NEW YORK (AP) — One is an ordained pastor in Brooklyn, the other a single mother and children’s book author in New Jersey. Both drive for Lyft. Both share the Word of God as itinerant preachers.
Pastor Kenneth Drayton and Tomika Reid seek to inspire passengers through spiritual guidance on the road as part of what they see as mobile Christian ministries.
“You don’t always have to go to a church or shrine to experience the restoration and the power of God,” said Drayton, 61, a minister who also preaches at Brooklyn’s Mantels of Promise Ministries.
He started driving for Uber in 2015 after retiring from a career in the insurance industry. As he listened to passengers share their stories along the way, he understood that his car could become an extension of the Church.
“The car is such an ideal place to do this because it’s personal,” said Drayton, who now drives for Lyft. “I can share my faith and that’s so important because that’s what I live for.”
On a recent day, in his spotless 2017 Toyota Camry, he began praying and reciting Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…”). On a break from driving in Manhattan, he pondered how to reach passengers.
He always plays classical music on his car radio (his favorite is Mozart) to promote a calm, comfortable mood. It begins with a greeting and a kind word. His priority, he says, is introducing passengers to Christ, but he is respectful if they are not receptive. They are often Christians, but he has also spoken to atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims. Rather than attempting to preach, he says he focuses his message on the love of God and tends to avoid teaching.
“That was the conflict, the antidote to healing and transformation,” Drayton said. “It is discussions and debates that have caused holy wars.”
Reid also stays away from teaching and is more focused on sharing her personal story, hoping it can help others deal with their challenges. Like Drayton, she feels the church goes beyond brick and mortar.
“It’s something that God enabled me to do,” she said. “And I love it because I just love inspiring people and encouraging them to never give up.”
Her life has been marked by losses, including the deaths of her mother, her sister and the fathers of her two daughters. She often tells her story to the passengers.
“I wanted to give up, but I’m still standing here because of my faith in God,” said the 40-year-old single mother. “And I just want to use my story to encourage others to never give up no matter what you’re going through.”
In 2017, she began riding for Lyft to support her daughters, who are now 14 and 20. In the back seat pocket of her 2019 Nissan Altima, she keeps the five books she has written, including one for children on how to deal with the loss of a loved one.
Passengers often buy her books or tip her generously, and she proudly maintains a five out of five star rating. She usually plays George Michael weekdays and gospel music on Sundays when she’s working and can’t make it to church.
“When I hear people say, ‘You made my day,’ I know I can make a difference in people’s lives,” Reid said. “It brings me joy. It’s like I turned my pain into a purpose to inspire others.”
Evangelism experts say ride-hailing can help share faith. Lyft’s policies don’t specifically prohibit evangelism or talking about religion, but they do promote inclusion and prohibit discrimination, including on the basis of race, gender, and religion.
“It’s not a big surprise to me, because when I think of Christianity, there’s a long tradition of using technology to spread the word of God,” said Robert Geraci, professor of religious studies at Manhattan College.
He gave examples including how, shortly after space flight became possible, people were talking about how to use satellites to spread the gospel, and how ministers have been using television for decades.
“Uber, Lyft is becoming a form of religious communication and not just a transportation strategy,” he said. “It’s also a religious strategy.”
People in customer-centric jobs, like driving for ride-hailing apps, often get into conversations about life and its challenges, said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center.
“In a world where human interaction is less common – our bank employees are all ATMs now – sharing beliefs is less common. So people are finding creative ways,” said Stetzer, who is also the dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership.
“Christians have been doing this for centuries, long before ride-sharing apps.”
The Associated Press’s religion coverage is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.