By Daisy Townsend
When we returned from our vacation the summer of 2013, we got to know a handsome little boy who was new to our neighborhood. Jeffrey* lived in a house on the opposite corner across the street and seemed to roam around the neighborhood without much supervision for a 6-year-old.
A few weeks later when we visited our daughter’s church, her minister preached on extending mercy to those who desperately need it. I found myself thinking, Maybe I could extend mercy to Jeffrey’s mother.
Immediately Pastor Tim’s next words were, “I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind one person to whom you could extend mercy.”
Wow, Lord, I whispered, this must be important to you!
In Over My Head
So I began to watch Jeffrey’s house for an opportunity to introduce myself. Soon I noticed a twin stroller on the sidewalk in front of his house with boy/girl twin toddlers in it. Since we’d had boy/girl twins 40 years earlier, my husband, Donn, and I hurried over to find out to whom the twins belonged.
We met Esther, who identified herself as the twins’ mother and as Jeffrey’s stepmother. She said the twins’ father was not involved, and I felt immediate sympathy for her, as I remembered how difficult it had been raising twins even with Donn’s help. We gave Esther our phone number and assured her that she could call us day or night if she needed anything.
Jeffrey started coming to our house and going to church with us; eventually we met his mother, Sarah. Everyone had a different skin color than Jeffrey, and there was no sign of Jeffrey’s father. In our naivety, we became more and more puzzled as to why Esther had identified herself as Jeffrey’s stepmother—until I realized that Esther and Sarah were involved in a lesbian relationship. I also knew that God had been completely aware of this relationship and all aspects of their lives when he prompted me to extend mercy to them. I knew that my instructions from him had not changed.
As we became more and more involved in ministering to this household whose needs were many, I knew that I was in over my head when it came to knowing how to present the gospel to them. I loved Esther and Sarah and felt no trace of homophobia, a criticism often leveled at Christians who are opposed to homosexuality for Scriptural reasons. But how should I present the gospel to them and how should I approach their lifestyle with which I disagreed?
Presenting Christ or Our Convictions?
I searched for Christian books on the subject and bought five. These were helpful and eventually I realized that just as I would never approach an unbeliever who overeats by first telling them that gluttony is a sin, in the same way, I should not approach lesbians or homosexuals by attacking them. In fact my approach with them should not differ from the approach that I would take with any other unsaved person. The friendship style of evangelism that had always been my preferred approach to unbelievers was completely appropriate in this situation.
This seems so obvious now, but it was not obvious at the time. Then I remembered an encounter I’d had with a woman who had come to our yard sale years ago. She didn’t know me and knew nothing about my spiritual condition. However, she immediately began to tell me that the King James Version of the Bible was the only version that one should use. She said emphatically, “Our minister says if anyone brings in any other version of the Bible, he’s just going to shut the place down!”
I told my husband later, “She didn’t care whether I was a Christian or not—she only cared about making sure I knew that the King James Bible was the only one that I should use!” Her approach turned me off completely. I felt unloved and angry. I believe that when we make our first priority convincing someone of our convictions rather than presenting Jesus, we do the same thing.
Roy Godwin, author of The Grace Outpouring, said, “We still speak clearly and biblically and state that sin is sin, where it’s appropriate, but we do not go up to people who are living sinful lives and start with our analysis of their sin. Jesus didn’t. He asked questions, told stories, and invited himself over for meals. His meal interactions spoke acceptance before a word was said to people who were often culturally marginal.”
Following Jesus’ example, we attended birthday parties and various other functions at Esther and Sarah’s house, buying toys and gifts that we knew the children would like. Occasionally we babysat, let them use our computer, provided transportation, and prayed with Esther or Sarah when times were hard. We were the people they turned to when some of their bad choices got them into trouble with the law, and sometimes we had to say things that they didn’t want to hear. Extending mercy while still maintaining healthy boundaries wasn’t always easy.
I wish I could say that they came to the Lord and are now living exemplary lives, but in spite of many seeds that were planted, watered, and fertilized with love and truth, that has not happened—yet. Eventually, child welfare services removed the twins from the home (with good cause) and Esther, Sarah, and Jeffrey were evicted and moved to a neighboring town.
Thankfully we still have contact with them through Esther’s mother, Colleen. Colleen has been reading a daily devotional book that I had given to Esther, which Esther never read. Colleen has told me several times that she doesn’t know how she would have gotten through this past year without that book. She’s also started going to church with us when she isn’t working, and it’s clear her faith in Christ is growing. Colleen’s heart was good soil for the seeds of truth we had opportunity to sow, and we are good friends.
Meanwhile, we continue to pray daily for Esther and Sarah to come to Christ, trusting that the one who instructed us to extend mercy to them will continue to work on their hearts.
Too often I’m afraid we want to extend mercy only to those whom we deem deserving. However, if we are attentive to God’s voice, I believe we will often find that his criteria is not the same as ours, and those we shy away from may be the very ones to whom he calls us to extend mercy.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
Daisy Townsend is a freelance writer in Greenville, Pennsylvania.
* All names have been changed.