He stands like a statue, motionless except for the baggy, white clothes fluttering in a strong westward breeze from the Mississippi. He wears a backwards baseball cap emblazoned with a cross over a pure white bandanna. Back to the river, he stares silent and still at the Gateway Arch, the symbol of the city he is trying to save. In his left hand he holds a large Christian flag that billows in the wind. At his feet is a towel, positioned like a prayer mat on the hard concrete.
Passing tourists are puzzled. Everything else about the day seems so normal, peaceful even. Jazz floats on the wind from a moored riverboat. People snap photos and marvel at the arch's elliptical wonder.
But this strange man stands out; he emanates mystery. He begs for engagement, either in ridicule or just plain curiosity, but no one dares approach. The saint of St. Louis never moves. His sunglasses remain fixed on the arch and the souls milling around it.
In town for a wedding, our family encounters him on a quick trip to the city's iconic monument, which stands as a symbol of America's bold shift westward at the turn of the 20th century.
After staring for a few moments at this odd display of faith, I decide there's no way I'll find out what sparked it unless I ask. Having shared my faith overseas and encountered university street preachers barking hellfire and brimstone, I've been fascinated with how people try to fulfill God's command to make disciples of all nations.
"Onward Christian soldier," I say as I approach, mentioning the Christian hymn as if it's a secret password designed to break his stony gaze.
He seems surprised, as if this is a first, but keeps his stark posture as we begin to talk. I quickly spring into interview mode. Under his superhero getup is a story of faith more interesting than I could've expected.
A few years ago, Brad Lee was living a rebellious lifestyle and felt that nothing could touch him, but it didn't take long for life to shatter his facade of independence. A female friend, Sunshine, was diagnosed with cancer, and the doctors weren't sure she would survive. The news sent him into a tailspin. Broken down, he cried out desperately for God's help.
Brad felt God drawing him toward repentance. Somehow God revealed that he was not a genie in a bottle. It would take commitment - a full turn from Brad's careless ways - for his prayers to have any weight.
Relationship with God restored, Brad turned his attention and prayers to Sunshine. For him, those Bible references to healing weren't literary devices. They were promises that God hears his saints and responds when they ask for something in the name of Jesus.With the zeal of a radically new believer, he threw himself into fasting and prayer. In light of God's power, he would only accept a full recovery.
Though given only three months to live, Sunshine's health began to dramatically improve. Eventually she was cured completely. Brad saw this not only as an answered prayer, but a new commission. He would pray for as many people as possible, hoping God might similarly change their fate.
So now he stands stoically in the same spot every Sunday from noon to 3 p.m., three solid hours faithfully hoping and praying that God will lead an injured soul his way.
I lay my hand on his shoulder and pray for his ministry. Then I walk away scratching my head. It's not that I question Sunshine's healing, but almost automatically I begin questioning Brad's methodology. Does the healing of someone you love give you the gift of healing? Will God will hear your prayers for any stranger on the street? And the pure white clothes, the Christian flag, the way he almost tests God by showing up in the same place every week - Isn't it just a bit, well, crazy?
After turning it over in my mind, I decide that it is. But instead of leaving me feeling superior, this realization leaves me convicted.
Brad has the audacity, born of faith, to actually believe what Jesus says, that we will do greater things than he, that prayers seeking his kingdom will be granted. I rarely venture to a place where worldly wisdom runs out, where risk forces me to rely on God's power. I never ask for it, and then I wonder where it is.
I think every true believer needs a dose of craziness, at least by the world's standards (think Noah, John the Baptist, even Jesus). Maybe then our first reaction to an act of radical faith won't be criticism, but celebration knowing that there are still some of us out there who take God at his word, despite what others - even our fellow believers - might think.