When I was twelve years old, my youth leader, Tim Sanchez, gave me a morbid homework assignment. He told me to go to a local shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon and just sit on a bench at a busy section and watch people for thirty minutes. As I watched them I was supposed to imagine a small sign on their foreheads with the words, Bound for Hell written across it. This whole thing sounded kind of weird to me but I did it anyway.
I walked to the Westminster Mall which was only a mile or so away from my house. Once in I made my way around the mall for a few minutes trying to find the best place to sit down and begin my homework. Once I found the right spot I sat down, settled in and started looking at people intently trying to imagine those eerie words scrawled across the foreheads of those who past me by. At first I felt stupid and self-conscious. People were watching me watch them and it felt uncomfortable. But in a few minutes I was well into my imagination exercise.
In those thirty minutes my life changed forever.
For 1,800 seconds I watched young and old, geeks and freaks, herds of nerds and flocks of jocks, blue haired elderly women and blue haired pierced skaters, swaggering mall security guards and staggering old men, moms trying to catch their toddlers on the run and dads trying to catch a nap on the benches. Not only did I imagine these people bound for a literal hell I imagined their lives, apart from Christ, as a living hell.
This was the closest I ever came to understanding Matthew 9:36, When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus had His own imagination exercise. He envisioned the throngs of people that were following him as sheep without a shepherd scared, confused and in danger.
That word compassion means to suffer with, to enter into somebody elses pain. Thats what happened to Jesus on the hillside 2,000 years ago and me at the mall twenty seven years ago. Its almost as though God peeled back the curtain and allowed me to feel their hurts and see their pain. I imagined their lives without Christ and their afterlives without Christ and it broke my heart.
I never viewed people the same after that. I still see the sign. When Im at the airport waiting in the security line I see the sign. When Im sitting in traffic and turn to see the guy in the car next to me I see the sign. When Im standing in front of thousands of screaming teenagers at a Dare 2 Share Conference I see the sign. When Im sitting at a Starbucks (like I am now) and see the man next to me sipping his latte and looking out the window (like he is now) I see the sign. I cant get it out of my brain.
The sign keeps me up at night, wakes me up in the middle of the night and gets me out of bed in the morning. It drives me to do what to do what it takes to raise up an army of teenagers, youth leaders, parents and pastors who see the sign too.
This holiday season as you make your way through the crowds to buy Christmas gifts for those you love will you consider grabbing a cup of coffee, finding a place to sit down for thirty minutes and imagine that scary sign Bound for Hell on the foreheads of your fellow shoppers? It could change your life forever. And that change could change their lives forever.
I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes.
Founder and president of Dare 2 Share Ministries, International (D2S) Greg Stier has made an impact on the lives of tens of thousands of Christian teenagers across the country through Dare 2 Share conferences, where he equips youth workers and leaders to be effective in sharing the gospel. For more information on Dare 2 Share Ministries, please visit www.dare2share.org. Find out how Dare 2 Share Ministries and Focus on the Family® are working together to capture the hearts of this generation of teenagers, visit www.capturetheirhearts.com Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.