“I’m the neighbor and I’m here to help.”

“Now he had to go through Samaria.” – John 4:4

The story of Jesus meeting the “Woman at the Well” is a favorite, but it begins with an unusual statement, “Now he had to go through Samaria.” This reflected Jewish thinking of the day. I will only go through Samaria if I have to. Samaritans might be our neighbors, but they are to be avoided. It was an “Us vs. Them” mentality. If I have to go through Samaria, I will do it quickly and with minimal contact. In John 4:27, when the disciples find Jesus engaged in a long conversation (the longest conversation recorded in the Gospels) with a woman with strange beliefs and loose morals, they were astonished.

Bill and Anamarie Dwyer

I (Bill) hate to admit it, but for years, like many Christians, I avoided my neighbors. When I say “avoid” I don’t mean I didn’t care about their lives or salvation. I just mean I didn’t stop long enough to engage them. I would wave, I might even chat over the hedge, but I wasn’t intentional about relating to them. We never had long conversations. Instead, I focused on my relationships at church where I was surrounded by people who had common values and beliefs. I enjoyed a great sense of community in my church, but had almost no sense of community in the community where I lived. The neighbors I loved were all Christians and they loved me.

When my wife and I moved to a Northridge, California, the Lord put it on our hearts to be intentional with our neighbors. The first thing we did (actually, she did it), was to have an open house. Anamarie went door-to-door giving out hand-made invitations to our dessert get-together. We were shocked when over thirty people showed up, many with bottles of wine.

Many of our neighbors had never met, even though they had lived here for decades. Some told us they were surprised to see our next-door-neighbor. They thought she was dead! It was a diverse group ethnically, spiritually, and socially. We discovered a number of our neighbors were believers, but we realized, like us, they had little relationship with the people on our street. They were too busy with family and church.

Our little soiree confirmed the Lord’s leading, so we began inviting neighbors to our small group. Not all responded, but several did and one-at-a-time they opened their hearts to Jesus. One precious neighbor, Lola, who gave her life to Christ died a few years ago. We were at her side as she was in hospice at home. Knowing she is with the Lord is just wonderful.

I decided to become more intentional about being available in crisis situations. Our neighborhood had several elderly shut-ins who would frequently fall. Weekly we had the paramedics roll down our street with flashing lights. The local fire captain even whispered to me, “We call your neighborhood, ‘The Legends of the Fall.’” When an emergency vehicle would show up, I noticed that neighbors would gather and stand around trying to figure out what happened. I tried a different approach. I simply walked into the home like I belonged there and would humbly declare, “I’m the neighbor and I’m here to help.” Although the paramedics looked at me like I was a bit strange, my neighbors always appreciated me being there, even if I barely knew them. When serious injuries occurred, I was able to hold hands, give a hug, pray or give a ride to a family member who needed to follow the ambulance to the hospital. People open up in crises and important bonds form as you simply make yourself available.

On one occasion, the fire department, paramedics, police and the coroner descended on our street. A large crowd gathered. People were wondering what had happened. One woman was whispering, “I heard he murdered his wife.” Although I didn’t know the family, I decided I wasn’t just going to stand in the crowd be a spectator to a tragedy. I ducked under the police tape, walked through the front door and pulled my, “I’m the neighbor and I’m here to help.” card. I found a heartbroken husband and father. He had come home with his young son to find his wife had taken her life in their home. I was able to sit with him for quite a while. When I offered prayer, he was very grateful. Many years have passed, but that dad and I are friends. He has come to Christ and so has his son. In fact, his boy was active in our Children’s Ministry for years. Now, a teenager, he recently stopped by my home with a couple of high school buddies and said, “Hey Bill, I want you to meet my buddies. They are Christians, too.” It brought Anamarie and I to tears.

A time for reflection:

When Jesus called us to “Love your neighbor,” he wasn’t giving us an option or suggestion, but a command. That’s why Jesus “had to go through Samaria.” He had to model not ignoring your neighbor. That’s why he had to engage an immoral woman with strange beliefs. She needed Living Water to wash her of her sins and to satisfy her thirst. Our neighbors need that same Living Water and God has planted us in neighborhoods throughout our city so we can share the life of Jesus with others. Take some time to think about and pray about your neighbors. How can you be more intentional with them? If you ask with sincerity, I’m sure the Lord will speak.

Listen to Bruce Zachary's experience with Neighborhood Initiative.

Listen to Dallas Willard's word to pastors and leaders about Neighborhood Initiative.

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