What’s His Story?


“What’s his story?” my Outreach partner asked me, as the man I had introduced her to walked away. I responded, as I often do, in vague terms wanting to respect his privacy.

Often I go home feeling guilty in some way that actually I don’t know. Surely the Outreach Coordinator, of all people, should know how the men we serve got where they are. Upon reflection, I suppose I do know bits and pieces of many of our contacts’ pasts. It’s usually shared in a rather disconnected way, random pieces here and there that were relevant to the current conversation. But not something I can always connect together in a way that might answer a question like, “What’s his story?”

This time, as I wondered how it could be that I care about these people I meet, yet cannot always answer this question in a satisfactory way, I started to think about it a little bit differently. What is it that I do know about my friends, and why is it that we first want to know where someone came from?

The first question was easy. I know who these men are now and, in some cases, I know who they want to be. But the vast majority of people we spend time with do not tell me about their past; they tell me about their present situation, and sometimes the future they hope for. Sometimes a person’s past is buried due to guilt, or shame, or unresolved traumas. Certainly it would be healthy, at some point, for them to process and relieve these burdens through the blood of Christ and receive medical or therapeutic assistance.

I also believe that people want to be known for who they are now and for who God wants them to be. It seems to me that most people are more interested in discovering the person that God created, rather than being known (judged? possibly … or probably) for the person they used to be. On Outreach, it is therefore our mandate to assist someone in that discovery, to journey with him in together seeking out who we are (rather than who we were) in Christ.

But I don’t have the answer to the second question. Why do we seem so interested in people’s pasts? The optimist in me says we want to be in awe of the amazing ways we know God can and does change lives. It is true that our past is important, and no less a part of our story than the future. But is it healthy for us to be so focused on this? Sometimes, yes; our history can be incredibly helpful in understanding our patterns and tendencies. But the pessimist in me is concerned that we are too focused on a person’s past; that the past becomes the lens through which we see their present, which would naturally then impact where we think they can go in their future. Does it really benefit me to know a person’s past, or who they used to be? If not, then what use is it to me? My fear is that too much of me desires to explain or justify a person’s present through the rigid lens of their past.

I do not think the question, “What’s your story?” is a bad one. But I do think it is worth continually asking ourselves what our motivations are. Do I want to know this person so that God is glorified? Do I want to see this person purely as God sees them, without being tainted by judgments or presumptions due to past behaviors? Is it just to elicit shock and awe to impress friends, family, or donors with a story that neither of us can even imagine experiencing?

I might not be able to tell you who all of the men of Emmaus were or what they went through. But I promise I can tell you who they are, and that together we are seeking out who we can be with Christ.

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