By the Wayside

Written by: Lemuel Teo (Photo by: Ronald Lim)

Befriending those in need

Having walked the same route from the MRT station to the bus interchange countless times on my way home, I knew the drill — avoid colliding into others, stay glued to my smartphone, and flash a firm yet polite smile to insurance agents. Rushing along the commute, it was always easier to ignore the tissue paper sellers and buskers by the wayside. I felt like they were an impediment to my journey and — to be honest — their incessant cries were slightly annoying.

Three months ago, after a long day out about town, I noticed a man selling packets of tissue paper along my usual route. I had never seen him before and thought of blessing him with a few dollars. But my weary body was reluctant to slow down for him. Immediately, I felt the Spirit asking me, “Would you stop for him?”

“Not today, Lord,” I said in my heart as I walked past him.

However, the Spirit reminded me of my desire to avoid grieving Him and obey His every prompting. Turning around, I went to talk to the man: “你好,吃饱了吗?”(Hello, have you eaten?)

I introduced myself and enquired about his well-being. He shared with me that he could not find a proper job because of his physical disability. With growing compassion in my heart, I told him that he is valuable in God’s eyes — many people have walked past him and ignored him, but I wanted him to know that God loves and cares for him. That night, I managed to lead him in a prayer of re-dedication to Jesus Christ and invited him to my home church. This encounter marked the start of an unlikely friendship with a tissue paper seller.

Inspired by this incredible experience, I made friends with another lady who was also selling tissue paper in the same area. Despite our significant age difference, our conversations were continuous and comfortable; each time I spent time with her, it felt like I was speaking to a friend. We talked about religion, her family, and health condition.

With these newfound friends, I began to look forward to having simple conversations in the evenings as I travelled home. I knew their personal stories and the reasons behind their livelihood. These conversations were no longer impersonal small talk; we would actually catch up on each other’s lives.

Soon enough, I found myself taking a detour whenever I walked between the MRT station and bus interchange, just so that I could avoid bumping into them and feeling obligated to stop for a simple conversation.

However, after two months of consistently seeking them out and chatting with them, I somehow developed a form of “compassion fatigue.” I ran out of patience and love. Previously, I did not mind spending $10 or even 15 minutes of my time, but I began to grow tired and became unwilling to share of my time and money with them — and I wasn’t sure why.

Soon enough, I found myself taking a detour whenever I walked between the MRT station and bus interchange, just so that I could avoid bumping into them and feeling obligated to stop for a simple conversation. The initial zeal of loving my neighbour gave way to weariness. I elevated my personal convenience above loving others and obeying the Spirit.

A fortnight ago, the Spirit prompted me to read John 4, in which the apostle John records Jesus’ journey up north from Jerusalem towards Galilee. Taking the most direct path would lead him through Samaria — an area occupied by the Samaritans who were despised by the Jews, because of their half-Jew, half-Gentile ethnicity. They were marginalised due to their bastardised race and pagan religion. Most Jews would take a detour along the Jordan River in the east. But Jesus “had to” (John 4:4) pass through Samaria. Passing by a well, He stopped for one Samaritan woman — promising her living water and bringing the entire town to salvation as a result (see John 4:1–45).

Even in His travels, Jesus submitted to the Spirit’s leading. It was not necessary for Him to pass through Samaria — most Jews would have taken the detour along the Jordan River. Yet Jesus, under the motivation of the Spirit, “had to” travel through a place normally avoided by others. In the original Greek, “had to” indicates a necessity arising from a command. For Jesus, obeying the Spirit of love was more expedient than bowing to societal pressure or personal comfort.

This example of Jesus stood in stark contrast with my approach to the tissue paper sellers along my commute. I was deeply convicted of my own selfishness and woefully aware of my loveless heart for people — this conduit of love was clogged up with unkindness.

For Jesus, obeying the Spirit of love was more expedient than bowing to societal pressure or personal comfort.

Jesus continued explaining to His disciples, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). He lived with the sole intention of accomplishing God’s purpose. To do this, Jesus was always in close fellowship with the Father (John 17:21), doing exactly what the Father shows him.

If we were to follow the example of Jesus, I believe that we need to first experience God’s love. John writes that we “love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). It is from first cultivating a loving relationship with God that we are able to love other people. In other words, without regular and personal encounters with the love of Jesus, it is difficult to conjure up genuine love for those by the wayside.

Meditating on John 4, I was moved by Jesus’ intentionality in loving the Samaritan woman. I endeavoured to emulate his pattern and told God, “Help to love others like you would, Lord.” Gradually, I got back to walking my normal route — this time purposefully stopping to catch up with my friends.

As we reflect upon Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1–45), may we be inspired to stop for the one whenever the Spirit prompts us. Going about our daily business, let us be mindful of those by our wayside: tissue sellers, office colleagues, or even next-door neighbours. Your one conversation could possibly be the only God-honouring conversation they have with anyone the entire day. Who knows? You might just make a new friend or even draw someone closer to Christ.

LEMUEL loves Hainanese chicken rice, especially the roasted variety. Cycling along the eastern coast of Singapore while watching the sun set rejuvenates his soul. He is dedicated to restoring and building lives to be Godly pillars of strength in their communities. Follow him @lemuelteo.


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