Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Moment #639. Chinese at dept store. Tue, Jul 4, 2006.

07/04/2006. To recap how I got there: I was driving home from an out-of-town restaurant. I saw a certain gas station to the left, but when it was too late to turn, I felt a spiritual "tug" that indicated I needed to visit that gas station. I went to the next light, turned left, drove back through the shopping center's parking lot, and felt an additional "tug" to that group of stores. I went to the gas station first, bought a newspaper, and was blessed to find a really cool guy from Senegal who was excited to receive two copies of the Book of Mormon in French and English, and two copies of the Sunday school manual in Wolof and English.

After leaving the gas station, I drove back to the group of stores to which I had felt drawn. The "tug" towards those stores was as strong as it had been for the gas station.

I parked and went into the department store to shop for pants which I needed anyway. I found a couple in my size and headed towards the checkout area. I hadn't seen any obvious opportunities, so I sat down on a bench to figure out what to do.

Then it hit me, and I started to feel overwhelmed and in awe of this little road-trip, because I ended up in an area that I don't normally go to. Even though the experience at the Chinese restaurant didn't feel right, finding the man from Senegal who was excited to meet me and receive material was worth the whole trip.

I sat for a few seconds, and wondered where my "intended contact" was. I eventually checked out, and took my purchases out to the car. I still felt like there was an opportunity somewhere due to the obviousness of the prompting I had when I first drove by this group of stores. So I walked down the sidewalk in front of the stores, and still didn't see any opportunities.

After coming back to the car, I had to go to the restroom so I went back in to the department store where I had just shopped. And there standing in between me and the restroom area were two Asian ladies.

Doubters may say that this was pure coincidence, and that of course one will randomly encounter immigrants. But I knew I was supposed to be there, that I was led there, and that someone I would encounter would be ready for a Book of Mormon.

I asked the two ladies if they spoke any foreign languages. They said Chinese. They were from China, so they read the simplified script version of Chinese. I asked if I could give them books and a video in Chinese from my church, and they said okay. I asked them to wait and said I'd bring them in from my car.

I went out to my car and retrieved a Simplified script Chinese copy and and English copy of the Book of Mormon, and the multi-lingual "Finding Happiness" DVD that has Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and Korean tracks on it.

They didn't show enthusiasm, but were definitely curious about the material.

I pointed out the phone numbers they could call if they had family or friends who wanted additional copies.

Afterwards, I realized that I assumed the two ladies were family and resided in the same household. I had enough copies with me, I could have asked if they wanted a pair of books each.

You may wonder if it's kosher to proselyte in stores. Well, this wasn't proselyting. It was one customer striking up a casual conversation with other customers, and offering bilingual material that has another purpose in addition to just religion: it's also about languages. Is the language aspect a "pretext?" Well, if it is, it's a legitimate pretext.

There are certain rules I follow at stores which seem to keep it acceptable. First, I am there as a customer, with the purpose of making a purchase, something the store wants me to do. Second, I keep moving along as a customer. I don't park myself in one location, though I may occasionally linger or alter my path to facilitate a contact. And I leave after I've made my purchases. Third, I don't take material in with me, I leave it in the car, and only retrieve it if the person agrees to receive it. Fourth, unless prompted I don't seek additional contacts after the first. Fifth, I don't ask people for their names, addresses or phone numbers. I just give them my name/number and a flyer with several ways to contact the church.

Therefore, I am a customer engaged in what the store wants me to do, buying their goods. And I'm not doing anything beyond socializing with other customers in an acceptable manner. When I bring printed material into the store, it is only after the other person has agreed to receive it. And often, if our conversation is while we are going through the check-out lane, the transfer of the material takes place outside, which is even better.

On the rest of the trip home that evening, I kept my eyes open, and found a Japanese restaurant and two more Chinese restaurants, but didn't have any more encounters.

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