What’s Your Response?
A blast of frigid night air shocked the lungs of a young lady as she opened her car door. Every breath sparked the longing for the warmth of her apartment; every exhale sent plumes of visible breath into the dark night. She briefly longed for the return of the warmer temperatures that had clasped the city only a few days prior. With her car door closed, she began her short voyage, of 100 feet, that stood between her and her front door. The sharp click of her heels echoed in the alley. The sounds of the urban jungle in which she lived seemed to have gone mute, due to the late progression of the night. Every step she took was another step toward the invitation of her door, the inviting warmth of her apartment. However, she would never pass through the threshold of her doorway. Unknown to her at the moment, as her heels played the only audible tune that danced through the alley, was that a figure stood between her and her door.
Seeming to instantly emerge from some obscure shadow, a man lunged forward toward her. Adrenaline raced through her veins faster than Secretariat on his first mile. Her muscles tensed and bolted into action; before she even realized what was happening she was rushing down the street in the opposite direction. Her attacker closed the gap of her flight with ease and stabbed her twice in the back before she could round the first corner. In an instant her voice echoed the cry of her wounds, and she screamed, “Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!” Met with no response, the shriek seemed to travel no further than her lips. For the young lady the moment seemed to last an eternity, for the rest of the world it was a simple few seconds. Her pleas graced the ears of many but activated the empathy of none. Nobody came to the aid of Catherine "Kitty" Genovese and because of that, she died.
The account of Catherine Genovese is interesting because it exposes a dynamic of “bystander psychology.” In those eery early morning hours of March 19th, there was a number of bystanders who witnessed the murder of the young lady. Many of whom were warmly tucked in the abode of their homes. Disturbed only by the plea for help that echoed down the dark alleys of the city. Despite the fact that a few people came forward noting they had heard the woman’s cry, nobody did anything. In fact, the only aid the lady received was of a man yelling out his window at the attacker. So here we have a woman, running down the street of one of the largest cities in America, and one of the most densely populated cities in the world, screaming while being stabbed to death and nobody answered the plea. Sure, a man yelled out his window, but honestly, what good is yelling out a window going to do for a person who is being murdered for 49 dollars? Police reports note that nobody even called the police to report the attack until after the girl was already dead! A young lady died in the shadows, on a freezing sidewalk, alone, but surround by millions.
So here we arrive at the critical moment where an isolated story from the 1960’s is made applicable to your life today. The essence of my point is this: in the context of evangelism, are we any different than the bystanders? Bystander psychology teaches us that in the moment of crisis, as we saw with the murder of Catherine, nobody takes the responsibility of action. The individual hears the cries, understands the need for help, but does not feel compelled to do anything about it. Psychologists have even noted in other cases where individuals have felt that someone else was going to take the initiative.
In a psychology class, I watched a video of a man who was hit by a car in the middle of a busy intersection. The perpetrator sped off, leaving the injured man crumpled in the middle of the street. The video continues for five solid minutes as cars drive around the man, and people gawk, turning their hands but continuing their path. Finally, after some five minutes a figure finally breaks the flow and steps out into the street to help the man, it’s almost comical to then watch everyone on the street, who have only been observing, suddenly run and circle to man. And so once again I ask: in the context of evangelism, are we any different than the bystanders?
My friends, we are well aware that there is a lost and dying world out there. It doesn’t take too much common sense to realize out world is royally messed up. We hear their cries for help, we see their injuries. But I’m afraid we may be as guilty as the bystanders who heard Catherine the night of her murder, or of the people who stood by watching the man in the street? Do we recognize the need for evangelism, the absolute necessity to save the world, but simply stand by waiting for someone else to take the first step? Bystander psychology notes that the vast amount of people don’t respond because they think someone else is going to do it. And so the question arises: are we not reaching the lost because we think someone else is going to do it? The irony presents itself that if we all think someone else will witness we need up with nobody witnessing.
Sure, evangelism can be a scary and challenging task but let’s be totally honest here, are you always prepared for every situation life throws at you? Yes, know your Bible, present the Gospel effectively, but if you think that the prerequisite for effective evangelism requires being a 60 year old preacher, who has been licensed for 40 years, you are sadly mistaken. You can be effective in evangelism, today. You don’t have to be an expert to save a soul, thank God, and let’s be honest you're going to make a mistake here and there. None of us have the answer to every question the world throws at us. The key is just responding to the cry. Catherine wasn’t crying out for Superman; she just wanted help from somebody, anybody.
I’m afraid that we have become guilty of hearing the cries, seeing the pain while simultaneously allowing it to go in one ear and out the other; expecting an “evangelist” or “preacher” to respond.
So here is where the idea of my point meets the application of your hands. I ask for you to simply show the love of God to one single person today. You don’t have to pull out your Bible and start an involuntary Bible study with the lady making your coffee at your local Starbucks, but you know what you can do? You can smile! You can ask them about their day. You can show that you care. You can brighten their day in that simple moment. If you have the opportunity, you can remind them that God loves them. You can invite them to church…
There is a lot that you can do, but I ask: will you?
What will be your response?
Gansberg, M. (1964, March 27). Thirty-Eight Saw Murder. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
Getlen, L. (2014, February 16). Debunking the myth of Kitty Genovese. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
Lemann, N. (2104, March 10). A Call for Help. The New Yorker. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
Yardley, J. (2014, March 14). 'Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America' by Kevin Cook and Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences' by Catherine Pelonero. Retrieved October 2, 2015.