This weekend, I took part in a Quaker street outreach in downtown Philadelphia. We arrived early Saturday morning, setting up camp in the “free speech zone” near Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. We were there for most of the morning and afternoon, holding public worship and engaging with people walking by.
We really had two things going on at the same time. First of all, there was a circle of folks engaged in silent, waiting worship, beginning shortly after we set up the space. Worship continued for the rest of the day, with individuals cycling in and out of worship as they felt moved. At the same time, some of us were out on the sidewalk, engaging with folks who wandered by. There were lots of tourists, but also many local residents who we got the chance to interact with.
To catch people’s attention we put up a sign that said “Quakers?” and we approached people and offered them little red “diamonds.” We explained that our friend, Josh Jank, is dying from complications related to cycle cell anemia, and that his dying wish is to see 100,000 of these little red, plastic diamonds distributed. The purpose of the diamonds is to serve as a reminder: They are red because love matters, and they are diamonds because God does amazing things under heat and pressure.
This message of love and hope was deeply moving for many of the people we talked with, and it opened up a space for deeper conversations with many. I am grateful to Josh for his message, and the way that this very tangible reminder could bridge gaps between people and make connections on the streets of Philadelphia. Josh has given us a unique way to share the good news of God’s love, and open ourselves to strangers in a way that heals and forms community.
After this experience, I am wondering how we might continue to reach out to strangers with God’s love. I was touched by how many people I met this weekend who I never would have encountered if I hadn’t gotten out into the streets and handed out little red diamonds. There is something beautiful and liberating about reaching out to others, not to sell them anything or convince them to adopt my perspective, but just to let them know that God loves them, and that there are communities of people who love them, too. This is good news!