“Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself’.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
Yesterday we attended a church service in a little church that meets in the garage of the pastor’s house. The church exists to make a difference in their neighborhood. It is situationed in an area that has a lot of things working against it.
Part of the community is home to those who lost everything back during the civil war from 1980-1992. They were given this stretch of land to build new homes. The homes are made of of pieces of wood, sheet metal, and any other materials that people can find to make a liveable shelter. Their lives are shaped by devastating poverty.
Another part of the community is home to many gang members, and some of the most wanted members of gangs like MS-13 and the 18th Street gang. They hide deep in the community, only coming out at night. Their multiple tatoos give them away and they don’t want to be arrested.
This little church has embraced the command of Jesus to “love your neighbor” wholeheartedly. They know that God calls us to not only love and serve Him passionately, but to love and serve our neighbors passionately too. Even if your neighbor lives in poverty, even if your neighbor is a high-ranking gang member, even if your neighbor is unlovely, or ungrateful, or may even do you harm.
Many people came to the service. The majority of them were teenagers and young children from the community. We all joined in worshipping God, right there in the middle of this neighborhood which has seen heartbreak, and murder, and death. But there is also hope in the form of this little church.
A team serving with us from the States worked with the children’s ministry at the church, and repaired one of the roofs in the community. As the afternoon was wrapping up, a very agitated member of MS-13 approached Jon demanding to know why he was there, and why he brought this group. Jon talked to him, thanked him for letting us be in his territory, and shared why the group was there. A heated, potentially deadly, situation was handled and Jon was able to walk away safely with the rest of the team.
That man ,who showed Jon tatoos indicating how he killed people, is my neighbor. Those children growing up in poverty are my neighbors too. And those people who are still grieving after a civil war devastated their country are also my neighbors.
That little garage church gets this. They understand that we are called to love our neighbors, to seek justice for our neighbors, and to serve our neighbors. How many churches that meet in huge, beautiful buildings and who run myriads of programs each week love their neighbors? How many are deeply invested in the cities that they call home?
This pastor could literally be killed for going into “gang territory” every week to love people and to share Jesus with them. How many times do I neglect loving my neighbor because it’s inconvenient? Or messy? Or complicated? Or takes too much time? Much less if it may cost me my life?
I want to love my neighbors more. I want to be more involved in the needy places of their lives. Fear, and my self-confidence about my Spanish skills, and my frustration with people are things that hold me back from fully loving my neighbor. So I guess my challenge to me, to you, to all of us who claim to know Jesus is this:
Love Your Neighbor.