Breaking the Ice

The large man commanded attention. Though the prison Common Room is often bustling with people, all eyes are typically drawn to him when he enters the room or rises from his seat. It’s reminiscent of an old western movie when the notorious villain walks into the saloon and the music suddenly stops. I’ll call the man Steve.

I first spoke with Steve a few weeks ago when waiting in line for medication. I overheard him asking people in his “car” (gang) to help with his math homework; he was trying to complete his GED. Those in his car had not mastered algebra and evidently did not want Steve to either. In fact, members of his gang harshly mocked his efforts.

Embarrassed by the rather public spectacle, Steve hung his head and walked away. I followed, waited for Steve to move some distance from his group, then tentatively approached. I did not know his name at the time, but I quietly caught his attention and offered my assistance. I knew the possible negative ramifications if our tutoring relationship were made public, so I offered to meet discretely, in a location and time of Steve’s choosing.

Steve was cautious, fearing a mean-spirited prank of some kind. And he grew very skeptical when he asked me how much I would charge him, meaning how much of his food I would demand in exchange for tutoring assistance. He was surprised when I replied, “Nothing, God has blessed me, and I am happy to bless others.” He was still leery but also desperate, so he consented to a series of tutoring sessions.

The work went well, and soon, with a little assistance and encouragement, Steve progressed. Steve has an aptitude for math – it just had never been cultivated or nurtured. Now, a few tutoring sessions and weeks after we started meeting, Steve was making his way toward me as I sat alone at a table in the busy Common Room.

As is his custom, he walked with great purpose and energy, like a bull elk ready for combat. Dozens of eyes tracked his movements. To the surprise of many, Steve stopped in front of my table. A pregnant hush fell over the room. Had I somehow angered the big man and was about to pay the price? Everyone waited to find out. What happened next was both sweet and tender; Steve offered a humble and very public appreciation for my help.

Everyone heard Steve thank me. With great excitement in his voice, he told me he had just passed his math test. He was very proud of his accomplishment and held up his paper for all to see. He then extended his hand, which I gratefully shook. It was a bold move on his part – a public demonstration of gratitude and vulnerability to one outside his car. The crowd was, as my wife is known to say, “gobsmacked.”

An amazing thing happened. Steve, a man of influence, broke the ice and paved the way for me to connect with others. Perhaps some observers thought, “If he can try to better himself and feels at liberty to talk with someone outside his group, I can too.” Soon, my prayer to break-through and serve across racial and affiliation lines was answered.

I took a risk to reach out to Steve, and Steve took a risk to thank me publicly. Both actions inspired others. I have found that many are interested in doing good things but often need a little push, a catalyst, someone to break the ice and model the better way. Incredibly, small, inexpensive, no-experience-required, bold choices to model the love of Christ can have a big impact on many hurting in our world today.

Like Jesus, we should take the initiative—reach across the isle, and be willing to break the ice. Others will be inspired by your boldness and follow. Here are five ideas to get you started:

1) Invite someone to perform an act of kindness with you. Working as a team is often productive and makes the act of service less difficult or intimidating.

2) Bless someone with a small encouragement gift. Give some consideration as to whom you should surprise. Perhaps someone who is sad, going through a difficult time, hurting, new, elderly, lonely, or different.

3) Rather than giving one item, such as a packet of coffee, consider giving two, and encouraging the recipient to “pay the gesture forward.” This multiplies kindness.

4) Inspire, encourage and resource others as you can: Support an individual or group fulfilling doing a good work. Adopt (as you can) a need or person. Provide a financial gift or item(s) to a person or group that is doing good things. Those on the outside may be able to assist with childcare, transportation or home maintenance. If you give this some thought, an idea will come to you.
5) With a friend, make a plan to do special acts of service or kindness each week. Work independently and together. Report to each other, inspire each other, hold one another accountable, and as Scripture counsels, “Spur one another on toward good works.” Do this for 30 – 40 days and see what happens.

Exhibit joy in service, giving, and living. People will not want what you are offering or follow your example if you do not exhibit joy, peace, and satisfaction.

As Paul wrote three times in his epistles, “Let us live lives worthy of our calling” (Eph. 4:1 Col. 1:10 1 Thess. 2:12).

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