I hadn’t spoken Chinese for years – not since my husband and I left Beijing four years earlier.
And honestly, the few phrases I could mutter without butchering the pronunciation beyond recognition were about jasmine tea and my three-year-old twin boys – pretty inconsequential compared to the news of the gospel.
But it was enough.
Enough to plant the seed of friendship between two families. Enough to grow a legacy of faith in Christ in a family where there once was none.
So, when I saw the older woman smiling at me on the sidewalk with her grandson beside her, I’m glad I listened to the gentle urging of the Spirit guiding me to spit out the little I remembered of her heart language – even if it was only an invitation to play.
How intentional are you about building relationships with your neighbors?
I haven’t always been intentional.
When our family lived in a gated community, I’m ashamed to say we engaged very few of our neighbors. A few years ago, God moved us to Pittsburgh. We went from driving into a garage and shutting the door behind us to living in an apartment complex bustling with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
I grumbled about unloading the groceries in a snowy parking lot, until I realized I was missing huge opportunities to engage those living around us. God used that one encounter with the Chinese family to shake my eyesight from inward to outward, impressing on me the need to connect with my community for his glory.
Through our friendship with that one family, God has shown me three simple ways to be intentional with all my neighbors.
1. Be prayerful
After I met the lovely Chinese grandmother, I began to pray for her entire family. Each time I left our apartment, I prayed that God would allow our paths to cross. My prayers were simple; I asked for opportunities and boldness. And God answered! Through our “chance” encounters, God was working in the life of this family – demonstrating to them that His hand was providentially guiding them toward a grand purpose.
If you don’t know where to start in reaching your neighbors, then pray! God will answer. He desires you to connect with others for his purpose.
2. Be friendly!
I’d like to think I’m a pretty friendly person. But the level of my friendliness is often attached to the business of schedule. To avoid encounters with others because it seems inconvenient is to miss out on the blessing of seeing God transform lives.
If you live in a gated community, being friendly takes intentional effort beyond a wave hello. Start by stopping to ask simple questions. Comment on their home, landscaping. Then build out your conversations based on the interests you observe in them. Most people are thrilled to talk about what they enjoy the most. The point is, stop and talk! Don’t just shut your garage door behind you.
3. Be intentional
After getting to know your neighbor in conversation, be intentional by extending them a personal invitation. Here are just a few ideas – all of which we enjoyed with our new friends:
* Play dates at your house or in a neutral location
* Host a meal in your home
* Invite them to your church worship service or a special event
If you’re unsure of what invitation to extend, then center opportunities around food! One of our most cherished memories is sharing Christmas Dinner with our friends in our cramped little apartment. We talked about the Promised Messiah in Isaiah and the meaning of his birth. And after attending our church for a time, our friends responded to the gospel and their lives were forever changed.
But it all started with hello (or rather, Ni Hao).
How intentional are you about connecting with those around you? Don’t miss the riches of community and friendship God designed for you!
Melissa Deming is the creator of HiveResources.com–a site that helps women sweeten their walk with Christ through devotional articles, book reviews, and more. Melissa holds a Masters of Divinity in Women's Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C. She and her husband, Jonathan, have four-year-old twins, Zach and Jonah. They are part of the core team of a new church plant in Pittsburgh.
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