the corner, I was pretty low on apostolic zeal. But Dan wasn’t. “Well, shoot,” he said, “how about we knock at this house right here?” After two attempts at knocking, though, that door remained closed, too. I was starting to feel even sorrier for myself when I heard behind us, “Hey man, the guy who lives there is crazy, be careful.” It was Dublin!
His bald head glinted under the sun and poured sweat into his eyes as he stood and talked with us. It turned out that Dublin used to be Lutheran, but was now Muslim.
The conversation started to drift towards argument when Dublin said, “God knows all your sins, even before you do them. It don’t matter what you want, you gonna sin anyway. He’s got it all written in his book.” Dan raised his eyebrows. “But…aren’t I free? I’m gonna be tempted, but I still have a choice about what I’m gonna do…right?” Dublin took a step back and brought one hand to his head, waving the other at us, “No man, stop; you’re confusing me. I used to be confused about this stuff before … that was terrible, being confused … I know what I believe now, and I’m sticking to it.”
When conversations about God start to get too close to home, people often use this kind of theological debate as a smokescreen or sorts. So Dan changed the subject. “What if we pray for something together?” Dublin nodded slowly, and then bowed his head and clasped his hands. He asked us to pray that God would provide for his family’s material needs, and stood there quietly as we did just that.
As we ended our prayer, Dublin surprised us by saying, “Thanks for being out here, talking about God…people need it.” It was amazing. Dublin saw success where I could only see failure!