Depending on the kind of neighborhood you lived in, the experience of what it means to be a neighbor could be very different. For example, my adolescent years were spent in an inner city neighborhood consisting of long rows of attached houses. When an elderly neighbor needed someone to go to the store, they just popped their head out the door, called out to the first child they saw, and presented a list of items to pick up at the corner grocery. In that setting, it was impossible not to know and have concern for your neighbors. Later, my family moved to a suburban neighborhood where most of the residents worked and where you could live next door to someone for months, even years, without knowing them. In this environment, neighbor was defined by proximity only. Presently, I live Hopewell, the neighborhood in which our organization is located. Hopewell is a formerly segregated neighborhood that is home to many elderly who have been living here all of their lives. They remember when neighbors knew one another and, like the neighborhood I grew up in, when you could open your door, step out on the front porch, and quickly find someone to help you.
When we moved to Hopewell five years ago, life in this neighborhood had drastically changed. The sense of community and security, that was once a solid characteristic of Hopewell, had deteriorated. Long-time residents moved out and strangers moved in—some of them participating in illegal and unsavory activity that cast an unfavorable reputation on the entire neighborhood.
After our organization purchased the formerly segregated elementary school in Hopewell as our headquarters, families working with us began to rent, buy, and build houses in the neighborhood. But moving into a neighborhood does not make you a neighbor—at least not the kind of neighbor that Jesus describes in Luke 10.
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:25-29).
Neighborliness, according to Jesus, involves more than just proximity, it demands a responsibility to assist those who are in need. After telling a parable of a seriously injured man lying on the side of the road, Jesus asked the lawyer:
“’Which of these three [that passed the man on the road] do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ [The lawyer] said, ‘The one who showed him mercy,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (Luke 10:36-37).
As a community of believers, we have responded to Jesus’ command to “go and do likewise” by organizing ourselves to serve the elderly, widows, and children in our neighborhood on a consistent basis. Each week, twenty to thirty people go out in the neighborhood and meet needs. Over the past seven weeks, we have provided 350 hours in community service, which is valued over $7,000.00. (1) We have repaired roofs, installed lights, repaired plumbing, constructed handicap railings, painted, cleaned, organized, landscaped and more. We have also met the social needs of widows by cooking meals, delivering garden-fresh vegetables, and spending time with them.
Some of the recipients of our service remember the days when they were able to serve others. One 90-year old neighbor remarked, “I used to help people do home repairs when I was younger—I’d paint and fix things for people. I just can’t do that anymore.” Now he needs to have things repaired, painted, and cleaned. For a long time, though, many of those needs went unmet. After we spent time working on his house, this elderly gentleman’s eyes filled with tears as he looked at those who were repairing his porch and said, “You don’t give up. No matter how old you get, you just don’t give up. I didn’t give up and God sent me you.”
Yes, God did send us to live in this neighborhood and to be neighbors in the true sense of the word, but we are not the first to fulfill the role of neighbor in Hopewell. Previous generations of predominantly African-American people have served one another through times of great hardship and societal injustice. Neighbors watched out for each other’s children, shared garden produce, helped make house repairs, cared the elderly and infirmed, and so much more. Now it is our time to utilize the youth and strength God has given us to serve those who have served others.
1. “The estimated value of volunteer time [nationally] for 2013 is $22.55 per hour [in Tennessee, the value of volunteer time is $20.30 per hour]. The estimate helps acknowledge the millions of individuals who dedicate their time, talents, and energy to making a difference. Charitable organizations can use this estimate to quantify the enormous value volunteers provide.
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, about 64.5 million Americans, or 26.5 percent of the adult population, gave 7.9 billion hours of volunteer service worth $175 billion in 2012.”