I once took part in an intro to church planting class where leaders of different local church plants were invited to come in and share their wisdom. Being newly back in the US at the time, I was eager to compare notes with what I had seen in the Middle East.
Some leaders from a multicultural house-church plant visited our class one day. These leaders were also students at the seminary where I was working on my undergrad. I don’t remember much from their presentation, but one nugget of wisdom stuck with me and proved to be enormously helpful.
“Listen,” they said. “It’s awfully hard to be a working student who is faithful to your church and still find the time to reach out cross-culturally in this city. The busyness of life can make evangelistic friendships with internationals here very hard to fit in. But we have learned one very important lesson that’s made it more accessible.”
I leaned forward as they continued.
“It’s simply much more possible to live on mission when you are living next door to those you are seeking to reach. When we lived on campus, we found it much harder to find the margin to engage the lost. But when we moved into an apartment complex where many internationals lived, we couldn’t help but interact as a part of our daily routines. With intentionality, this actually led to friendships and chances to share the gospel.”
“Interesting,” I thought. I was a new student, kept very busy by my friendships with believers, my jobs, and my homework (especially NT Greek!). Yet I earnestly desired to find a few Middle Eastern friends with whom I could spend time and share the gospel. I already felt the difficulty of making this happen, living in a suburban-type neighborhood just off of campus in a duplex full of believers.
I took note of this piece of counsel and a few years later my new wife and I had the chance to put it into practice. We were given the chance to move into an apartment complex which had historically been one of the city’s main communities for refugee resettlement. This apartment complex had a reputation for crime and drugs, but after praying and both sensing God’s leading, we moved in.
The counsel I received several years previously proved to be sound. Engaging internationals missionally in America was indeed much more accessible when we lived next door to them and underneath them.
True, there were plenty of challenges. A gang of Somali youth tried to kick in our back door late one evening. The Cuban men shamelessly objectified any woman who dared walk down the sidewalk. We had to break up fist fights between Sudanese neighbors. One friend had a tooth punched out and another his phone stolen at gun point. And there were lots of roaches and bed bugs. Yep, we’ve had bed bugs. Multiple times (written with a shiver).
Yet there were also the chances to talk about Jesus late into the evening with Iraqis in their first year of living in the US. There were the Bible studies that incorporated Nepalese, American, Honduran, and Afghani friends. When many of our friends needed help, they could simply come by and knock on our door, or call us and we could rush over there – as when some Iranian friends called 911 because they couldn’t figure out how to turn off their central heating and needed help communicating clearly with the police that had for some reason shown up!
The first step of mission is access. In the ultra-busy life of the West, access to relationships with the lost is harder than it sounds. While not everyone is able to move into this kind of refugee community, it’s worth asking the question: Is there some way in which living in a different community might help me rub shoulders more often with the lost? Geography is not everything, but it’s one important piece that is worth thinking through as believers seek to live on mission.
Now, it’s certainly possible to have lost neighbors for years and to still not have any meaningful friendship with them. Prayer and intentional hospitality are key to tapping the potential that close geography provides. But after all, we are called to be a people who live prayerfully and intentionally in every area of life for the sake of the gospel.
Therefore, for some, that will mean moving for the sake of more natural access to your lost neighbors. It’s simply much more possible to live on mission when you are living next door to those you are seeking to reach.