For the past two weeks we have been talking about what it means to be a “Faithful Presence” in the place in which God has placed us. Dallas has given us some words each week to help us begin our journey of engaging our neighbourhoods: Walk, Talk, Eat, Listen. Here are some thoughts on what those might mean.
WALK – Many of us live in what could be called “suburbia,” where sometimes we drive into and out of our garages and off to the next place without ever having to even see our neighbours. Even for those of us without a garage (or who find that garages don’t have room for our cars with all the stuff we have in there…), we can be so busy or tired or lazy that we don’t take time to get to know our neighbourhood. A great place to start is simple – walk. Have you ever just taken a walk around your neighbourhood and asked yourself: What do I see?
What do I notice the needs are in my neighbourhood?
What type of living spaces are most common in my area?
What businesses are near me?
You notice things when you walk that you don’t notice otherwise. A while ago I walked home from church and I noticed a business that I had never noticed before! I thought: “There’s an Indian take-out in my neighbourhood?” That was great news! I never would have noticed it if I hadn’t been walking. If you live in an apartment building, walk through your building. You can tell a lot by what people hang on their doors, the things that they have sitting by their apartment, and even the smells of the food they are cooking.
Why do all this? Because it opens our eyes and it opens our hearts. It helps us know how to pray. It makes us feel part of the story, as we ask “God, how do you want to use me here?”
TALK – Now Step Two might be a little scarier: talk to people. Talk to the businesses owners and ask them how business is doing. Say hello to people as you pass. Introduce yourself to a neighbour or two when they are out gardening or waiting at the bus with you. If this is stressful for you, may I suggest that one sure way to have conversations with people as you are out and about is to have either (1) a dog, or (2) a baby. I can’t help with the baby, but if you need a conversation starter, feel free to borrow our dog anytime. Seriously.
Here is a great story. This December, one of the members of our church was at the bus stop and started talking to a woman waiting with him. He soon learned that she was really struggling and he told her our church gave out Christmas hampers. She was overjoyed and before the bus came he had her address so we could deliver one to her. We never would have known this need if he hadn’t taken the time to have a conversation.
EAT – Something special happens when people share a meal. It is no coincidence that Jesus invited all of us to share in a meal together as way of remembering who He was. There are lots of ways to share a meal in your neighbourhood:
– Invite a neighbour for a meal: BBQ season is here and that’s a great place to start if inside meals feels overwhelming
– At Christmas time, make cookies to share with neighbours
– Have popsicles and freezies on hand – on a summer day, bring some out to share with the neighbourhood kids and grown-ups alike
– Coffee – are you having a coffee and notice your neighbour outside shovelling/gardening/hanging out? Bring them one. (This also works with other beverages…)
LISTEN – My favourite, but the hardest for me. When you ask “how are you?” stop and listen. If a neighbour is busy and tells you they are in a rush, give them space, but if someone begins to tell you something that is happening, give them your attention. If you have to be somewhere, be a little late. Give someone the gift of being heard.
And what’s the point of all of this? It’s not meant to be a sneaky evangelism strategy (“I gave you a cookie – now let me give you a sermon!” Not that). I believe we are called to be good neighbours, to make our neighbourhoods better places because the kingdom of God is coming – and has already arrived. Good neighbourhoods are places where people know each other and are heard and where people feel they are in community together, even in small ways. So we get out of our cars and our houses and our own ways and ask “What is God doing right next door to me?” Remember, you don’t live where you do by chance. God has placed you there. Your call is to be a faithful presence.
When in doubt: Walk, Talk, Eat, Listen.
How about you? Are there any words you would add? How have you felt most welcomed or loved in a community?