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The mission statement for DSM is “to love our neighbor by revitalizing impoverished neighborhoods through spiritual and community development.” The word from this that has been on my mind over the last few months is the word “neighbor.” What and who is my neighbor? How am I supposed to interact with my neighbor? What if I don’t like my neighbor? These questions and more have rattled around in my brain and have been showing up in different arenas of my life lately. I recently looked up the definition of the word “neighbor,” and realized something that many of us probably know, but don’t always think about. Neighbor can be classified as a noun, an adjective, and a verb.
According to Merriam-Webster, when used as a noun, a neighbor is “one living or located near another.” We all know that definition, and are comfortable there. But what hit me as I read the second definition of “neighbor” as a noun, by the very same Merriam-Webster, are the two words “fellow man.” Many of us, when we hear the word neighbor, think of those surrounding us or people that we interact with. Still, a lot of us consider “neighbor” to encompass all of mankind—those who share this earth with us. But how many of us consider neighbor to truly mean every person? The words fellow man allow for no division or separation. “Fellow” can mean: an equal in rank, power, or character. No matter how we were brought up or what we have accomplished in life, we all experience the same fragility of life. For me, that’s a convicting thing to consider when I want to ask who and what is my neighbor. A neighbor is an equal.
Now when you look at “neighbor” as an adjective, describing what a neighbor is like, Merriam-Webster says a neighbor is someone “being immediately adjoining or relatively near.” The word that stands out to me in that definition is immediately. Which is not convenient. Being immediately adjoining or near means that I must drop everything and come towards you, or worse… to you. That’s a burden if I’ve ever seen one. Now what if we aren’t just called to do that physically? But to spiritually or emotionally be near to someone? That means that I might have to drop my preconceived notions, my judgments, and my expectations to do that authentically. And that’s messy. We can’t control that. So we tend to ignore that part because it costs us something, and if I am completely honest, I don’t always find the other person worth it. A neighbor is present.
Finally! The verb. Just tell me what to do! The verb definition of “neighbor” is “to adjoin immediately or lie relatively near to.” Awesome. Lie relatively near to… well, that is not what I had in mind for an action item. When we lie down, we are vulnerable. Other verbs—like sit or stand—at least give us a chance to act or react, but “lie” doesn’t help me feel like I’m doing something. Which makes me consider the thought: maybe it’s not about me! When you lie down, it is a position of meekness, sacrifice and trust. This is what, in the Christian world, we are taught to do, but do we aspire to it? A neighbor is selfless.
Looking through these definitions, there doesn’t seem to be much glory in, or an upside to, truly being a neighbor, or even having neighbors. But as our mission statement declares, and as our Savior has called us to be, we are called to—not only be neighbors—but also to love them.
While in Trinity Gardens (a neighborhood in the suburbs of Mobile, AL) a few weeks ago, I asked Mrs. CharIene Campbell to tell me one of her greatest joys of living in the Trinity Gardens neighborhood. Charlene started a small Bible study at the Dotch Community Center in Trinity Gardens in 2001, and in 2009 invited Scott Moore (who is now one of our ministry partners) to take part in what she started in the neighborhood. Charlene has helped Scott grow Trinity Family Ministries into what it is today. Over this same time period, she has experienced unimaginable loss, heartache, and pain, but after a few seconds of deep and reflective thought, she responded joyfully and with a huge smile on her face, “I have neighbors, and I get to be one!”