Heading rapidly towards Christmas, I’ve been reminded of a busy Saturday morning in this same season a few years ago, when my friend Dan invited me on a ‘treasure hunt’. Only this one was not a typical treasure hunt, searching for gold and other goodies to consume. This one was a spiritual treasure hunt, searching for specific people to bless.
A group of about twenty of us have gathered at Dan’s church to pray, worship and seek God together, before heading out onto the streets of their town. Dividing into threes and fours, as we are gathered, we ask the Holy Spirit to reveal who God might want us to minister to today – and we wait on Him to reveal their names, appearances, locations, prayer needs and any other clues – with a view to finding, ministering and witnessing to them.
Collating together our ‘clues’ in my small team of three, we have ‘Sarah or Sara’, ‘white or cream knee-length winter coat’, ‘shopping centre’, ‘mother or mother figure with cancer’ and ‘red handbags’. We scribble them all down on a piece of paper.
I’ve never done anything like this before … and I’m feeling somewhat sceptical.
Setting off with the two people in my small team, we aim straight for the main shopping centre, rammed to the rafters with Christmas shoppers. Entering, we find a huge Christmas tree, covered in sparkly bling. Next to it is an escalator and we head up it without hesitation. Getting to the top, we pause to look down into a large department store.
“Look!” says one of my team mates.
Below us lies an entire aisle of red handbags … and there, standing at the end of the aisle, is a woman wearing a cream knee-length winter coat.
“Could she be our ‘treasure’?” my team mate asks. Her question hangs, unanswered, mid-air.
Doing an about turn, we descend the down escalator and head straight into the department store, aiming for the end of the aisle of red handbags.
Feeling reticent, I let my team mate take the lead in approaching the woman in the cream winter coat, and in striking up a conversation. “We’re on a treasure hunt today,” she explains, “and we think you might be our treasure.”
The woman looks at us blankly, and I wonder what on earth we are doing.
“We’re Christians,” my team mate continues, “and we believe God wants to bless you today.”
“I don’t really believe in God,” the woman responds, as she picks a red handbag off the shelf and turns it over in her hands. She’s not exactly effusive in demonstrating a desire to engage with us. But she’s also not walking away.
“What’s your name?” my team mate asks tentatively.
“Sara,” the woman in responds, and I can hardly believe my ears. Wow! I think. That was the name of the person we were given by God to find today. “Why are you asking?” she says, looking my team mate in the eye, while holding tightly to the red handbag in her hand.
“We’re looking for a woman called Sarah or Sara,” I tell her, suddenly feeling bold. “It’s one of the clues in our treasure hunt.” I notice her face has softened. She is clearly intrigued. “Perhaps we could pray for you?” I suggest gently.
She shrugs her shoulders. “I don’t need prayer for anything,” she says. There is a momentary pause, and then she continues. “Well, actually, there is something,” she concedes.
“Go on,” prompts my team mate.
“Last night, my aunt died,” she tells us. “She had been in a long battle with cancer and was like a mother figure in our family.”
“Wow!” I exclaim, unable to contain my excitement. I pull out our sheet of ‘clues’ and show it to her. Gobsmacked, she looks at the list and concedes that she fits with all the things that we have scribbled on it; all things that God revealed to us in our prayer and worship time at the church. Suddenly, she starts to cry.
“Maybe God has led us to you because He wants us to pray for you and your family?” I suggest. “Perhaps we could ask Him to give you peace and comfort?”
“That would be good,” she says, struggling to hold back the tears. “It doesn’t feel real that my aunt is no longer here.” She pauses momentarily, placing the red handbag she’s been holding back on the shelf. “I know she’s been ill for a while, but she’s left such a huge hole in our family.”
Without hesitation, my team mate asks permission to place her hand on Sara’s shoulder, and prays a simple prayer, asking for God to bring her peace and comfort, in the name of Jesus. Sara’s eyes are wide open and watery. She stands awkwardly, unsure what she is meant to do, how she is meant to be. I smile at her, trying to be as reassuring as possible, and then I see her shoulders relaxing.
“Thank you,” she says, turning to my team mate. “I feel lighter.”
“That could be Jesus comforting you,” suggests my team mate, before explaining the Gospel to Sara in simple terms, and handing her a colourful A5 flyer. “Why don’t you come to one of our Christmas carol services?” she says. “I can look out for you, and then you can sit with me if you’d like.”
Sara pauses to read the flyer and then she looks up. “My aunt was a Christian, you know,” she tells us ruefully. “She always used to say she was praying for me.”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing!
The conversation continues. Her diffidence starts to melt. My team mate and Sara exchange phone numbers.
And then, “Thank you for being bold with me today,” she says. “Maybe God does exist after all.”
When I catch up with Dan, a few weeks into the following year, he tells me that Sara showed up at church for one of the Christmas carol services. She sat near the back, next to my team mate, and she has returned twice more. Dan is hopeful that, in finding friendship and a warm welcome in church, she may also find faith in Jesus.
As I recall what happened on that busy Saturday morning, in the lead up to Christmas a few years ago, I find myself reflecting:
- How often do we ask the Holy Spirit to lead us to those whom God wants to minister and witness?
- What will it take for us to be bold in striking up conversation with a stranger? Equally, what might hold us back and how can we address that?
- More than anything, how willing are we to bring blessing to someone who needs it, in the name of Jesus?
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