Monday, July 09, 2007

Girl on a Bus

In March 1995 I was in London for a meeting of leaders of the Society of the Holy Cross. Having arrived a few days before the meeting was to begin, I decided to take a bus to Oxford to get a look at the C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams sites. I got onto the vehicle and took a window seat about halfway down the aisle on the right side. A horde of young people of student age poured in around me. By the time the bus was about ready to roll, I was the only person aboard over thirty years old (except for the driver), and the seat next to me was the only vacant spot.

At the last second a young woman volplaned into the bus, hurled her coins into the receptacle, and—by default—sat next to me. The vehicle rolled away from the curb kerb and we had embarked on the hour or so drive to Oxford. Within two minutes she had introduced herself. She was 26 years old, a producer of documentaries for the BBC, her mother was Jamaican, she would soon be going to Africa to shoot a film, and was now on her way to visit a friend who lived near Oxford. She worked ’way too many hours and had forced herself to take a few days off to rest. Then she asked me where I was going and what I was in London for. I told her.

When she learned I was a priest, her eyes opened wide and she began to talk about faith. She was thinking of becoming a Christian. Most of her friends were atheists or agnostics, but her mother was a Christian and had been praying for her daughter. She interrogated me about belief in Jesus, and before long we were heavily animated in conversation. It was incredibly fun, just exhilarating, to talk about Jesus to someone who was eager for the witness.

We lost track of time. The bus pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. We paid no attention. The bus driver said, “Miss? Here’s your stop.” We kept talking. The young woman didn’t hear him as we continued our conversation. The other conversations around us gradually ceased and everyone was looking at her. “Miss?” said the driver, louder this time. “Miss! Here’s your stop!”

“Ohh!” she cried and leaped up. The thanked me profusely for the exchange and bounded toward the door.

What’s your name?” I shouted after her. “I’ll pray for you.”

“It’s Laurel!” she exclaimed. “Thanks!” And out the door she shot.

The bus pulled away from the side of the road and continued on into Oxford. The students’ conversations gradually resumed. I felt immensely satisfied and thought to myself that gee, in a few months I could call or write to the London offices of the BBC and ask for a young producer of documentaries named Laurel and try to find out how she was doing and whether she had decided to become a Christian.

Immediately I received a profound spiritual smack on the back of my head. It wasn’t the person in the seat behind me, but the smack was almost as tangible as if it had been. A voice nearly shouted in my head, “Leave her alone! You’ve done your part. You played your role in her conversion. You are to pray for her every day for one year. You will not try to find or contact her, and you will not learn in this life what happens to her.”

It was refreshing. I think from that experience I learned more about how God is the true evangelist in all encounters in which we are “personal evangelists” than in anything else I’d ever done in evangelism. I was greatly blessed by being the instrument of God for one hour on a bus from London to Oxford. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

So, being both obedient and literal, I prayed for Laurel for one year to the day. But twelve years later I know that I, at least, was greatly changed by the encounter.

The next day in Oxford, among the Lewis, Tolkien, and Williams sites I visited, I strolled along Addison’s Walk (pictured below). This was where, on a long autumn night in 1931, Lewis, Tolkien, and Hugo Dyson talked about Christianity. Lewis later reported that the walk had been instrumental in his own coming to faith.

Personal evangelism. Tolkien and Dyson did it. I did it. Others do it all the time. God gives the increase.


nicholodeon said...

Wonderful story!
Fr Baumann were you at one time rector of the Anglican parish in Costa Mesa CA or someplace in the Diocese of Los Angeles?

Or perhaps in New Jersey at the parish that had the original C S Lewis wardrobe that inspired the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?

Father David said...

Dear Nicholodeon,

The only place where I have been, and still am, Rector is in Placentia, California, in the Diocese of Los Angeles. That is about 30 miles from Costa Mesa.

nicholodeon said...

Thanks for the reply, Fr David.

Why I ask is I used to know a David Baumann who at the time I believe was an Episcopal deacon...this when I lived in Santa Barbara, CA. Late 1960s through 1991.

I think this David might even have been a seminarian when we met. Except your photo does not call to mind the DB that I knew in the old days when SBA still had lemon and avocado trees along State Street out by Goleta.

What attracted me to your blog is your discussion of space, time and movement. I have discovered quantum physics. As a linguist I have been developing my theory in my dissertation that verbs of motion in several representative languages point to the intimate link between movement and time. And light and unity. And that they also govern human behaviour.

I have always been a mystic, which is why I feel so at home in the Russian Orthodox Church. When I studied mathematics in high school, which I flunked every year, I recall being entranced by the equation and diagram for a parabola. While my classmates were all into calculating the math I was lost in wonder that here, with this diagram, is the 'beginning' of infinity!

Father David said...

Dear Nicholodeon,

You story about a David Baumann who was an Episcopal deacon is fascinating! I am the only David Baumann listed in the Episcopal clerical directory. I was made deacon in 1973 and priest in 1974, and was in Santa Barbara two or three times during that era.

Your connecting space, time, movement, and linguistics is even more fascinating! Science is truly one of the mystical ways of encountering God! In fact, everything is!

Fr. David

nicholodeon said...

Okay then I must have met you back in the day when I was still an Anglican...

I have my journals from the period, so the next really rainy day I shall open them (the pages are yellowing and turning crispy as I used ordinary cardboard bound notebooks) and see if I can find an entry relative to this David Baumann. I am now very curious myself, because I cannot recall all the details.

Oh, this David I knew was an okay kind of guy, so when/if I get up to speed, will send you a letter to the Church of the Blessed Sacrament to update.