Cross Examined, Part 9

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Dread drained away Paul’s strength—he felt like he had a fever as he shuffled home. He mentally stepped through his plans for approaching people the next morning, but even in his mind he saw himself paralyzed with fear when confronted by a strange face.

He unlocked the door to his small apartment, eased himself into his desk chair, and tried to relax his mind. The apartment was simple but adequate for his needs. His few clothes took up half of one shelf of a tall bookcase, stealing precious room from a large collection of books neatly organized. Classics by Homer, Chaucer, and Shakespeare were in one section, American novelists including Twain, Hawthorne, and Melville were in another, and books on science and history were in a third. The desk was next to the bookcase, and a bed lay against the opposite wall.

He stood and paced as he considered how to approach strangers with his message. Back and forth, over and over, he made no more forward progress with his feet than he did with his mind.

Paul told himself that his emotions were driving him and that he needed to rein them in. His unhappy childhood continued to hobble his adult personality. In the orphanage, abuse from older children and neglect by the staff had made Paul wary and defensive. He could blame his fear on childhood trauma, but knowing the cause didn’t make it less draining. His dread remained, and he slept little that night.

˜The next morning, Paul muttered to himself as he turned onto the first street, repeating a short set of commands—give your name, the church’s name, say where the church is, and ask them to attend service this Sunday. Over and over.

He turned down the walk to the first house. Lilies bloomed in the corner of the yard, fragrant and white, but they only brought to mind a funeral. He had been nervous since he started out this morning, but now his heart raced and he felt short of breath. His deliberate steps clumped hollowly on the wooden stairs, as if he were walking to a gallows. Finally at the door, he held his breath and knocked. The door opened. “Good morning sir,” Paul began as he read from a note card. He looked up to see a middle-aged woman holding the door. “Uh … good morning madam. My name is Paul Winston,” he said, reading on, holding his notes in one hand and offering his calling card in another. He stuttered through the remainder of his brief pitch with his eyes down and was flushed and sweaty when he finished.

“Thank you, but we already have a church.” The woman closed the door.

And then he was alone again on the porch.

He trudged to the next house and received “No solicitors!” through the closed door. He opened his mouth to argue, thought better of it, and moved on. At the next, the lady of the house acknowledged that she had read about the church in the paper but said that her family belonged to another church. At the next, another curt “No, thank you” behind a closed door. Paul cheered himself with the hope that Samuel would call off the experiment after hearing how difficult it was and the poor results it had yielded.

And so the day progressed. Some people already had churches. Some cut Paul off, saying that they weren’t interested in whatever he was selling. But a few—a tiny handful—let him make his pitch and said that they would consider the offer.

At the end of the day, feeling exhausted and beaten, Paul reported back to Samuel.

“It wasn’t pleasant,” Paul said.

“Okay, but I didn’t promise you pleasant. Neither did Jesus.”

“What I meant to say is that it was very hard.”

“I understand.”

Samuel wasn’t taking the bait, and Paul tried another tack. “I really don’t think that sales is my strength.”

“Sales may not be a strength now, but it will be. It must be.” Samuel paused. “You won’t be doing this forever. It’s training. When you have a pulpit of your own, you will draw heavily on this experience. You’ll know what works and what doesn’t.”

Paul sighed.

Samuel asked if there had been any discussion or debate.

“I spoke to one man—I guess he was about sixty—who said that he fought in lots of battles in Virginia during the war, and he said, ‘Given the horror of what I’ve seen, there is no God.’”

Samuel snorted. “He thinks he’s seen horror? Imagine hell. And that’s the point—that’s why this is important. I don’t doubt that this is hard, but you’re saving souls! Always keep that in mind. There is no more important work.”

The next day was more of the same—an emotional wringer that left Paul’s white shirt drenched in sweat. He saw a complete slice of society: rudeness at one extreme, a few considerate people on the other, and in the middle, lots of people too busy with their own activities to give much attention to the nervous young man interrupting them. Never was a two-mile walk through a pleasant residential neighborhood during a Los Angeles spring more exhausting.

At the end of the day, Samuel gave him another pep talk and asked to hear Paul’s pitch. Paul had been adding to it as new ideas had occurred to him, and he launched into a forced performance.

“Far too long.” Samuel cut him off when Paul was only half done. “Try something like: ‘Have you been saved?’ It’s short and to the point, and it gets them thinking. It invites you to offer the answer to the problem—salvation. More importantly, it suggests that there’s something to be saved from. It points to hell.”

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