"Would you like to join us for a Bible discussion? There's free food ..."
This was a common inquiry around the youth hostel in the evening. Many times, people would politely decline. After all, travelers visiting Amsterdam would often have evening plans -- and staff knew there were usually other opportunities to converse with guests.
But that cloudy summer night, I was co-leading the discussion, and after asking nearly everyone in our filled-to-capacity hostel, no one seemed interested in joining. Deflated, my colleague and I turned to pray and go home.
As we bowed our heads, we were interrupted by a quiet knock on the door of the room where we usually met -- a small, quiet room away from the noise of the streets. My colleague and I looked at each other as we opened the door. We were greeted by a young woman from China. She said she had just checked in and heard about the Bible discussion from our receptionist. She mentioned she wasn't a Christian, but had studied philosophy in the U.K. and wanted to better understand why Christians believe what they believe. We sat down, poured tea, and began to field her many questions.
Our conversation lasted hours. After 10 o'clock, we asked our guest if we could pray for her. Hesitantly she agreed, saying no one had ever prayed for her before. We began to pray for her and her studies, her travels, and her family -- and at the end she looked up with a gigantic smile. "Now I think I understand what Christians mean when you talk about the peace of God ..." We gave her a Bible in Mandarin Chinese before saying goodnight, the joy bright on her face.
Five years later, I found myself on a trip to Tanzania with my home congregation to visit our partner parish in the town of Lushoto. During our stay, we visited the various outreaches and congregations that our sister parish nurtured. Everywhere we went, we brought greetings from our respective congregations, listened to what God was doing in that place since we were last together, and provided our own updates.
It was praying and singing together, though, that was truly impactful. Toward the end of the trip, our tired group stood in a large schoolroom singing with many students. Quietly, a small voice asked, "Can we sing for you?" We agreed, and what came was the most beautiful benediction: "May the blessing of the Lord be upon you ... we bless you in the name of the Lord." The peace of God that surpasses all understanding hit us full force as joyful tears streamed down our faces.
It wasn't the explanations of belief or answers stumbled through that brought that sense of peace ... it wasn't the formalities or the updates that were given, good though those things may be. Rather, it was a quiet prayer, a simple song, that yearned to be shared.
May God continue to disrupt my explanations with such beautiful reminders: peace is like a song, and it needs to be shared.
In 2012, Kevin Ruhf served as an EMM mission intern at the Shelter Youth Hostels ministry in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He currently lives and works in Ambler, Pa., with his wife Sara, and is an active member of Upper Dublin Lutheran Church.