NEIGHBORS FROM TWO DIFFERENT CONGREGATIONS
“Neighboring from Casual to Intentional.”
“A new command I (Jesus) give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34, 35
If we begin to love our actual neighbors, then we will probably encounter people from other congregations who just happen to live in our neighborhoods. Are we going to avoid them or are we going to invite them to join us in loving our neighbors as ourselves? If we are obedient, we will submit to Jesus’ new commandment to “Love one another.” Philip Yancey points out in Vanishing Grace, “When I ask, ‘Tell me the first word that comes to your mind when I say Christian,’ not one time has someone suggested the word love. Yet without question that is the proper biblical answer. ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another,’ Jesus commanded His disciples at the Last Supper. He said the world will know we are Christians – and, moreover, will know who He is – when His followers are united in love.” There is no better place for the world to see this kind of love lived out than in the very neighborhoods where we Christians live. Jim and Doris and Cal and Alice had the opportunity to experience this kind of love as neighbors. Both couples attend different churches, but experienced the beauty of loving one another and their neighbors have been the beneficiaries this kind of love. Observe how their relationship grew through the years and what the Lord is now doing through them with their neighbors.
Jim and Doris Lloyd’s Neighborhood
We’ve lived next-door to Cal and Alice for over 33 years. During the years as we’ve transitioned from one life stage to another, so has our relationship with Cal and Alice. As I consider each stage or chapter, I can see how God was preparing us for His purpose and His will in our neighborhood. It has been an eventful journey with lots of laughs as well as some tears.
When we met Cal and Alice we were in our mid 30’s with four small children ages 6, 4, 2, and an eight-month-old. They were on the downside of careers and looking forward to retirement. Our relationship could be characterized as “Greetings, Feedings, and the Secret Passage.” We would casually greet them and demonstrate friendship toward them. They were friendly and hired our kids to feed their pets when traveling or away from home. It was also a cooperative relationship. Since our boys’ basketball hoop was next to the fence, inevitably the ball would bounce, get thrown or tipped over the fence separating our yards. As young boys are, they’d hop the fence and retrieve the ball. Cal noticed this and placed a ladder on his side of the fence to make it easier for the boys to get back to our yard. This led to discussions and we installed a secret passage between our yards. A hinged 12-inch fence board now connected our yards and made ball retrieval much easier.
The secret passage served as a good metaphor for our relationship, still separated by a fence but open to possibilities, and we were able to catch glimpses of each other and how we lived as neighbors over the years.
This casual relationship continued for the next several years and frankly, our lives were full and overflowing with work, family, church, and all of the kids’ activities. It was during this season that my wife, Doris, and I were challenged to live our faith where we lived. Consequently, we expanded our life group and invited Cal and Alice to join us in the Bill Hybel’s series “Just Walk Across the Room”. What this study did very naturally was to give us a window into the lives, hopes, and dreams of our neighbors. It deepened our relationship and provided us with an opportunity to speak truth into their lives and for them to speak into our lives as well. We got to know their children, who all lived out of town, and connected with them as we lived apart from our parents as well. We also began taking time and looking for ways to encourage and support Cal and Alice.
It was shortly afterwards that we transitioned from Greeting and Outreach to the third stage in our journey… Intentional Neighboring.
Scripture is very clear that we serve a missional God and He sent Jesus to us. Jesus reminds us of this in John 20:21, when He sends us out into our neighborhoods as well. Our children have since left home, married, have homes and children of their own. We still live next-door to Cal and Alice, but now our ministry has moved from the casual and convenient to intentional. I didn’t know what this meant and I certainly was not prepared for what God would do in my life, the life of my family, or the lives of Cal and Alice. Lynn Cory points out in his book, Neighborhood Initiative, that neighboring is easy but not simple, it’s inconvenient and it’s messy, but when you’ve done what God’s calling you to do, there is also great joy, hope, and blessing.
So, when Cal and Alice asked for help with their spa, I became their “pool boy”. Later, I recruited my son-in-law and we built a pool cover. Then Cal’s health began to deteriorate and Alice had back surgery. So we provided meals, drove them to doctor’s appointments, and ultimately visiting them and praying with them during their hospital stays. Alice slowly recovered and returned home, unfortunately Cal continued to decline. After several hospital stays, he was transitioned from home to a temporary care facility and then to permanent care.
