Priscilla showed up at my front door after sundown one July evening. Her pumpkin-round face and piercing black eyes were framed in shiny black hair parted in the middle and hugging her cheeks. The timid high school sophomore clutched a notebook to her chest, and a shoulder bag hung from her elbow. My pupil was prepared.
I smiled and welcomed her in. She stepped across the threshold. At the end of my driveway, a man lifted one hand in a wave, got into a four-door sedan, and slowly drove away. I suspected he was Priscilla’s father. I was right.
They had just arrived in Washington State from Macao. She spoke broken, rusty English. We settled into two chairs in my upstairs office and proceeded to get more acquainted. She needed English lessons to help her pass her exams. Simple enough.
Twice a week for a dozen weeks, I tutored Priscilla in grammar, spelling, and idioms. A review of all the language arts. I taught her how emphasizing the first or second syllable of a word can change its meaning, as in pro-duce and pro-duce.
We became friends. Not in the “Let’s meet for lunch” kind of friends or chat-on-the-phone kind of friends. We enjoyed visiting, and I gained her confidence. Priscilla started asking about life and how it “worked” in America. She was painfully shy at first but warmed up and began to laugh and share her hopes and dreams.
Priscilla wanted to become a pharmacist. A grand goal, I assured her. I emphasized my true enthusiasm with a smile and words of encouragement I’ve since forgotten.
One day, Priscilla asked me if I am ever afraid. Her question came from nowhere and suddenly.
For a few seconds, I was speechless. Am I ever afraid? Yes, I guess I am sometimes. Like the time I got on the wrong bus in Taipei and traveled for hours around the city, unable to successfully communicate where I wanted to go and with no means of contacting one of my teaching colleagues.
“Do you mean in general?” I asked. “Or do you mean am I afraid of other people?”
She quickly qualified it. “Of other people.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. She told me how she was afraid of what people were thinking of her. She felt they were always judging her.
I took a deep breath and gave her my thoughts. “People are always going to be looking at you, but they are not necessarily judging you. They’re taking inventory and comparing themselves to you. And they’re watching you to see if you’re judging them. They’re asking themselves: Is she dressed better than I am? I want her shoes. I wish I could look that cute with black hair. I wonder if she notices I didn’t wash my hair this morning.”
I told Priscilla that everyone is afraid of what people are thinking of them. And then I told her, “Now that you know this, you can be the only person in the room who isn’t afraid. You can be the one to boldly and kindly approach someone and compliment them. Tell them how pretty their eye makeup is, that you love the color of their shirt, that you sit behind them in math class and wish you were as smart as they are.”
I continued, “You try this, Priscilla, and watch the walls of suspicion and fear come down. If they laugh, laugh with them. If they laugh at you, laugh about you too. Say, ‘You’re right! I do have dumb-looking feet!’”
Priscilla’s English lessons ended with the beginning of her junior year. For years after, we exchanged birthday cards. Then one day, I received a three-page handwritten letter from her. She had graduated high school, with honors, and was thriving in the College of Pharmacology at an in-state university and living in an apartment with six other young women. I wondered if she had taken to heart what I’d told her.
And then her words surprised me. “I didn’t need English lessons after the second week,” she wrote. “But I kept coming to your house because I liked visiting with you. I knew there was something different about you. I want you to know that because of you, I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.”
Never once had I told Priscilla about the Lord or that I am a Christian. I don’t recall if I had quoted any Bible verses to her, but I know I had never witnessed to her or explained the plan of salvation.
Priscilla had taken my words to heart. During our English lessons, she had been watching me — taking inventory and comparing her life to mine. I don’t know what she had thought. Maybe it was Why is Marilyn so nice to me? I wish I could be as nice and as outgoing as she is. Marilyn has something in her that I don’t have, and I would like that too.
I believe God planted a seed in Priscilla’s heart through me, preparing her for the watering that would come from someone else later.
Believers have a powerful influence in the lives of unbelievers simply because they show Christ’s love to others. First Peter 3:1, 2 and 2:11, 12 (NIV) assure us that when unbelievers see the purity and reverence in our lives, they may be won over without words by our behavior, and that by living good lives among the pagans, they may see our good deeds and glorify God.
The ungodly are watching us all the time and asking themselves, What is it that fills her with joy? Where does her peace come from? God moves people in and out of our lives for His reasons. God wants to use us as He leads someone to a saving knowledge of Christ. We should never underestimate the impact of our Christian influence.
Marilyn Buehrer has published a number of books: Escape! From Sugarloaf Mine (under the name Ruth Buehrer), America’s Family, By the Seat of My Pants (all on Amazon.com). She has also written 23 workbooks for Lyricpower.net and curriculum. Marilyn lives in Tucson, AZ.