We all experience a sense of belonging somewhere, whether it is in the church, with friends, or our families. But for so many, the place of belonging can create addictions, brokenness and alienation from others. Indeed, this sense of belonging comes from our separation from God and our inner longing to experience that deep satisfying and enduring love of God who is the source of love itself. As I engage in our culture on a daily basis, I remind myself that others are looking to belong and to be known. Community can become a place where healing and deep soul work can take place, and especially in the context of the redeemed Body of Christ. When we are convinced that God loves us, not based on our achievements, beauty, or merit, but solely on the basis of Christ’s work on the Cross, we can love others simply as an end in itself. We do not love others so that they will love us, but because Jesus loved us first (1 John 4:19). This past Halloween, we had an idea to bless our city. We wanted to do this because of the love we have received from our Lord. Because Halloween is a perfect time to “go public” while others storm the streets, we wanted to provide a place where relationships can start and hopefully continue. Nonetheless, our idea simply began as a conviction. We decided that we wanted to make it a big event and maybe even shut down our street in order to have a block party. So, I set out to find out what that would entail. I called the city, asked around and found out a pretty simple way of doing so. In the process I got to meet all of my neighbors, and some city officials! We were granted the permit and we began to run with ideas! We set up a jumper, a BBQ, and a pumpkin painting station! We also made a flier and invited our neighbors to come out and enjoy!
It was amazing what we experienced. As soon as we shut down the roads, all of the neighborhood kids felt safe to run around, kick the balls, and ride their bikes. The parents actually came out of their homes! We began simply by setting up and sharing time with our small group while doing so. As it began to get dark, we fired up the BBQ and threw hot dogs on the grill. People began trick-or-treating and we had plenty of candy to give out. It was a perfect set up. As the families walked by, we would say, “free hot dogs!” Instantly people would be taken aback that we would provide something free. As the kids ate, they would see the jumper and want to take time to jump. As they jumped, we engaged with the parents and built relationships. At one point, a neighbor came around and their daughter knew Abigail from school and we instantly hit it off with their parents. Come to find out they live right around the corner and we are hoping to have dinner with them some time soon. One of our neighbors in the apartment complex came out to enjoy the event as well, and all the while she was laughing particularly loudly as she enjoyed relationships with one of our small group friends. I saw what community brought out of her. It brought her a sense of joy and belonging. It also brought out a different side of her I have never experienced. She is usually very shy and reclusive, but that night she had a great time.
Another interaction took place just before the night ended. We were finishing up the 100 hot dogs we gave out with a line of over 15 people, when a short elderly lady came up to me. I had invited her the day before the event because I had seen a Christian sign out in front of her house. She came and said hello to me and asked me if I remembered her. It took a while but I did remember her. She then said that in all the 34 years she lived in this neighborhood of Chula Vista, she had never seen anything like this. She had never seen anyone close down a road and have a neighborhood event! What a witness of love. We didn’t try to manipulate anything and try to get people to go to church or join our bible study, we simply sough the good of our city on a day when folks were outside. So many were touched by this event and we were happy to put it on. To say that this was a success is an understatement probably because when it comes to relationships, there is no measuring gauge. But as we learn to love our neighbors, a win is simply gaining the trust of our neighbors, being consistent in seeking their good and getting to know them. Therefore, a win is a handshake, a smile, or even a wave. But as we consistently make these gestures and plan ways in which we can bless them, God will draw them. We pray that God will continue to draw others into the fellowship of His Son which is what He is actively doing in the world today.