Sylvia the Hairdresser, or, how NOT to do evangelism

Now my heart warms toward her but this was not always so when it came to Sylvia the Hairdresser. I could barely go anywhere without her evangelical interference. It dogged my childhood. If I went to the barbershop, she would see my bicycle leaning against the wall, and when I came out, she would summon me sternly into her salon-for-girls to tell me about her Jesus. I felt awkward and exposed just standing there, in the bright pink salon – seeing my freshly shaved head a hundred times in her hard bright mirrors – hearing what a sinner I was, with girls watching.

God loves you was her persistent theme. Clearly, she did not share God’s predisposition towards me. I was a potential convert – a possible testimony to her faithfulness, a feather in her heavenly crown – and come hell or high water, she was going to get me saved. Somehow, according to her, I had already managed to embody all the despicable acts of humanity in one pre-adolescent frame. According to my well-versed Representative, if I failed to immediately repent (from what I did not know, nor did she make clear), even the impending bicycle ride home could terminate my miserable sin-filled life and land me in my well-deserved Hell. Any implication of Scriptural evidence that Jesus loved children was lost on her; every encounter with Sylvia the hairdresser was a foretaste of the very Hell at which she said my life was aimed.

To me, she felt omnipotent. Meeting her could happen anywhere. The encounters were most prolonged when she bought groceries from my dad’s corner store. This was when we both got it – Dad and me. As he tried to discuss her practiced presentations of her gospel, she would shrug her shoulders, extend her arms in despair, and mumble about feet and dust and pearls and swine. From behind the counter, I could see dust rising and pearls glittering around her chosen, blessed neck. If the exchange between Sylvia and Dad lasted long enough, I would imagine I could smell slaughtered pigs and see carcasses spread violently across the floor.

She said, “praise the Lord” a lot and never once waited to hear anything from Dad or me. I knew we would never make it with her Jesus. In fact, I was quite sure I preferred not to, knowing she looked forward to a promised preeminent place, ruling and reigning with God forever and ever and ever and ever.

In Sylvia the Hairdresser, the fine art of meddling in the affairs of others, which she called witnessing, was perfected. Because God is all knowing, she made everything her business. No marriage, no illness, no child-rearing practice in her self-declared parish escaped her watchful eye. I knew it was only a matter of time before she would find out I liked to play music. Once she came into our house when I was practicing Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago and she stopped me mid-bar to tell me I was “playing for the devil.” She rampaged about the debauchery that followed young boys who played music for the world. I sat accused, hands spread on the piano keys and wondered how a beautiful melody, played very simply in our living room, was found pleasing to the devil and capable of leading to such destruction, the likes of which in all of my eleven years, I had never heard. “Praise the Lord,” she sang as she left our sleazy home, victory under her belt and my head in a bag. Once again I saw the dust and smelled the swine, and watched the reflection off her pearls light up her shiny smiling face.

So how I ever fell in love with Jesus of the New Testament has nothing to do with Sylvia the Hairdresser who dogged my childhood with her evangelical interference, as much as I am told she believes it. Rather, a few people befriended and loved me beyond my deserving. They listened to my wild ideas about faith, love and life, then, when I asked, told me in Whom they believed. And in the telling of such freeing, courageous and beautiful love, I saw the Heart of God.

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One Response to Sylvia the Hairdresser, or, how NOT to do evangelism

  1. Laura says:

    “In Sylvia the Hairdresser, the fine art of meddling in the affairs of others, which she called witnessing, was perfected.”

    I know two Sylvia’s, and your way of describing their activity is precisely right. I know the fear that has been slammed down my throat: If I’m “of this world,” then I might as well be in Hell. My mother’s response to such comments was, “Well, I am of this world because that’s where God has placed me… to live in this world.” I think Sylvias look at living in the world as such a bad thing. But it seems it’s an affront to God to be displeased with the life He’s given us here.

    I am so grateful for my true friends who are helping me extricate myself from the teachings of Sylvia’s Church and find the compassionate God who loves me right here and right now.

    As always, thank you for the beautiful writing. :O)

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