At the County Commissioners meeting last week, there were a lot of neighbors who were mad at us. Mad at me in particular, mad at my son, and mad at Adventures In Missions.
We have a dream of a special needs ministry that would start on our property. We have 37 acres of property and we want to share it with those who could benefit. But as is true with dreams, obstacles stood in the way. The neighbors didn’t want it. They felt that it would destroy the peaceful atmosphere on our road.
Several hundred people crowded the room. The five commissioners sat like judges at the front. Our side had 20 minutes to present and their side had 20 minutes. My special needs daughter sat next to me. The atmosphere was tense.
My son began with an overview of why the ministry was needed. A couple of fathers of special needs children gave heart-felt pleas for the ministry. And then the neighbors used their 20 minutes to make the case that it shouldn’t happen. Some were near tears. The future of the neighborhood was at stake.
When it was over, the commissioners quickly voted in our favor. We had brought a large number of special needs people and their family. We celebrated our victory.
Only, I realized, it wasn’t a victory for the neighborhood just yet. In fact, some might make the case that it actually put our ability to walk out our faith in jeopardy insofar as God has commanded us to love our neighbor as a key part of our faith.
No, this was just the first in a series of conversations we will be having about what it means to be good neighbors. This time the conversation involved words, but the next time may be more about actions.
The Bible doesn’t mince words about the subject. One of the Ten Commandments is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) And Jesus says, along with loving God himself, “There is no other commandment greater.” (Mark 12:31)
So, we have our work cut out for us. For starters, there are a number of things that our neighbors fear. Our job is to allay those fears. And behind the fears are a number of needs or desires they have that we need to be aware of and try to address. As with all neighbors everywhere, we share three things that need to be protected.
Neighbors share space. “Good fences make good neighbors,” goes the saying. Good intentions aren’t enough – you need boundaries. In apartment buildings, neighbors share floors, ceilings and walls. Noise can destroy the atmosphere.
In our quiet country neighborhood, the road is windy. Driving slowly is part of being a good neighbor. Intruding on the peaceful atmosphere means failing to follow Jesus’ command.
When we lived in Florida, our neighbors became good friends. Sandra was like a second mom to our kids. Years later, when she died of cancer, we had her family come spend Christmas with us. When neighbors help bring life and encouragement, our lives are so much brighter. Similarly, when we have issues with a neighbor, our lives can feel claustrophobic.
We were lucky – our house in Florida backed up to a park. Our kids loved that park. Every afternoon they were on the swings with the neighbor children. We had a great ethos in that neighborhood. When I was away on trips, sometimes our lawn grew too long, so neighbors would take it upon themselves to cut it. At Christmastime, I’d get our kids and we’d go caroling at our neighbors’ homes. Our community space was rich.
How do we love our neighbor?
In our case, we have a long path ahead of us to walk with our neighbors. How do we do that best? Here are five ways we want to love our neighbors better.
In the past, when we’ve had training camps, we’ve let neighbors know that we expected a lot of people at our property during those dates. We gave our immediate neighbors vouchers for dinners out as a way of saying thank you for their grace. We took cookies to others.
In the future, we can let our neighbors know what our plans are and how we’re implementing them. We can address their fears directly. We can make ourselves available to hear concerns and complaints. We can look for opportunities for casual conversation. We need to listen to them and show them that their concerns are important to us. If we can modify our plans to help them, we can do that.
2. Care for the public space
The road leading to our property has lots of curves. We need to slow down as we drive on them. We need to pay attention to other spaces that we share and care for them. In a lot of neighborhoods, pets are an issue. One yappy dog can ruin the experience of sitting on your porch. Lately, drones have been causing problems in some neighborhoods.
3. Meet specific needs
We had a neighbor who was struggling financially. We helped her to meet her obligations. Once we helped deliver a calf when a neighbor’s cow was having a breach birth. One year we had a team build a shed for some neighbors. In the future, we’ll be looking for ways to discover and meet other neighbors’ needs.
4. Reach out
Even though our relationships with our neighbors are poor, we need to keep reaching out. We have a long history of doing so over the 21 years we’ve been there. When new neighbors move in, we can welcome them. Given our neighbors’ fears, we need to make sure that our actions match our words.
5. Pray for them
Prayer is our secret weapon. As we go to God with our neighbors’ concerns, he’ll show us how to pray and then what to do. This needs to be our first response.
How are you doing at loving your neighbors? It’s not an option – it’s central to our faith.