31 Jul Neighbors
I spent the first ten years of my life in a Southern Baptist church. Wednesday nights were G.A.’s. Although I never really understood the point of bible drills and I wasn’t sure who Lottie Moon was, I did look forward to those nights when a real, live missionary would be speaking.
I mean, this was someone who lived in the deep, dark jungles of South America and gave his life away for Jesus every day. Missionaries’ lives made them the super-Christians in my eyes. We left the Southern Baptist church and went to a newly formed, elder-led, non-denominational church that had a huge focus on missions. Each February we had a month of speakers on Sunday mornings and then a big missions banquet to wrap it all up. I heard all kinds of amazing stories. It was truly inspiring and it made me appreciate ways to pray for the world, as well as the need to go out into the world and spread the gospel. I went on two short-term mission trips and enjoyed being a “missionary” for those few weeks. It was so much easier to be bold with my faith when I had lots of other people around me and we were in a place in the world where no one knew us.
I’ve been thinking about my need to be “missional” here at home. I never thought about my neighbors as being part of the world that Jesus wants me to go to with His Good News. And when I say neighbors, I mean actual neighbors that you live near–the recluse who lives next door; the nosy old man across the street who knows everybody’s business; the young couple who just moved in a few doors down; the neighbors with the really messy yard that drive you crazy.
I found some ways to be missional with my neighbors and it began with me really embracing the truth that I am not better than anyone else. I know it makes me sound haughty that I would even think I’m better than someone to begin with. But I did. I was happy to engage the nice college professor down the street. I just didn’t really want to have anything to do with the odd single lady next door—the one who kept to herself and didn’t seem to like my husband and me at all. She wasn’t like me, I didn’t know anyone who knew her, she wasn’t a part of my church or the neighborhood bible study that my friends had started. Other people in the neighborhood talked about her, wondering why she was a recluse. When some people tried to do nice things for her like mow her lawn, she was not very happy with them. So, there were multiple reasons in my mind as to why I stayed away from her, but it all boiled down to the fact that I didn’t think she was worth it.
I began feeling God working in my heart about that particular neighbor. One (rare) snowy night I had made a ton of soup and was excited about dividing it up to freeze for later. As I put it into Tupperware containers, I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me. It was like He spoke her name out loud. I decided to be bold (and brave because I was a little scared of her) and take her a couple of containers. The soup was still hot and it wasn’t late, so I thought she could enjoy it right then. I crunch, crunch, crunched through the snow and knocked on her door. I figured she would just ignore my knock and I’d have some extra soup to put in my freezer. To my surprise, she opened the door and smiled. I explained that I made too much soup and wondered if she would like any. She seemed genuinely excited about it. I walked away feeling thankful that I moved when I felt God telling me to move. A few nights later we heard the doorbell ring. There she was. She had purchased some treats for our dog. All she said was, “I see Buddy outside and I know he’s a good dog, so I got him some treats.” I think as she walked away we stumbled over some kind of a thank you and simply stared–dumbfounded by this seemingly small interaction. But really it was a huge victory in breaking down the invisible wall between her yard and ours!
Over the last year or two we have very slowly come to know her a little more. We share vegetables from our garden; if I see her walking down the street I dash out to say hello; I’ve made her some bread and she’s given my daughters a children’s book that was her favorite when she was little. These are small steps, but I believe that as long as I keep moving when God prompts, I will have more opportunities to actually speak into her life.
Is there a neighbor whose name comes to your mind when you read this? God calls us to serve and love others. How can you love the people who are around you? This may mean giving up time with people who are comfortable for you to be around or stepping out of your comfort zone in some other way. When we feel the Holy Spirit move, we need to move.~Chappell Hughes, Downtown