Susan Young

I Was a Terrible Person

I was six years old. Like all the other kids at my school, I played on the playground during recess. The thought nagged in the back of my mind that there might be other kids who didn’t know Jesus. I should tell them. That’s what they told me in Sunday School. That’s what they told me in Vacation Bible School. It was my job. I should talk to them. But I didn’t. I was a terrible person. They might go to hell because I didn’t speak up. The guilt followed me around the playground on a daily basis. Was I these kids’ last chance? Was I damning them all by my silence? I just couldn’t do it. I played harder and distracted myself and then recess was over and I could retreat into the safety of a history textbook.

But what would happen if I did say something? They might go to church. I’m not sure how they wouldn’t have gotten there because our church didn’t have one of those vans that picked kids up like I’d heard about, but they’d get there somehow. Then they would get saved. Then they’d be the only Christian in their horrible abusive home where their father drank and hit them and it would make their father mad, but they’d keep telling their family about Jesus until they all got saved. I had heard the story a hundred times, but I still didn’t say a word. Because I was a terrible person.

Years passed, my family homeschooled, I turned 13 and we were surrounded by families who seemed more Christian than me. The burden should have been gone. I didn’t have to think about if the girl in the ankle length skirt knew Jesus. She probably wondered if I did when I showed up to hang out with the group in jeans and a Tweety Bird tee. Yet why was this guilt still following me? I pushed forward to the alter at a conference and fell to my knees crying and praying in my shame over my cowardice. I should be finding someone to save. Lost people were everywhere, weren’t they? I should be finding them! But I was a terrible person, and I didn’t try.

Instead I hung out with my friends, studied, and listened to Christian rock that talked about everything but witnessing. I donned my WWJD necklace, bracelet, and anklet in the hopes that someone would see them and ask opening the door for the conversation I felt I should be having, but couldn’t quite come to on my own. It never happened. Everyone knew what they meant by the time I owned them.

What would have happened if I said something? I could have been ridiculed by my peers and ostracized from social settings and that would be amazing because persecution meant blessings to come. But I was a terrible person and chose my own feeling of safety over the mission I’d been given since before I could remember.

More years flew by and I became an adult. Other worries pushed the guilt to the back of my mind until I went to a two week evangelical leadership training conference. The mission was laid before me again only this time, you must risk your life. Unless you were out on the streets talking to anyone who would listen or picking up random strangers from the side of the road and proselytizing to them in the confines of your car, then you failed in your mission. There was a chance it would make someone angry and they would pull out a knife or a gun and threaten or even kill you, but that was wonderful! That would make you a martyr and then imagine the reward!

Then we were presented a choice - pile into a bus and go downtown and start spreading the word, or pile into another bus and go exploring in a cave. I was a terrible person. I explored the cave. The guilt tried to follow me, but concerns about fitting through tight spaces and staying with the group kept it at bay.

In the weeks and months that followed it caught up with me and twice I picked up a stranger from the side of the road who had run out of gas. I drove them to a gas station, bought soft drinks, in one case bought their gas, and took them back to their cars. Yet, I still couldn’t cross that final line and talk to them about salvation while they were my captive audience in my car. I let them leave thinking I had helped them with no ulterior motive. The guilt followed me home, not because I had an ulterior motive, but because I had failed to follow through on it.

More years have passed. The guilt doesn’t follow me any more, but I stopped bringing religion with me as well. Sometimes my doorbell rings and I see a group of people huddled out there in their Sunday clothes with bibles ready to save my soul. I walk away and pretend I’m not home. They probably think I’m a terrible person. Only now that doesn’t bother me.