24,000 Neighbors

Recently, I did some rough calculations on our apartment complex. It’s divided into 5 phases with a total of 84 buildings! On average these buildings are about 30 stories high, and there are 3 units on each floor. If there are 3 people living in each apartment, my neighborhood has around 24,000 people living here…24,000. The town I grew up in has a population of about 1,400. (Maybe 1,500 on a Friday night for high school football.) This is an overwhelming number of people to be surrounded by, and it’s just one apartment community in a city with a population of 2 million.

When I walk along the river next to my community, see all of these buildings, and think about the 24,000 souls living here, it breaks my heart. I feel so incapable of making any measurable difference in a place where so many are blinded to the truth of the gospel. It reminds me of God and Abraham discussing Sodom and Gomorrah. Are there 50…45…40…30…20…10 righteous people in this community? Does God have a plan for these people? Is there any hope here?

Praise the Lord, God is working in this community.

God is faithful to grow and strengthen his church even when the task seems too big a burden to bear.

I know of a number of house churches in our community that are bravely worshipping God every week right in the heart of these 24,000 people. I’ve seen new believers baptized in these apartments. I’ve met believing families that have moved across the country from cities with lots of Christians to be here where there aren’t as many. “God is faithful to grow and strengthen his church even when the task seems too big a burden to bear.

God is faithful, but how can we exercise our responsibility to love our neighbors? Here are 6 ways that you can reach out in love to your community…

  1. Pray – This cannot be overlooked. When you walk around and see the faces in your community, pray for them. Here in Asia or America, you may be the only person who has ever prayed for them. And whether it’s Mr. Wang in China or Mr. Williams in America, God welcomes your intercession for these people whom he loves.
  2. Know the people that live a few feet away from you. When my wife and I were community organizers for our apartments in America, we were amazed at the people who didn’t know the person that they shared a wall with. Break out of your box and introduce yourself, then show them that you care. We’ll take our neighbors trash down if it’s sitting out.  We’ll use our short elevator rides in order to meet residents in our part of the building. (Everyone already knows where the foreign family lives. Often they will push the button for my floor, and I have know idea who they are.)
  3. Spend time where they spend time. One of the more challenging things about community interaction where we live is schedules. Most Chinese families are so busy that the kids don’t come out to play until 7 or 8pm. Our kids are asleep or insane by that time. This means that we have to be more intentional with opportunities while we are out. Our 5 year old does his part on the way home from school by saying “你好” (hello) to the older ladies that play mahjong as they follow the sunshine around. His introductions helped us make a friend with an older lady in our building. Just be flexible and open.
  4. Patronize local shops and restaurants. Most of the local businesses are family owned, and it’s easy to frequent them and make friends. Some of them are even owned by believers who welcome the support and encouragement.
  5. Ask them to help you. We have helpful neighbors and not so helpful neighbors. We’ve accidentally dropped a few things out our window onto the balconies below before and have been met with varying degrees of hospitality. Years ago in America, our neighbor across the street was a fantastic handyman. I never hesitated to go ask him for help with a project or for a random tool. Those opportunities always deepened our relationship. It never hurts to ask for a hand moving something or get a recommendation on a restaurant.
  6. Support the local church. As foreigners we don’t want to be a distraction to the work of believers in our area, but we do want them to know that we love and support them as Christian family. If there is a desire for bible study and discipleship, it’s a blessing to help out. We can reach our community by supporting these young, local believers. It’s the beauty of the global church. We also make a point of connecting anyone living around us who is interested in learning more about God or who has recently believed with a local church body.

I hope people can see that these things do not just apply to my community in east Asia. You have neighbors all around you who need the community and love that your family can give. You don’t have to start going door-to-door or hosting block parties. Just begin by praying that God would give you the eyes to see your community as Jesus did – lost and wandering, like sheep who need a shepherd.