A Venti-Sized Angry Heart: The Problem of Pam & the Power of Prayer

by R. York Moore

I’ve always thought that evangelism would be super easy if I could get rid of two problems—people and the Holy Spirit! Although I am an evangelist and full-time minister with InterVarsity USA, I am somewhat of an introvert and find engaging with people very difficult.

If I’m honest, I don’t like people—which makes my calling into ministry and evangelism somewhat of a cosmic joke.  Because of this, I struggle to integrate evangelism into my everyday life and often am tempted to think of being available for evangelism as restricted to ‘official ministry hours.’

This is where the problem of the Holy Spirit comes in as well. In His opinion, there are no areas, times, places, or issues that are off limits. The Holy Spirit seems determined to interfere with my ‘private’ life, bringing people across my path to love when loving them isn’t in my job description or personal interest.

This was the case when a new Starbucks opened near me and I decided to make it ‘my’ Starbucks.

I love Starbucks. I have my go-to drink: a Venti sugar-free cinnamon dolce brevi light foam latte. I remember the first time I ordered the drink at my new, closer, shinier Starbucks. I stepped up to Pam, the barista, and said, “Hello, how are you today?”

She retorted, “What do you want?” The hostility and abruptness of her response to my question confused me. Perhaps she didn’t hear me so I ordered my drink and tried to engage her in conversation:  “I’m glad you all are here in our neighborhood. How has it been launching the new store?”

Without answering my question, she angrily plopped my wrong order down and said, “Here’s your drink.”

WOW!  I thought. I’m never coming back to this location! Over the weeks, however, I couldn’t resist the convenience of the new, shiny location and found myself going in and engaging with angry Pam several times a week. I had a ‘Pam Problem,’ but I loved my drink, so I suffered through interacting with her week in and week out. The Holy Spirit began using these angry engagements with Pam to change me first and then Pam along the way.

I found myself cringing each time I went in, hoping Pam wasn’t there. But she seemed to always be there. I decided that I would begin to use my time in line to pray for Pam and prepare my engagement with her. Again and again, I’d ask, “How are you today?”

Time and time again, Pam would respond, “What do you want?”

Months went by and I began assuming nothing would ever change until six months in when something broke. “How are you today, Pam?” I asked. To my surprise, she responded in a softer voice, “I could be better.” What she said next blew my mind, “I already have your drink ready. I started it when I saw you get in line.”

WHAT!?

I was sure Pam hated me, disliked the peculiarity of my drink, and would never show me one ounce of kindness. What happened? I wondered. Not wanting to jinx it, I thanked her and left.  For the next several weeks, this same interaction became the norm and I was now cringing less and beginning to enjoy my stops into my new, shiny Starbucks. I also continued to pray for Pam while in line, hoping I could get through to her some way with the gospel.

About a year into my interactions with Pam, I asked my usual, “How are you today?” Pam then began to tell me about problems with her father, struggles with her siblings, burdens she was carrying in finances and health.

Like a deluge, Pam began to share her life with me, and it wasn’t pretty. Pam was a hardened soul, serving up Venti-sized cups of anger all these months for a reason.

There was not one part of Pam’s story that was hopeful or happy. I was moved by the Spirit to pray even more frequently for Pam and to sincerely ask her about her day.

The ‘Problem of Pam’ began with me trying to avoid a difficult and needy person. Over the course of time, however, the ‘Problem of Pam’ became a spiritual challenge, a call to prayer, and the risk of interaction. ‘The Problem of Pam’ first changed me as I gave in to the Spirit’s love for her and eventually it changed her.

Full confession: I do love people; just don’t like them. I do love the Holy Spirit; I just don’t appreciated His meddling in the mundane stuff of my life.

If I could get rid of people and the Holy Spirit, I could enjoy my Venti sugar-free cinnamon dolce brevi light foam lattes in peace. But where would be the joy in that? Today, Pam and I have a friendship. Pam believes that I genuinely care for her. I’ve shared bits and pieces of Jesus with her and I am hoping and praying for more. Pam is a little less hateful, and while still prickly, she has a little more hope. Pam still has problems, but my Pam Problems are focused on loving her, listening to her, and praying for more hope and joy in her life.

R. York MooreR. York Moore (@yorkmoore) is national evangelist for InterVarsity USA. He is the author of Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away and Making All Things New: God’s Dream for Global Justice and the founder of the anti-trafficking movement Price of Life. Learn more: tellthestory.net