This post is part of my “stories” series. In this series, I share stories of how people live their lives in response to the gospel and as a demonstration of God’s love in order to teach us and to provide an example to provoke us to love and good works. (See “stories: A New Series” for more information about this series.)
Not too long ago, we met a lady named Cathy. Cathy began meeting with the church on Sundays, and we were able to get to know her a little more. There are many stories that I could tell about Cathy, but this story is about her neighborhood.
Cathy lives in a government assisted housing development – a project. Every Sunday, she would ask for prayer or for help for her neighbors. We would pray for them and help them as we could. We furnished her next door neighbor’s apartment when he moved.
As Cathy continued to talk about her neighbors, I realized that God was giving me an opportunity to get to know some people who were very different from me in many ways. I talked with Cathy and told her that I would like to meet her neighbors. She was excited about it and said that she would introduce me.
I was glad that Cathy was going to introduce me, because I wouldn’t be going in as a stranger. But, I also wanted some other way to demonstrate Christ’s love to the people in the neighborhood. After talking with a few people, I decided to take small bags of fresh produce with me to give to Cathy’s neighbors. I knew that some charities took food to this neighborhood, but they usually took old cakes and cookies or old food that the grocery stores couldn’t sell. Since our family had recently started eating healthier, I decided to bring fresh produce to encourage healthy eating habits.
The next Saturday morning, I stopped by the roadside produce stand and bought some vegetables and fruit for five small grocery bags – potatoes, beans, squash, apples, oranges, onions, tomatoes… probably only about $5 worth in each bag. Then, I drove to Cathy’s apartment. I gave Cathy the first bag of produce and talked with her for a few minutes. Then, she introduced me to two of her neighbors and told me about a few other neighbors.
As she introduced me to her neighbors, she simply said, “This is my friend, Alan. He wanted to meet you.”
I would then explain that I had some fresh vegetables and fruit for them, then start talking with them. It was easy to get to know them with Cathy there, because they trusted her. Eventually, they would start to trust me as well. But, at this point, I just wanted to get to know them… to listen to their stories… to learn from them.
Eventually, Cathy had to return to her apartment. I still had one bag of produce left, because some of the people she wanted to introduce me to were not at home. So, I knocked on someone’s door – someone that Cathy had not introduced me to. A child opened the door, and I told him that I was a friend of their neighbor’s (Cathy), and I wanted to give them some fresh produce. (This neighborhood is used to getting handouts, so this would not be surprising to him.) I asked if his mother or father was at home, and he told me his mother was on the phone. Each week that I came back to that house, the mother was on the phone. The children would thank me for the vegetables and fruit, then shut the door. I thought it was rude… but eventually we became very close to this family… but that’s another story.
The next Saturday, my family joined me. We knocked on the doors of the people that I had met the previous week. Most of them remembered me, and were happy to meet my family. Again, when we had talked to everyone we knew who was at home, there was an extra bag, so we knocked on another door, and met someone new.
We’ve been visiting the people in Cathy’s neighborhood for almost a year now. Over the months, another family and a few other friends started going with us. We were able to spend more time talking with the neighbors and buy more produce than when I started. But, we always made sure that people remained the most important. If someone was outside their apartment, we would stop and talk to them, even if we did not have produce. If the people wanted to talk, we would talk. If they did not want to talk, we wouldn’t talk. But, we made ourselves available.
We’ve had opportunities to drive some of the neighbors to doctor’s appointments, or pick them up when they were released from the hospital. We’ve had opportunities to tutor some of the neighbors and provide toys at Christmas. We invited friends to help us rake leaves last fall and sing Christmas carols in December. We’ve laughed and cried and listened and talked and prayed and encouraged and admonished and lived with these wonderful people for almost a year.
Through this time, we’ve seen God change some of the neighbors, and we’ve seen God change us. I have many, many more stories to tell from the time that we spend in the neighborhood. But, I will have to tell those stories another day.