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| Getting to know them is your first step in ministering Christ's love.BUILDING BRIDGESTOYOUR NEIGHBORS |

by Tom Eisenman

W

e chose our neigh­borhood carefully. We bought our home on a cul-de-sac made up predominantly of young families. It was important for us to have that traditional family feel: married couples with young children starting their lives together. We wanted community, shared lives, a network of caring.

The first thing we noticed when we moved in, however, was that people did not seem as eager to meet us as we were to meet them.

Our moving day was ignored. Later we found out why. Every few months an­other neighbor would move, so why make a big thing out of it?

We had chosen a middle income neighborhood that was a good place to buy into, build some equity, and move up. People were cool toward us, but it made sense. Why spend time getting to know a family if they were just going to move out a year later?

We tried to be friendly We prayed for our neighbors and asked God to give us just one good relationship to build on. But for the first few years, it didn't hap­pen. Instead, we watched the neighbor­hood collapse.

Tom Eisenman is minister of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church, Boulder, Colo., and author of 'Everyday Evangelism (© 1987 by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of the USA). This excerpt is used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO. Box 1400, Downers Grove, III. 60515.


In a little over three years we lost sev­en traditional families. We found our­selves living on a block with three divorced women trying to make a go of it with their children, a young couple dedi­cated to a life with two careers and no children, a male homosexual couple, a house full of college students, and a fam­ily with five teenage boys — each with his own pickup. They lived in the two bed­room ranch across the street.

We started thinking about moving our­selves. Our children were growing, and we were cramped for space. It was either move or add on. We prayed about this for some time. Finally we decided to build an addition and stay Judie and I couldn't help thinking that God may have placed us in this neighborhood for a reason.

As the new room went up on top of the garage, the neighborhood took notice. The addition was a symbol of something new for our block. A family was choosing to sink their roots down deeper.

It had a tremendous impact. Many in the neighborhood suddenly seemed to trust us more. Choosing to stay and build was a visible statement of our commit­ment to them and to the neighborhood.

After nearly four years, we began to see some things opening up. The modern couple next door came to dinner. After­ward they told us they had never had so much fun with children before. They be­gan inviting our kids to their home and into their yard to jump on the trampo­line. Within a year, she was pregnant, and they made it clear that it was being around our kids that helped them decide to expand their family.


After their daughter was born, the woman went back to work, and Judie sat with the little girl during the day. This was the beginning of a fine friendship. Af­ter we invited them to a Christmas con­cert at church, the woman started coming to church regularly. She is still struggling with how Jesus Christ relates to her life, but we're certain that something good will come from her honest questioning.

Then a woman down the block who


 


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lives alone with her son became very ill. Even though we had talked only a few times, she was open to our help. She especially wanted to know more about the church and its programs for kids. Re­cently she went through the new mem­bers class, and her teenager is enjoying the junior high program.

Breaking Down Barriers

Even if you live in a more stable neigh-


borhood, it is still becoming harder to re­late to your neighbors. When you knock on someone's door, you don't know what to expect. You can't be positive that the couple living there is married, or if this is their first marriage. Neighborhoods have become a mix of nationalities, cultures, and lifestyles.

Most neighborhoods have little com­munication. People choose to live in iso­lation. This is where we come in. Chris-


tians have a reason to reach out in love,

We have our model in Jesus, who at­tacked all barriers to relationships, whether class, cultural, or national. He spent time with religious leaders in the community, and he ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. And because he did, these people were changed. As Christ's representatives in our neighborhoods, we can allow God to make his appeal through us.


 


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The Art of Small Talk

You should make small talk your major ministry You need to be willing to give yourself to people where they are, in the ordinary tasks of living. Small talk is the natural language of everyday lives. You should learn to enjoy those brief en­counters with your neighbors.

You should be careful, though, not to have a hidden agenda of giving a canned gospel presentation. You're not trying to make something happen; you're trying to be a part of what is happening without manipulating relationships.

Your neighbors ought to be able to re­lax with you, to get to know that they can trust you. They need to see that you are interested in them as people, not as just another potential notch in your Bible.

Often when I see one of my neighbors out in front, getting the mail or doing some yard work, I'll go over and strike up a conversation. In a minute or two, some­one else will come over. Pretty soon we'll have several people there chatting and getting to know one another better.

Most people want relationships and a sense of community with their neigh­bors, but they're not sure how to go about it. When they see it happening, they're eager to join in. As a Christian in your neighborhood, you can reach out to others and set the example by being a


good listener and making time for peo­ple to talk with you.

