When I was a kid, I thought the really dedicated Christians went to Africa, or Paupau, New Guinea, to be missionaries—to preach to the natives and convert them to Christianity. I was both disappointed and relieved that I heard no such missional calling in my life. Disappointed that apparently God didn’t think I could cut it as a missionary. Relieved for obvious reasons; most of them deeply connected to my strong attachment to comfort.
While I was camped out in suburbia, God brought the mission field to me. Or perhaps just brought it to my attention. But I don’t preach or try to convert anyone. I just try to love them–although it’s amazing what love can do. God’s calling me to live a life of simple compassion, right where I am. It just so happens I’ve lived in the same neighborhood for 17 years. My kids, now teenagers, still hang out with friends they’ve known since kindergarten. It’s an amazing neighborhood where people love and care for each other. It’s normal here to bring meals to someone who is sick, to actually know your neighbors.
Over the years, I’ve grown into the awareness that I didn’t have to go to Africa or the inner city because God wants me to literally love my neighbors, to show compassion to them. Compassion comes from two Latin words that mean essentially “to suffer with”—to come alongside people in their suffering. Because even here in suburbia, life can be difficult, and sometimes all you have to do to shine God’s love in the dark is just show up.
I don’t do all that much, but I try to pay attention. I pray, I lead a little bible study in the neighborhood coffee shop. I take a group of neighbors to serve at a soup kitchen once a month. I try to live what Jesus said to do—love your neighbor. It helps that I also really like hanging out with my neighbors—we get together for Bunco, cards, parties, or just to hang out. We’ve served on PTA together, carpooled to soccer and football, done life together. Just last week we had a block party that was way fun—food, drink, a visit from the Fire Department that included the kids playing in the spray from the fire hose. I love the people who live near me because, well, I really like them—there’s not an ounce of obligation in it. There is, however, a strong sense of calling attached to it. I want to live missionally, right where I am—to live a life of simple compassion.
What does that look like? Well, right now, my neighbor Katie, 16, has cancer. Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare but treatable bone cancer. Her mom, Lisa, has been a part of my neighborhood Bible study for years. I’ve known Lisa and her husband Jeff for a decade or more. Our kids are about the same age.
I got an email about Katie’s tumor almost two weeks ago. That day, my friend Sharon (also in my bible study, also Lisa’s good friend) called me and suggested we go over to visit Lisa and Jeff, bringing a basket of goodies. Which we did—we simply showed up on their doorstep. They were able to receive our love and concern because of the relationships all of us have built over the years. In the weeks since, I’ve visited or e-mailed or called—as have other neighbors. We’re simply trying to love, to listen, to bring dinner or hugs or whatever else is needed. Right now, Katie’s at University of Chicago for her first chemo treatment.
I happen to know two other families who have kids with cancer, not in our neighborhood but really close by. I was able to help Lisa and Jeff connect with those families. I came over and just listened (as did some of my other neighbors). Last week, I helped Lisa and Jeff navigate setting up a Caring Bridge website (if you feel so led, visit Katie’s page on this great site by clicking here and creating an account). This week, Sharon suggested we get together to read Scripture and pray with Lisa, and we’ll do that this Sunday evening.
I’d like to ask you to pray for Katie. You can read more details on her site on The Caring Bridge, a website for families of people with cancer. But beyond that, I want to challenge you to live missionally, to consider the possibility that God may be asking you to show simple compassion to your neighbors. To love, in practical, tangible ways, the people God has placed you near. And to be transformed in the process.