Driving home from visiting Cal, Alice was stopped at a light. Her car was rear-ended and pushed into the car ahead of her. Just like that, her car was transformed into an accordion, undrivable and stranded. A young man pushed the car to a nearby gas station. That’s when I got the call. I arrived to find Alice shaken but otherwise unhurt. While waiting for the tow truck, we went to a small café and had a bite to eat. We talked through the accident and I provided assurances and confirmed that we would walk with Alice through this process. You could see the anxiety and fear lift from her shoulders… she was not alone.
Alice would tell us how much Cal enjoyed listening to the old traditional hymns. So I downloaded several albums on an old iPhone, got him headphones, and he was able to listen to those hymns right from his bed without disturbing his neighbor. When we visited, Cal would sometimes be in his wheelchair and we would explore the care facility. We spent time talking and chatting with nurses, other patients, guests, and pretty much anyone walking the halls or sitting in the recreation room. We took him to lunch in the cafeteria and Alice would try to get him to eat. Cal was pretty picky on what he liked and seriously, I was never hungry when I saw what he was eating. You have to understand, Cal loved to cook and barbecue, he was adventurous in the kitchen and the healthy diet being prescribed was not something he enjoyed. Sometimes we’d bring him grapes… he ate those!
On January 23, a Tuesday, we went to visit Cal, as he was not doing well. The family, Alice and the kids, decided to move him to hospice care. We arrived at the hospice facility about 5:30 PM following Cal’s transfer. His blood pressure was low so Alice decided to spend the night. We left about 6:00 PM, returned home and picked up some things for Alice, and Doris fixed her a sandwich. We had Life Group at our house that evening, but after praying and sharing, we cut it short. By 9:00 PM we arrived back at hospice where we stood around the bed comforting Alice and listening to the hymns softly playing in the background. I was given the opportunity to hold his hand and read the 23rd Psalm, when Cal slipped into eternity. I never imagined that this would be what God was calling us to do when we began our journey into intentional neighboring. Not only was God using us to comfort Alice, but God Himself was comforting us as well… you see, after Jesus told his disciples that “He was sending them” in John 20:21, He gave them the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and Helper on their missional journey as sent ones (John 20:22). He sends and we go. As we go, He provides the resources that we need for our journey.
Cal’s passing moved us into a new relational dynamic with Alice. Both Doris and I lost our parents over the past several years. We were also the “distant children” to our parents just as Alice has “distant children”. As we considered this new normal for Alice, we recognized the unique position and opportunity God had given to us. We could be Alice’s “nearby family”. What a blessing for us! Doris would provide a few meals during the week and call her regularly and I took on the responsibility to take out the trash, change the occasional light bulb and do other helpful things around the house. Alice is a regular at holiday meals and special events. She is part of our Life Group and helps us with various neighborhood ministries. We take pictures of these times and send them to her kids. Our kids and grandkids all recognize Alice as one of the family. On one occasion, our three-year-old grandson was scrolling through pictures on my wife’s phone when he came across one particular picture and loudly exclaimed “Alice”. Yes, it’s official when the grandkids recognize her and give her hugs as greetings… she is, indeed, part of the family.
A time for reflection:
Cal has gone on to his heavenly home while Jim and Doris and Alice continue to carry on the earthly work down here of loving their neighbors. Soon after I received Jim’s story, he sent me the following in a text: “By the way, Alice is coming over this afternoon to help Doris make enchiladas…we do dinner for Neighbors on Tuesdays (mostly young families, both parents working with little kids) …I’m calling it “TN3 (Tuesday Night Neighbor Night). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christian neighbors from all over the country began to team together in neighborhoods to love their neighbors like these two couples have? Do you know Christian neighbors in your neighborhood? If yes, what would it look like if you began to open your homes to one another and develop meaningful relationships with one another with a vision to love your neighbors? May the Lord bring about a similar story as Jim and Doris’ with your neighbors.
(I was born in Northern California, raised in Southern California, and live in Central California. After graduating from Humboldt State University, I got a teaching position in Fresno, California. I met my wife and raised our family of four children, which has now grown to 19, including spouses and nine grandchildren. I have been an educator for over 40 years. In that time, I have taught junior high and high school, been a district administrator and currently hold a part-time faculty position at Fresno State University. My specific subject area of expertise is History-Social Science and curriculums development. In addition, I also teach an online course for social science teachers at Fresno Pacific University. I was raised in a Christian home, but it was in college that the faith I grew up with became personal. I was discipled through the Navigator ministry and took that training and discipline into the local church. I have continued in ministry both in my church, in my community, and in my neighborhood. I am currently serving as an elder, co-leading a community Love Our Neighbor gathering, and directly ministering in my neighborhood. God sent Jesus and Jesus has sent us… enjoy the journey. — Jim Lloyd.)