The signs were nothing but rectangles of white-painted plywood adorned with bright red words proclaiming, “ABRAZOS GRATIS” (“FREE HUGS”), along with flowers, hearts, and other cheerful splotches of eye-catching color. We drove to our rendezvous point at a nearby university campus to meet up with the rest of our crew, and then struck out around downtown Guadalajara, Mexico, to search for strangers upon whom to shower random acts of kindness.
Signs held high, we fanned out, an advancing army of affection. “Would you like a free hug?” was our battle cry.
Our first real challenge was at the rolling concrete waves of a skateboarder hangout. Sweaty youths were taking turns trying to impress their peers with various amateur stunts, to the tune of cheers and jeers from their grungy audience. There is a sort of fearlessness that comes with free-hugging, so we swarmed into their midst and conquered. With every hug also came a free tract, and if they stopped for long enough, a prayer.
Next, we flocked to the park across the street, another teen hotbed, with all the favorite youth demographics present and accounted for. A group of Goth girls shyly motioned us over and we invaded their auras of black shades with our pastels and neons, spreading smiles all around.
We sang a few simple songs to small groups of people, music with a message of love and appreciation. The last chorus was of course always punctuated with our trademark embraces.
As we crisscrossed the center of town, a man in a restaurant paused in his meal as the waitresses and hostesses rushed by him to receive their hug helpings, along with seconds, thirds, and refills. He called us in and quizzed us about why we were doing such a thing. We were simply aware of the importance of showing love and kindness, we told him, and in a world starving for love, a little more of that couldn’t hurt.
And our agenda?—Jesus loves people. We wanted to make sure they knew it.