My family and I live in a good neighborhood. There are nice homes and even nicer neighbors. Like many other neighborhoods, ours has a Homeowners Association (HOA) that works to maintain a certain level of expectation for how these properties are cared for. Soon after we moved into this house, we received our first HOA newsletter. In it, was an article written by the HOA president in response to complaints some in the neighborhood had shared with him about how tall one of the homeowners had allowed their grass to grow. In case you’re wondering, ours wasn’t the home in question. Not this time, anyway. In his response, the HOA president summarized the complaints and indicated that he understood where they were coming from. As he continued, he did something I did not expect. He turned the complaint back on the homeowners. He suggested that, while he did not disagree that each home should be maintained according to the bylaws, perhaps reasons might exist as to why this person or persons had let their grass grow a bit too much. Perhaps, those who are complaining could check in on the folks in this home to be sure they weren’t experiencing some sort of hardship that might cause them to neglect their lawn. It was a perfect response and one that caused me to love this neighborhood right from the beginning.
I thought back to this article while Orin and I were in Yakima, Washington this past week, serving on the program staff for a previously mentioned service/learning camp, called Young Neighbors in Action. The great majority of our teens and adults doing service last week in Yakima were assigned not to local agencies, but to individual homes. Specifically, they served at the homes of those who were older, sometimes disabled, and had a low income. These “Young Neighbors” did some landscaping, some clean-up, and a LOT of painting. They did work that would be very difficult or even impossible for those homeowners. As we got to know the stories and circumstances of those being served, a central truth began to emerge. Those who had a strong network of friends and family looking out for them regularly seemed to be in a decent living situation: Their homes were in better shape. Their yards and possession were better maintained. On the other hand, those who were more isolated and lacked regular contact with the community were generally not doing as well. Translation: a strong family and community network can have a major impact on a person’s quality of life
There are many of us who feel a sense of duty and responsibility to the poor and needy in the world. That comes honestly, I think. Jesus spoke often of the need to serve and lift up the lowly, the marginalized, the outcast. We often answer this call by finding a local service agency to partner with, go on a mission trip, or give away our money and possessions. Often, though, the needy are closer than we realize. How many of us check in on our actual neighbors now and then, especially those neighbors who are older or have a disability? I’m not talking about the word “neighbor” in a broad sense. I mean our actual neighbor who lives next door or just down the street. When was the last time you offered your help to a young couple struggling to take care of a new home or perhaps a nearby single parent who could use an extra hand now and then. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) Perhaps it’s time to slip on our shoes and see to our actual neighbor, too.