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Over the next several weeks, critically acclaimed author Connie Neal will be contributing to with an exclusive semi-weekly column devoted to the aftermath of and spiritual recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
More Articles from This Series
Jesus on a Roof Top
Other Books by Connie Neal
'Dancing in the Arms of God'
'Dancing in the Arms of God'
dealing with disaster

Jesus on a Roof Top: What Should I Do? Be a Neighbor!

By Connie Neal
Guest Contributor A man living in a nice subdivision in Stockton, California watched hurricane coverage the way most of us did. He had thoughts similar to those most of us thought: Those poor people! I wish I could do something to help. Oh, Lord! What a terrible tragedy. He felt the overwhelming discomfort of watching scene after scene of devastation, family after family suddenly homeless. He felt so far away and yet the human misery was flickering from the television in his family room.

Then something happened that changed his experience of watching this from a distance to something immediate. One of the evacuated families moved into the house next door. Suddenly a family whose misery he had reacted to emotionally, but not responded to practically, were his neighbors.

Something clicked inside him. He immediately went upstairs to his closet and went through it. He looked at the pants he knew he would probably never fit into again and took them down. He folded them neatly so as not to mess up the creases. He took out several shirts that weren’t his favorite and therefore hadn’t gotten much use, but they were perfectly good shirts. He folded them neatly. It was hot that day, so he decided he could do without a few pair of shorts. He stacked those neatly too. He encouraged the other members of his family to go through their closets. His kids had just gotten new school clothes and their drawers were tightly packed.

Then he went next door, introduced himself, welcomed his new neighbors, and offered to share the things he had in abundance. Warm handshakes were exchanged before the watching news cameras. When questioned by the reporter he said, “Well they are my neighbors. I’m happy to be able to help.” I think most of us would do the same.

While Jesus was teaching he admonished an expert in knowing God’s law to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,' he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

Then Jesus asked, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."

Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:30-37 NIV)

In Jesus’ story the needy person didn’t move into the neighborhood. He was just passing through when he experienced unexpected hardship. Three people happened to see him in his extremity. Any one of them could have done something to help. Every one of them SHOULD have done something. Only one did something. Notice how Jesus takes away all self-justification for anyone trying to get out of his or her obligation before God. The questioner wanted to know, “Who is MY neighbor?” Jesus turned that around by saying, in essence, “Will YOU actively BE A NEIGHBOR to anyone you see in need?”

If a family of hurricane survivors moved onto your block, you would do something to help wouldn’t you? The kind of help we might offer would be different for each of us. Maybe our closet is over-packed and we could share some clothes like the man in Stockton. Maybe we love to barbeque and would invite them over for a hot meal. Maybe we have connections in the business community and could help the adults assess their skills and find meaningful work. Maybe we could offer to show them where the school is for their children and offer tutoring to help the kids catch up with missed learning. Maybe our kids have outgrown nice toys that their children would love; we would happily give the children toys. Maybe we would invite them to church or their kids to youth group.

While inclined to do differing things, my guess is that anyone watching the news this past week would do something if a family of hurricane survivors moved into the neighborhood. After all, we are Christians, and Jesus said to love our neighbor as ourselves. However, the point of Jesus’ story is that we are not to wait for the ones we see in need to become our neighbor. We are to BECOME a neighbor to them! We live in amazing times. Not only can we see devastation across the country, we can do something to help and have that help arrive almost immediately.

Okay, so you can’t walk next door to donate clothes.

• You can pack up your clothes – folding them as nicely as if you were handing them to the person yourself -- call your local news station or go to their web site and find out who in your local area is delivering clothes to the storm victims. Then you could give your clothes there, and maybe stay to pack boxes. You could donate clothes to a Salvation Army. You could get the name of a church in one of the affected areas, go to their web site and get the name of someone in charge of ministry to the storm victims and send a gift card to a store where the people affected could choose their own new clothes.

Okay, so you can’t have them over for a barbeque.

• You can make a donation to Operation Blessing or the Salvation Army designated for disaster relief. They are on the ground with traveling canteens and tent kitchens making hot meals for those in need.

Perhaps, you can’t do a lot that you would like to do from a distance. If that’s the case and long distance giving doesn’t satisfy what God has put on your heart, you could become part of Project: Church Welcome! In that way you could not only BE A NEIGHBOR but help make those who are displaced a neighbor to you in your church community. Here’s how you might get that started:

1. Call your church office and talk with someone on the pastoral staff or outreach committee.
2. Tell them about Project: Church Welcome and how CBN is helping willing churches connect with families who have been displaced by the hurricane.
3. Offer to recruit and motivate others in your church to become a neighbor to the family that accepts your invitation to become part of your church family.
4. Once your church family connects with a family seeking refuge and help, do whatever it is you have in your heart to do: have that barbeque, throw a baby shower, or give a house-warming party after someone helps to find them a house. Use your imagination!

Connie NealConnie Neal is the author of dozens of Christian books and contributor to several Bible projects including the Kids’ Devotional Bible. Her book Dancing in the Arms of God includes the story of how her family lost almost everything over fifteen years ago and how the love of God demonstrated through caring individuals in the church helped miraculously turn their lives around. God has restored much more than was lost, and opened doors to see their God-given dreams come true.

Got comments? Drop me a line.

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