In Birmingham, UK, a street preacher uses a megaphone to preach to a man standing close enough to him that the pair could shake hands. The street preacher was quite animated, and for some reason that wasn’t clear, he was wearing a high visibility safety vest.
As I took this picture, I was quickly approached by a woman who began asking me questions. She wanted to know if I was “with the newspapers.” So I explained that I wasn’t, and told her a little bit about 366 Pictures. She seemed suspicious, so I told her that I just thought the preachers’ stance was an interesting one, given how close the other man was to him, and how attentively he appeared to be listening.
“He’s preaching really loudly isn’t he?” I said as a few more people came over to join the woman who was asking me questions.
“He’s preaching the word of God. It should be loud. In fact, it should be louder!” Said another woman. The others with her nodded and laughed.
“Really?” I asked. “It’s kind of hurting my ears.”
“You are hearing it though, right, and that’s good. It’s the word of God, so it’s good to hear that.” She replied.
“Does he always shout that loud?” I asked, to which they all laughed, like maybe he does but when it’s the “word of God” it’s not shouting. Then the woman stepped a little closer to me and asked me a question I knew was coming.
“Do you know Jesus Christ?” She said.
“I know Jesus, in the same way, I know Horatio Nelson,” I replied.
“Who’s that?” She said with a puzzled look.
“He was an influential historical figure who died a long time ago,” I said with a smile.
“So you don’t know him personally then, because he’s dead, right? But Jesus is alive, and you can know him personally today. Would you like that?”
Now, as sales pitches go, this was pretty direct. In my opinion, she got to the offer too soon, bypassing the unique benefits and value of the product. But she didn’t seem like a particularly experienced salesperson to me. So I asked her how long she had personally known Jesus for.
“He’s known me all my life.” She said.
Perhaps she misunderstood the question, so I politely clarified it for her.
“Two weeks. Yeah, two weeks, is that right?” She turned to a teenager next to her who nodded. She continued, “This is my daughter. See like, two weeks ago I was about to kill myself, but Jesus saved me because I just asked him to. I know what you’re thinking, that sounds mad, right? But it’s true. I’ve been on drugs and all kinds. Ask my daughters about how different it is now. It is isn’t it, tell ‘im.”
She motions to her daughter to speak up, and on-demand the girl gives a teenage “Yeah.”
Well, how could I not be convinced by such an enthusiastic endorsement, right?
Now, at this stage, I should have asked if I could take a picture of the little gang now huddled around me like over-eager public transport ticket inspectors. That would have been a good picture, their big smiles and crazed Jesus Loves You look in their eyes. But in truth, I was trying to extract myself from this situation.
Each move I made, the huddle moved with me like prayer paparazzi. The conversation continued for a little while longer, but then I said I needed to leave.
“Can we pray for you?” asked the woman with the new lease of life.
“Of course you can, but I have to go, so how about you say a prayer for me as I walk away, okay?” I said.
That was never going to work, and I knew it. They said that God had put me there in Birmingham that day specifically to meet them, so they needed to pray for me.
“It’ll just take a minute, you have a minute, I know you do.” Said the woman, taking my arm as if you placing me under prayer arrest.
My options seemed limited. With my arm gripped by the woman who two weeks ago was about to off herself, it seemed that I had little choice. I considered making a run for it, a bid for freedom, but the risk of being chased by a group of ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ types through the streets of Birmingham felt rather unseemly, so I began negotiating.
“It won’t take a minute? I mean, I think that’s what you said to that guy over there, but he’s had that man’s hand on his head for the whole time we’ve been talking.” I said pointing to two men not far away locked in what looked like some intense praying.
They laughed, and then pushed the product some more.
“Just a minute. You can time us if you like.” Said one of the teenagers who had previously not said a word.
I could time them, really? This was my opportunity!
“Okay, I’ll give you ten seconds. You can say a ten-second prayer and I will countdown from ten, okay?”
Everyone was a winner with this offer. They get to save a soul of sorts, and I get to escape without having some stranger put hands on my head and pray really loudly as if God has a hearing problem.
With that, and with my arm still gripped, they agreed, and the woman began to pray.
“Lord Jesus, we lift up Andy to you now Lord….” Yes, I gave a false name when they asked me. I don’t know why, but it seemed wise.
I began counting down. Ten, nine, eight, seven… The countdown made them smile as the woman gripped my arm harder and prayed very quickly.
Three, two, one, and zero. “Amen!” She said, opening her eyes and smiling broadly. She released my arm.
“God heard that Prayer, Andy, and he’s going to move in your life.” She said, this time in a relaxed and somewhat triumphant way.
“Cool. I’ll look forward to that. It was nice meeting you all” I said with a smile.
It was too. They seemed OK, and when I turned back one last time as I walked away, they all waved at me like I was an old departing friend.
I turned a corner and took my phone out of my pocket to check the time. As I did that, a man walked up to me. “Hello there my brother,” he said with a smile and an outstretched hand. “Do you have a moment to hear about how the Holy Koran is relevant today?”
See the area I was standing using Google street view.