A message of love

Published 10:35 pm Friday, October 29, 2010

Chris Barber waves to motorists along North Main Street on Thursday. He quietly began his street ministry about a year ago in Chesapeake, and since has become a familiar site in South Hampton Roads.

Chris Barber stands on a street corner, struggling to turn the onionskin pages of his oversized Bible.

It’s a windy day, so the pages won’t go where he’d like them. And no doubt his hands are tired from holding the Bible up and waving.

Finally, he finds what he’s looking for — Mark 16:15-20, a passage that describes an event Christians have come to call “The Great Commission.”

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“He said to go into all the world and preach the Gospel,” Barber said, pointing at the red words in verse 15 that Jesus Christ spoke to his disciples. “That’s why I do it.”

Barber can often be found on street corners around Suffolk, standing amid a cluster of wire-frame signs with Bible verses and exhortations to “repent and believe” and to “fear God.” Dressed in jeans, a jacket, an orange safety vest and a wide-brimmed straw hat held in place with a chinstrap, Barber holds up the Bible in one hand and waves with the other. Sometimes he sings softly to himself, but he never yells. He might wave more emphatically to someone he knows, but he never points a finger.

Like a compass, Barber slowly rotates during the traffic signal cycle to face the greatest number of oncoming cars. At Suffolk’s busiest intersection on a recent Thursday, he had clearly memorized the cycle as well as folks who use Main Street and Constance Road every day.

He hasn’t always done his work in Suffolk, though. He initially felt led to witness to motorists about a year ago. He started in Chesapeake, where he lives and attends church.

“I pretty much did all the main roads and some of the smaller roads,” he said. Once he felt he had covered that city, he moved on to Portsmouth, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and now Suffolk. He plans to go into Isle of Wight County eventually — but only if he feels the Lord leads him there.

“I started up in one end of Suffolk and I’m working my way down,” he said.

Roadside ministries can have a reputation for obnoxious behavior, often using bullhorns and damning signs to promulgate their message in the short seconds they have motorists’ attention. Barber doesn’t judge those tactics — he merely takes a softer approach.

“The Lord might be working with those folks for somebody,” he said. But his more easygoing technique is “the way the Lord worked with me.”

Not everyone is so friendly. Most folks wave, smile, honk or simply ignore him. A few, however, make obscene gestures, curse at him or turn up the volume on vulgar song lyrics.

Barber, however, sees those times as his greatest opportunity to witness.

“The Lord has shown me how you’ve got to be gracious,” he said, describing what happened when one young man flipped him off.

“He was looking for a response, so I just waved at him,” Barber said. “He put his hand down, and he put his head down. A few moments later, he looked back up and waved at me. God was working in his heart.”

Barber has tried to get other folks to come with him for the roadside work, but he believes many people are too busy or simply too scared.

“I’m just keeping the faith,” he said. “Hopefully, when we reach the other side in eternity, we’ll have our crowns and we can throw them down at Jesus’ feet, because He is worthy.”