In light of that emphasis, we asked Rick Howard, our International External Focus Director, to share how he joined the "mission in his own backyard" last year.
One of my favorite summer TV shows is “What Would You Do?," where actors play out different scenarios in public places to see how innocent bystanders respond. In a single episode they’ll have a “20 year-old nanny” berating the 5 year-old girl she’s caring for, followed by an “old man” making racist comments to a supposed Middle Eastern worker in a fast food place. The goal is to see what the folks who happen to be around will do when they see the scene play out. Will they step in and do what’s right to help protect and support the person being mistreated, or will they keep walking, remain silent, or avoid it all together?
That same question applies to so many areas of life as a Christ follower. We can choose to avoid the challenging or inconvenient situations God places in our path, or we can jump into the fray and do what’s right.
In 2014 my family faced this dilemma. We’d been living in our current home for about a year when things began to unravel for our neighbor across the street, a 76 year-old lady living alone. Prior to this my sons had mowed her yard, helped rake the leaves up in the fall, and cleaned up her back porch and pool area. Through casual sidewalk conversations and having her over for dinner a couple of times, we had discovered she’d been alone in the world since her husband died the year before. She was estranged from her daughter who lived in New Zealand, and her only son was in a mental health facility in Tennessee. The last good conversation we had with her was right after she sold her home and moved into an apartment about 4 miles from us.
Then on Easter we found out that our neighbor was in a rehabilitation facility in Richardson after an unexpected hospital stay. My wife and I decided to stop by and bring her flowers for Easter.
We had no idea how big a “What would you do?” moment was coming our way when we walked into her room. She was completely alone, in tremendous pain, unsure where she was, paranoid about being mistreated, and generally unable to give us any details what was going on and why she was there.
In that moment I knew what the folks on the TV show feel. We could turn and walk out, knowing she might not even remember our visit or likely ever cross our path again. Or, we could dive into her life (James 1:27), care for the "victim in the road” God had placed before us (Luke 10:25-37), and assume this would be an opportunity to share Christ with someone we’d been trying to reach for a couple of years (Acts 1:8).
We chose to do those things. And with that single choice - made in a matter of seconds - came the eventual discovery that our neighbor had terminal lung cancer, no basic estate plan, and no one else in the entire world who could or would help her. That then led to countless visits with health care professionals, being granted medical and general powers of attorney for her, a search for her estranged daughter, contact with the mental health care facilities in Tennessee caring for our neighbor's son, the discovery that she was still hoarding all manner of junk in her apartment that had to be dealt with when her lease expired, and relocating her to a long term care facility.
Finally, our choice made in those hurried moments meant we would find ourselves arranging for her cremation after she unexpectedly died on July 6, 2014.
It was an exhausting three months for my wife and three sons physically, mentally, and emotionally. We spent weeks taking care of our neighbor, her affairs, and her stuff.
But, if we faced that choice again, we would not hesitate to do the same thing. You see, in spite of all the time and effort that went into caring for her and sorting out the mess that her life had become, it was one of the highlights of my year. In being obedient - by caring for the widow God placed in the road before me - my family was able to have multiple conversations about Christ - and not only with our neighbor. That’s because in the midst of loving her, we were modeling Christ for the world and for our sons. Virtually everyone we crossed paths with wanted to know the "why behind the what." Medical workers, apartment managers, neighbors, friends, and finally her daughter (whom my wife ultimately found on Facebook) wanted to know why we would care for this elderly neighbor lady when it was so inconvenient and stressful.
My answer was always the same...
It was not because we were good people. Rather it was simply because, when I search the Bible, time and time again I see God’s people responding to the “What would you do?” dilemma by loving their neighbor, no matter what is required.
"Go and do likewise…"