Last summer, our family began spending time in a government assisted housing development in our area. This service began after a conversation with a friend who lives in that neighborhood. She had often asked us to pray for and help her neighbors. After talking with her, I asked if she thought it would be a good idea for us to start spending time in her neighborhood. She thought it was a good idea, and she said she would introduce us to her neighbors.
We had a simple plan when we started. We wanted to help the people physically, but we also wanted to begin building relationships with them. So, that first Saturday, we stopped by a local farmer’s market and bought $25 worth of vegetables and fruit and placed the produce in five small bags. As our friend introduced us to some of her neighbors that morning, we would give them a bag of produce, and ask them about themselves.
From the beginning, some of the people were very open to us. Others were suspicious. They are accustomed to nameless and faceless Christian groups and agencies coming in and giving stuff to nameless and faceless “poor people”. Often they are given “stuff” that they do not need – stuff like old bread, rotting produce, or cakes, cookies, and pies. Instead, we brought in fresh produce (only a little) and sat or stood with the people, talked with them, and got to know them.
Again, we did not have any other agenda. We had no plans going forward. Why? Because we did not know the people yet. We did not know what they needed. We did not know what God was going to do.
Over the last few months, other friends and families have started spending time in this neighborhood with us. By the time the farmer’s market closed in November, we were taking produce to 8 families every week. Also, we often took fresh baked (baked that morning) bread (made from freshly ground wheat) to the families.
But, more importantly, we’ve gotten to know many of the people who live in that neighborhood, and they have gotten to know us. They call us to check on us, and we call them to check on them. Even the people who were once suspicious because of past experiences with Christian groups have become good friends. We love each other… we say that we love each other… and we show that we love each other.
Besides visiting with them on Saturdays, we’ve had other opportunities to serve the people in the neighborhood. We sang Christmas carols in the neighborhood a few weeks ago. We had the opportunity to help one lady pay her utility bill. We’ve taken several elderly neighbors to doctor’s appointments, or visited them in the hospital, or even brought them home from the hospital. We tutored a single mother who is finishing her degree from a community college. We’ve provided furniture. We’ve taken meals to people who were sick. We bought toys for the neighborhood children for Christmas. We raked leaves.
We did all of these things because we love the people and we want to demonstrate the love of Christ to them. In fact, the reason that we were able to do these things is because we took the time to get to know them in the first place.
Let me repeat that: THE REASON THAT WE WERE ABLE TO SHOW THIS NEIGHBORHOOD THE LOVE OF CHRIST IS THAT WE TOOK THE TIME TO GET TO KNOW THEM FIRST. I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to shout. But, statements like this are often overlooked.
As I finish this post, I encourage you to start spending time with people – both with people you already “know” and people you do not know. You will find that God gives you opportunities to serve and demonstrate his love through those relationships. It won’t be easy. It will often be messy. But, it will be real.