Value in the Ordinary

Most of your neighbors' lives are not lived in crisis, but in the ordinary Learn­ing the art of small talk will help you to become a part of their ordinary lives. If you can become a significant part of their ordinary lives, when crisis comes, you will be invited in there, too.

It was during normal small talk that the woman down the block let us know about her life-threatening illness. She let us in because we had taken the time to get to know her.

Recently a younger couple experi­enced a sudden layoff from work. We had talked with them on several occasions and had shared an evening with them. When I found out about the layoff, I felt comfortable asking about their finances, and they felt comfortable being honest.

We arranged a gift from our church deacons fund to help them when their rent was due. Within a month he found work through an interview with a plant manager who was a member of our church. Their family started coming to church regularly.

It is easy to make small talk. Careers and kids are good topics. Hobbies, sports, family activities, current events, positive aspects of the neighborhood, property


items (cars, boats, pets, gardens, houses, furniture, appliances, etc.), home im­provement projects, books, films, nearby eating places, where they lived before, and even religious topics are all great dis­cussion starters.

The most important element is being willing to take the time to be with neigh­bors. Show them that it's important for you to talk with them and find out more about them.

Create Opportunities

Be generous about having neighbors in for a meal or over for a barbecue. Each time you invite a family, you are saying that you want to get to know them. Invite more than one family over to encourage them to get to know each other better, The key is simple meals that help every­one to be comfortable and to know that they can have you and others over with­out making it a costly affair.

Keep your eye open for opportunities to do things together with your neigh­bors. It may be a shared interest in sports, a hobby, or certain family outings. Invit­ing a neighbor to go fishing or hiking could open up a lasting relationship.

If you have a video recorder, you might have a monthly family movie in your home and invite families in. I've known couples who have had a good re­sponse to parenting discussions in their


 


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|   |


Your neighbors ought to be able to relax with you, to get to know that they can trust you. They need to see that you are interested in them as people, not as just another potential notch in your Bible.


homes. And if the opportunity presents it­self, the neighborhood Bible study is still the most effective way to bring truth into the lives of your neighbors.

Judie and I both try to meet new neigh­bors quickly. On moving day we like to take them something, a pitcher of iced tea or a casserole for their evening meal. We also try to invite new neighbors over quickly. The longer you wait, the higher it seems the walls go up. When you meet new neighbors, work hard on getting their names and using them each time you see them.

It all comes back to the art of small talk. During the times of sharing the everyday aspects of life, you will hear needs that can become open doors to ministering the practical love of Christ.

Ministering Practical Love

Another important way to be Christ's ambassadors to your neighbors is to take opportunities to care for them in practi­cal, down-to-earth ways.

A young woman I was counseling told me that several Christian families lived in the neighborhood where she grew up. She remembers the many winter morn­ings when it had snowed during the night and her family would get up to find their sidewalk and driveway already shoveled. No one would know which Christian fam­ily had done it.


Or her family would go away for vaca­tions and come home to find that their lawn had been watered and mowed and their vegetable and flower garden weed­ed. She said this kind of practical, loving action was a major reason she always knew that Christianity was true.

Keep your eyes open for little ways you can have the same effect. Don't push yourself on others, but watch for oppor­tunities for when your help is really needed.

For men it might be helping to carry in a heavy appliance, lending a hand on a project that's difficult to handle alone, or giving advice on mechanics or electrical work. For women it is often emergency baby-sitting or providing meals when an­other mom is sick. These are all practical ways we can love our neighbors.

Pets and Kids.

Loving your neighbors' kids and pets can open doors to a deeper relationship. Are you willing to take care of your neighbors' pets while they're away? Though it's usually easy to do, it means a great deal to the family.

Consider inviting one of the neighbor kids along when you go for ice cream, to the pool, fishing, or to some sporting event. Your kids should feel free to ask friends along to Sunday school. This is another way that families can come into


contact with church life and the love of Christ.

My own three boys love to play foot­ball. We seldom play a game anymore without having a number of the neighbor kids join in. We've even moved our games from the backyard to the front to be more accessible to the neighbors.

Staying Put

It takes time for relationships to grow and for love to make its way into people's hearts. If you give your neighborhood time, you will see good things happen. By choosing to stay put, you can swim against the current of upward mobility and say something important about your commitment to people.

When Judie and I considered our move, nothing major had begun to hap­pen in our neighborhood. But there were some good signs. We decided that if we moved, it would be like a gardener preparing the soil, planting the seed, watering and cultivating the plants, and then abandoning the garden just before harvest time.

With work we can become the aroma of Christ to our neighbors. If we are dedi­cated to laying down our lives in service to others, sensitive to their personal needs, and engaged in meeting them with second-mile loving, we will influ­ence our neighborhoods for Christ. ■


 


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