Who is our neighbor?
This past Sunday, we had our very first joint service with MDDL church, a Spanish speaking church we've partnered with for the past few years. It was to have a guest speaker (a missionary to Mexico) come and speak to both of our churches jointly. But, in the end, it became more than simply hearing a speaker’s message together. It became a truly bilingual worship and fellowship time - with bilingual music and a wonderful meal together afterward!
The speaker was delighted to see that different cultures were coming together to worship God in unity. His work in Mexico is all about building relationships between American churches and the local people of Mexico. Without categorizing ourselves into the “givers” vs “receivers”, the true meaning of church and its mission, I believe, is in becoming a people of God together regardless of the backgrounds and your current resources you bring to the table.
As I reflect on this past Sunday, I was reminded of the previous time our two churches spent together this past summer. It was our annual VBS week. And as had been for few years now, our two churches (along with another church, LEC, the primary owner of the church building) worked together to not only minister to our own children at church but also the children of the surrounding neighborhood. And, it was a great success, as we had several kids from the neighborhood joining us for the event. For the past few years, more kids from the neighborhood are starting to hear about it and coming with a great anticipation. It is priceless when the kids from the neighborhood are at the end of the week asking to extend VBS for another day!
While the kids were having fun and learning about God, I had the privilege to meet up with the parents of these kids. Some of them I saw last year, and some brand new. Some of them Christians, some not. And, all of them are recent immigrants and speak Spanish as their main language. Initially I was simply delighted to meet them. I thanked them for bringing their kids. I invited them to have snack with us, and we eventually sat in a room in circle and began to share our life stories (Luckily, one of the parents was good with English and could translate for us).
And, it dawned on me; these are precious stories of the lives of God's people — some I can only attempt to understand. Here are some of their stories.
A young mom who recently quit her full time job after 10+ years and now works part time as a house cleaner so that she could be home with her young kids more.
A young father who brought his son but shared that he has another son back in Mexico whom he hasn't seen for the past 4 years.
On the last night, I was asked to share a short devotional message with them. But, I couldn't really come up with anything to share. What could I say to them when their life is so different from mine? They go through daily struggles of life that I can only imagine.
Trust God and everything will be ok? Work hard and your dreams will come true?
I wanted them to believe that there is a better future for their lives. That they can still have faith and hope in life. But, I found my words of hope and dreams falling on the ground like empty words. And, I remembered these words from the book of Hebrew and shared with them.
"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” (Hebrew 11:13)
Living by faith. Knowing that not everything will be well in our lifetime. Having our eyes set on future - eternal and beyond our generation. One day we will enter gods kingdom in heaven, and one day our children will receive gods kingdoms here on earth - a little closer than us.
And for that, I'm just like the neighbors I’m meeting these days. We all are foreigners and strangers on earth. Waiting and hoping. Struggling and working. But, keeping our faith in the One who is above and beyond this life.
I'm glad I’ve met my neighbors.