By Vince Antonucci
The Hagar Booth
Gordon is a pastor friend of mine who lives in San Francisco. Every year during the gay pride parade, there are Christians marching with hate-filled signs. Gordon decided that he was going to do something radically different, so he set up a booth on the sidewalk next to the parade. He called it, “The Hagar Booth.”
Carla was looking at the booth from a distance. She wasn’t interested, nor was she offended by it. But, she was bewildered. Seeing her, Gordon left the booth, walked in her direction a few steps, and then asked if she had ever heard the story of Hagar’s Well from the Bible? She hadn’t, so Gordon invited her into the booth to hear it. She cautiously walked into the booth where Gordon proceeded to tell her Hagar’s story.
Who is Hagar?
Hagar was a woman from Egypt. It seems she grew up poor, and was probably pleased when she landed a maid job for a woman named Sarai. Sarai’s husband was a man named Abram, who would later be called Abraham.
Abram was in his 80’s and a believer in what Hagar considered a foreign god. In fact, the weird thing about Abram was that he believed there was only one god. In Egypt, Hagar's people believed in a pantheon of gods, but for Abram there was only one. And Abram claimed that his God had spoken to him and promised to give him children.
That promise came years ago, but still Sarai was childless. In that time, there was little worse that could be said about a woman, so Hagar understood why Sarai seemed so bitter, so desperate. One day Sarai went to Abram and asked him to sleep with Hagar. This was somewhat of a common practice back then. The legal system even spelled out how such procedures were to go. If the servant gave birth to a child, it belonged to the father and his wife, not to the servant even though she was the mother.
So Abram agreed and slept with Hagar.
Hagar gets pregnant, and begins to resent Sarai. Perhaps she felt used. She should have, she had been used. She was probably angry knowing that the baby would not be thought of as her own. Instead of offering compassion, Sarai becomes furious with Hagar and goes to Abram in a rage. Instead of defending Sarai, or trying to bring reconciliation to the relationship, Abram tells Sarai to do whatever she wants with Hagar.
Can you imagine how that made Hagar feel? After the night of intimacy they had shared, his baby was in her belly. She would eventually give birth to his child, yet he wouldn’t even defend her. Not even for a second. Instead, Abram gives Sarai permission to abuse Hagar. And that’s exactly what she did. Sarai began to mistreat Hagar.
Hagar felt mistreated, abandoned, rejected, and absolutely alone, and so she ran. She ran, feeling like no one knew or cared what she was going through. What Hagar didn’t know was that God knew. God is an “omni” kind of God. He is everywhere, He is all seeing, and He is all caring.
Hagar sits down at a well for a drink, and probably a good cry, when an “angel of the Lord” appeared to her. He called Hagar by name. The angel talked to Hagar and it became obvious he knew her story. Not only her past, the angel also speaks to Hagar’s future. He assures her, “the LORD has heard of your misery” (Genesis 16:11). In fact, he tells Hagar to name her son Ishmael, which is a combination of two Hebrew words, shama and el. El refers to God, and shama means “to hear.” Ishmael means “God hears.” So, every time Hagar would ever speak her son’s name she would be reminded that God had heard her cry.
Think about how insanely profound this conversation must have been for Hagar. She was not one of God’s people. She didn’t know God or even much about God. We have no reason to think she believed in God at all. But God sought her out. And in that moment, she knew that God, the same God Abram believed in, was real. And she knew that God really was for her. She knew she was not forgotten.
In that moment, Hagar gave God a name. She had just had an extraordinary moment with God, and punctuates it by naming him. Genesis 16:13 tells us, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (Genesis 16:14). In her native language, the name she gave God was “El Roi.” and it means “the God who sees.”
So, Gordon told Carla the story and ended with the idea that God is an omnipresent God, and that He sees. He is the God who sees, and He sees Carla. Like Hagar, she was not forgotten. God heard her cry. Carla was very moved.
Then Gordon asked if he could pray with her. Carla started crying and said yes. Gordon prayed for Carla to find her way back to God. Carla started sobbing. She explained, through tears, that she had never felt loved by God. Gordon continued to pray for her to come home to her heavenly Father.
When he ended, Carla said it felt like God Himself was calling her into His arms.
You and I serve an omnipresent God. He is a God who is everywhere, sees everything, hears every cry, and loves every person. He's a God that sees us, even in the midst of our messes. That means we should really see people, hear their cry, and truly love them. Even when it's messy.
We are called to be representatives, ambassadors, messengers of this omnipresent God who sees. That makes me think Gordon and his Hagar booth aren’t crazy. He's probably a lot closer to the heart of God than what I’m doing.
It makes me wonder: do we need to create a Hagar Booth? Probably not, unless you feel called to do so. But, you are a representative of the God who is here and there and everywhere and who sees all. So, you do need to represent Him and share that message with a lost and broken world.
- Who might feel forgotten?
- Who is running from a painful situation?
- Who has never felt loved by God?
Maybe it's time for you to reach out and call or set up a time to meet with that person, and ask, “Have you ever heard the story of Hagar’s Well from the Bible?” Then, tell the story, and explain that God is an omnipresent God who sees, and He sees you. Tell your friend they have not been forgotten. God has heard their cry.
Who knows what God will do in your friend’s heart after hearing that message? And, even if your friend doesn’t respond in the way you hope, you can still smile, knowing you served and represented your omnipresent God.