Why Does Eye Contact Matter?

san-franc

Honesty time…this is a post I have been debating and drafting since I started this blog. I knew this was a story I wanted to publish, I felt like this was a story I needed to publish, yet I’ve never quite been able to figure out the best way to go about telling this story – until today.

This morning I was at my church helping out with a funeral by providing childcare. When the funeral was over and all the kids were gone, I was wandering through the building looking for my dad when I ran into my youth minister. He and I spoke for a couple minutes and then parted ways for a grand total of five seconds.

As I walked through the copy room still looking for my dad he came back into the copy room (and almost hit me with the door in the process). Turns out, he was actually coming back to look for me.

We walked into the hallway and he asked me if I remembered the mission trip he took me on to San Francisco. Internally I thought “How could I forget?” but instead it came out as “Yeah of course.” He proceeded to ask me what I thought about the trip, some things that stood out to me, etc. since he was taking the youth group on a trip to New York through the same mission group.

I realized in that moment my own youth minister didn’t realize the effect the San Francisco trip had on me. The trip to San Francisco changed my life. Here’s what I mean:

I place my hands on the counter and try to look the middle-aged man in the eye. He immediately turns away, making eye contact with the young man next to me instead.

“How long have you lived in the United States?” I ask, still trying to make eye contact.

Again, he looks at the young man standing next to me. “30 years,” the middle-aged man responds.

I close my eyes and stay calm. I remind myself he and I come from two different cultures. Surely, he is not deliberately trying to disrespect me.

I feel compelled to keep trying. “If you could change one thing about your time in the United States, what would it be?”

Much to my shock, he turned and bent down to my height. My dark hazel eyes came in direct contact with his bright brown eyes.

“When I moved to America, I had business from everyone in San Francisco. Since 9/11, the only business I receive in my store comes from other Iranian and Iraqi refugees,” he said, his voice full of sorrow. “I am thankful to be out of Iran, but I did not leave Iran to be treated like this.”

As a 17-year-old high school graduate, I was stunned by his response. My heart shattered.

This was a memoir I wrote as a writing sample for my advanced PR class, but the story goes so much deeper than a school assignment. I was very young when this happened to me. I had barely experienced other cultures until this trip. At 17, I met someone who would change the course of my life forever.

I could tell my youth minister was shocked when I told him this (and I felt horrible I had never told him before). I opened up to my youth minister and told him the trip he took me on to San Francisco is part of the reason I decided to pursue a graduate degree in Public Policy and International Affairs.

My time in San Francisco was different than any trip I had been on before. I quite literally just walked around and talked to people. I went to places of the city that most people would never dream of going to. The impact the trip had on me was profound. The impact helped propel me forward into the person I am becoming today.

This is why eye contact matters. If I had never met that Iranian man, and if he had never made eye contact with me, I would not have the heart for God’s kingdom that I do now. He and I broke cultural boundaries that day, even if it was only for a couple seconds.

We never fully understand the work our Father does for His kingdom. I have not seen that man since that day back in 2012, but I know I have never forgotten him and I never will. That day I was simply a young girl in his store, but for me I realized there are so many other people with stories like this man. Even more, I realized I wanted to be apart of their stories, I wanted to show them the love of Christ, the same way I had for my friend from Iran.

My youth minister said my story was a huge encouragement to him today. I appreciate that but I think he was more of an encouragement to me. He was the one who reminded me that God works in mysterious ways. He is the reason I decided to share my memoir I wrote for class. As confusing as my life has felt lately, he helped me remember that God is in control of it all, working all things in His kingdom for His glory.

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