When we moved to Maryland several years ago, we planted a little garden and started to pray for opportunities to minister to our neighbors. With most of them, we were on very good terms. However, one family got very angry about our dogs barking one particular night. They yelled, swore at us, and even called the authorities. We were tempted to retaliate, but then words from Jesus stopped us: “ ‘But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you’ ” (Matt. 5:44, NKJV).
We started to pray specifically for this neighbor—and our dogs rarely barked again. However, this family’s own dogs would bark—all day long. While it didn’t bother us, other neighbors started screaming at them. One day, their dogs got free and came into our backyard. We didn’t get upset or afraid. For many, their bark is worse than their bite. We gave them something they would like, treated them with love, and then gently led them home.
The husband, outside watering the flowers, saw me with his dogs. “Your dogs are so sweet!” I sang out in a very friendly voice. “I hope it was OK—I gave them some treats. Now, if you don’t mind, would you please come this way?” Perhaps assuming I wanted to show him some damage his dogs had done to our property, he appeared hesitant. But he came.
I led him to our garden. “We have so much fresh produce,” I said. “We would like to share some with you. Would you like to pick some for yourself, or would you prefer for me to pick for you?” I did not ask whether he wanted the produce or not.
His eyes opened wide in surprise. The tension disappeared from his face. Smiling, he said he would be very thankful for some produce. I picked some tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplants for him and assured him he was welcome to come anytime for more. I then invited him and his family for a meal at our house so that we could get to know each other better.
Know your neighbors
This incident humbled me. It made me wonder what would happen if every church member, starting with the pastor, would reach out to their neighbors and friends—perhaps take produce or homemade cookies to those around our homes—listen to them, pray for them, and build friendships. “Every follower of Jesus has a work to do as a missionary for Christ, in the family, in the neighborhood, in the town or city where he lives.”1
Then I wondered about those around our churches. While preaching is important, it’s not enough. “The real character of the church is measured, not by the high profession she makes, not by the names enrolled upon the church book, but by what she is actually doing for the Master, by the number of her persevering, faithful workers. Personal interest and vigilant, individual effort will accomplish more for the cause of Christ than can be wrought by sermons or creeds.”2
So I ask, do the people who live around your home feel comfortable reaching out to you if they need help raking their leaves? Do the people who live around your church feel comfortable contacting you if they need a place to hold their parent’s funeral? “Wherever a church is established, all the members should engage actively in missionary work. They should visit every family in the neighborhood and know their spiritual condition.”3
It is very difficult to reach a stranger—it is easier to reach a friend. Douglas Cooper tells the story of a preacher who told a young man on the streets of Harlem, New York, that God loved him. The young man replied, “I’m sick and tired of hearing people talk about love. I want to see love with skin on it.”4
Jesus is coming soon! God has allowed particular neighbors to be located around us. Let’s not get upset or afraid. For many, their bark is worse than their bite. Let’s give them something they would like, treat them with love, and then gently lead them home.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 632.
- Ellen G. White, “Scattered Churches,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, September 6, 1881.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 296.
- Douglas Cooper, Living God’s Love (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1975), 18.