For your rants, woes, confessions and worries, Reid Rivers is all ears.
The freshman vocational missions major from Juneau, Alaska, can be seen standing in silence on the walkway between the Campus Center and the Brown Library, holding a cardboard sign with the offering: I will listen.
Rivers took on the solo project, with sign out and ears ready, at the beginning of October.
“Looking around at the world and inside myself, there’s a lot of pain and hurt,” he said. “As Christians, what we tend to do is speak and preach and teach to that, and a lot of times that hurts more than helps.”
So, like any good innovator, Rivers recognized a problem and created a means to fix it.
“The Lord really laid it on my heart,” he said. “Some people just need another person willing to listen. So that’s my goal,” he said, “to listen and show the love of God.”
The idea came to Rivers after his family moved to Juneau this summer. He and his sister connected with a campus crusade group visiting the city for a summer project.
“One of their ideas had been doing a project with similar signs,” Rivers said. “They only did it in downtown Juneau for a day and that got me thinking, ‘What about on campus?'”
Rivers said the cardboard come-and-go confessional has been an unexpected success, with crowds coming to him with their concerns and questions.
“I’ve gotten everything from jokes to life stories to hour-long conversations,” he said. “Mostly questions like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ But one thing I’ve really noticed is, it takes a lot of courage for people to open up to a stranger. It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.”
Because listening doesn’t come natural, Rivers said.
“I am more of an introvert,” he said. “Plus, I have never been a good listener because I usually want to ‘fix’ people’s problems, so I end up waiting for them to finish so I can share some of my ‘wisdom’ and end up not even listening.”
But the task of telling a stranger is complicated, too, he said.
“Opening up and revealing yourself leaves you very vulnerable and exposed,” Rivers said. “Especially when the topic of discussion is your failures.”
Rivers said we as humans, particularly the men, are hard-wired to mask our shortcomings because we live in a culture that associates displaying emotions as a sign of weakness.
“It takes a power greater than this hard-wired instinct to cause us to open up to one another,” he said. “When we are at the end of ourselves is when The Lord can truly take over and work beautiful things.”
Rivers said the project has become equally ministering to him by disciplining him on how to communicate not only with others, but with God.
“I take the burdens they have shared with me and give it to Christ, because it’s not my burden to hold anymore. In doing that, I have to consequently be in prayer with the Father. So I learn from it, too, you know, like, am I listening to God and what his will is for me?”
Though Rivers is available to listen almost every weekday after chapel, he has taken after-hours sessions as well.
“Once or twice, someone has sought me out during class or in the dorm,” Rivers said. “I am more than willing to listen or council at any time.”
But how long can he keep up his sign-holding project?
“Until the Lord tells me my task is finished,” he said.
Rivers said he would like the “I will listen” ministry to stay small, to keep value in the personal relationships.
“Big organizations have good purposes and good intentions, but it becomes so hard to control,” he said. “I think you would lose intimacy.”
But there are many ways students can similarly serve their peers, he said.
“Don’t be too busy,” he said. “Be willing to stop whatever you are doing to interact with others, because, at the end of the day, all that matters are the relationships you make.”
Rivers encourages students to use their God-given creativity, listening and watching for opportunities he provides.
“Anything that takes you out of your comfort zone and allows God to do his work, because it’s all about Him,” Rivers said.