A few people expressed concern whenever I visited my elderly friend in her neighborhood. I understood. I was young enough to have had my driver’s license for only a year or two, and I was venturing into a part of town that was known for many things, but not for safety. However, I could not suppress the desire to spend time there. And I didn’t want to. To investigate, discover truth, and bring change is at the core of who I am, even when it involves a little risk. To be any other way would mean to cease experiencing life how my Creator intended it for me and to cease being myself. But since I was young, I did listen to the voices of authority God placed in my life and only visited during the day.
My curiosity was first peaked after visiting a family member in the area several times. I noticed church vans regularly driving in and out, which I guess was a good thing, but as far as I knew, no one was spending serious time there. I didn’t know of anyone doing daily life with the men and women in the neighborhood. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening—just that I didn’t know about it if it was.
I began to wonder what it would look like to see God bring change to the area. I didn’t think I was the key to an entire neighborhood changing, but wanting to see God meet the needs of people there was the desire of my heart. Knowing how deeply His love had changed me, I decided to begin by spending time with my friend who lived there. I wanted to know more about “loving God with all my heart and loving my neighbor as myself” (Matthew 22:36-39). What would that look like in real life, and what healing could it bring to a hurting area of my town if several people who lived there started wanting the same thing?
I began praying for my friend regularly and since she couldn’t drive, checked on her once or twice in the week to see if she needed to go anywhere. This turned into meals at her home, watching TV together, and “just because” visits. Our times together sometimes ended with sitting in her front yard in lawn chairs, talking with neighbors. I learned so much about life in the neighborhood by listening to their stories about events and people in the community.
It took a while to be considered an “accepted member” of the front yard lawn chair conversations. I spent months getting to know my friend better, watching the layers of her personality and life unfold. She was doing the same thing with me as we increasingly spent time together. As we grew in our understanding of each other, a measure of trust was given and slowly strengthened. Over time, I met a few other ladies in the neighborhood and saw the way her life intertwined with theirs.
I genuinely cared about my friend and she for me. I had no systematic plan for “spreading a religion” in her neighborhood. She wasn’t a target or a means to an end. She was my friend— a person created in God’s image. Whenever she was interested, I told her how to be reconciled to Him. There were times she wasn’t interested and that was okay. We enjoyed being together and didn’t put stressful pressure on our relationship. We talked about many things.
It was a beautiful experience for my friend and I to grow together in the understanding that she did not need to leave her part of town in a church van to experience the life and love God offers. God was meeting her neighbors and herself where they lived. I do wish a regular gathering of believers in Christ could have started in the area. Maybe it did.
God wanted to bring change and hope into these ladies’ lives and to mine. At one point, my friend told me she had already believed in Jesus. I continued spending afternoons with the ladies in the front yard conversations, talking about whatever was on our minds and also looking for ways God might use me to encourage and help with practical needs. They inquired regularly about my grades, part time job, and social life, encouraging me to make good decisions and passing along a few kitchen skills I still remember. I learned some important things about life and people through my time there.
One afternoon during a front yard conversation, I was sitting comfortably in my lawn chair when it occurred to me that while I had not left my hometown, I had spent months crossing cultures. I had spent months praying, working, and hoping for God to bring change to a little area of the world that was close to my heart. Was this what loving God and my neighbor looked like? If so, it wasn’t easy and I hadn’t done it perfectly, but it’s what I wanted to continue doing. I went away to college and naturally my visits were less frequent because I didn’t live nearby anymore. My friend passed away not long after.
While my time there didn’t result in some sort of official work, like a community center (I often dreamed of that), it did result in small life changes for a few people I grew to care about. Now that I’m a little older, I’ve learned that small, genuine changes in someone’s life can amount to much more than something like a community center when it comes to God’s love changing people and a place. My friend in the neighborhood had not only heard, but experienced the life changing knowledge of Jesus, and had several years to impact others in her community. I still don’t know the impact of her life in her neighborhood, but I don’t have to know. God didn’t ask me to force anything or try to guarantee certain results, but to faithfully use the opportunities He gave me. He knows what He is doing in that neighborhood and He can decide what my few months of spending time there meant.
I slowly realized the thing I cared about most in life was crossing cultures to share Christ’s message of hope and reconciliation. I wanted to help people commit their lives to knowing Him and impacting others, if they also wanted that. This is still who I want to be no matter where in the world I am.
In my next post I want to share more about crossing cultures. I never get it perfect, but for me, taking time to understand people better, regardless of where in the world I live or what my life circumstances look like, is a priority. Because people are created in God’s image and they matter. And because I want to share the love of Christ in ways that are meaningful to others.
Thanks for reading!
©2018Chrissy Winslow – All Rights Reserved
Some books I’ve read in the past:
- Make Haste SLOWLY! – Growing Effective Intercultural Communication
by Donald K. Smith
- Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility
by Duane Elmer
- We Are Not the Hero by Jean Johnson