Column: The plight of the Jesus Hawkers

Column: The plight of the Jesus Hawkers

As I walked through campus Wednesday morning, fresh from learning that when I consolidated my loans it meant the payments start now, I came upon a spectacular and rare sight in the Snell Library quad.

A mast with four sails loomed majestically above the 10:25 a.m. crowd, bearing the simple, hand-painted words: JESUS COULD SAVE YOU FROM BURNING IN HELL.

Ah, J.C. Always popping up where I least expect Him. The man carrying the big sign was yelling at passing students that their (very expensive) educations are meaningless. He was wearing a cowboy hat and a (quite amazing) button-up shirt that was a mystifying mixture of silk and denim. A young blonde woman was standing a few paces away, handing out pamphlets.

Knowing there was no way Northeastern would allow this, I sat in the Curry Student Center with a spicy tuna roll to watch the show. Sure enough, by the time I got to a table by the windows a Northeastern Police officer was already on the scene, trying to explain to Giant Sign Jesus Guy why he couldn’t spread the Gospel on campus. There was lots of pointing on both sides in the general direction of Huntington Ave., and eventually the officer took out a notepad and presumably took down the guy’s info. Another officer came up, and the pair of pilgrims dismantled the sign and walked off. An officer on a bicycle came around and the three were laughing about it.

Once I finished my student center sushi, I walked over to the corner of Huntington and Opera, in front of Speare Hall, where I knew they would be. I was right – and Giant Sign Jesus Guy was now carrying another, possibly bigger, sign extolling the virtues of a life committed to God ‘ Co.

Why was I so curious? I’ve lived in the city long enough to be cynical down to the bones, and I saw so many sign-carrying Bible-thumpers on that very corner from my old apartment across the street that I’ve become oblivious to them. Was it because I needed column fodder this week? Or because I have become softened and sympathetic to the plights and ambitions of those so different from me?

Good question.

The blonde pamphleteer, Ruth, told me that she and Sign Guy (Abraham, of course) are brother and sister, part of a family of eight that travels the U.S. and various Central American countries, telling poor heathens about the world’s most famous carpenter. When I asked where they were from, she couldn’t answer: They were born in different states, a result of their parents’ missions. The flyers – thick blocks of text printed on plain white computer paper – listed their father’s address in Montana.

They stake out college campuses, Ruth said, because all us students are so unhappy and unfulfilled as we chase our dreams of wealth, prominence and earthly accomplishment while worrying about finding a boyfriend and partying. Just look around, she said.

And we think once we graduate, once we have our jobs and our families and a house and the whole shebang, that feeling will go away? We’ll be happy? But, Ruth continued, look at the people who already have that. (She actually said, look at the people downtown, which made me think of Downtown Crossing. Yeah, maybe not the most spiritually complete set of people down there.) They have the same worried look that we, apparently, wander around campus with.

Ruth also told me the family doesn’t support any churches or organized religion, including Christianity, because they look for money or power and because they warp the Bible – as if it needed any help. She seemed to have a special disdain for Catholicism. She added, quite vehemently and several times, that her family isn’t looking for cash money. They just want to pass out their terrible-looking little flyers and wave their signs to convince us unhappy college kids that we should give ourselves to Jesus.

But as students streamed by with condescending looks or giggles or just that same cynicism I bear, ignoring the papers thrust at them, I felt bad for Ruth and Abe. No one was buying it. No one even listened to the pitch. And here they were, offering eternal happiness. It’s too bad. Maybe they have the answers for all of us empty-souled nonbelievers.

As I walked away (after forcibly ending the conversation when Ruth decided I was a good candidate for conversion), I wondered if that family, the eight of them running around North America with big signs and hopeful determination, is happy. Are Ruth and Abe at peace, filled with some golden light of Jesus-love? Even when they have a wholly unsuccessful day, when college kids, businesspeople and everyone else brush past them? Even when some asshole calls them crazy, stupid and probably a whole lot more?

I couldn’t bring myself to ask the question. So I turned my thoughts to how the Hell I’m going to pay off all these student loans without any help from Jesus.

– Rachel Slajda can be reached at [email protected]

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