“What is a good neighbor?”
Mickey Fernandez me-thodically dusts a ceiling fan and responds, “Well, let me tell you a little parable.”
A man goes on a journey and gets mugged along the way. While he is lying on the pavement, empty-pocketed and beaten to a pulp, a missionary and a pastor walk by. Instead of helping him, they avert their eyes and pass on the other side of the street. Then, either a gay-rights activist or a fundamentalist pastor with a ‘God hates fags’ sign comes across the beaten man and carries him to a car. He takes the man to a suite in a 5-star hotel and then tells the lady at the front desk to provide everything he needs – medical care, food, clothing, you name it – for as long as he needs it. He’ll cover the tab.
“Go and do likewise,” Mickey tells me with a smile.
A sampling of Multnomah students were asked this same question on Day of Outreach, and the answers ranged from “A neighbor that is good” and “I don’t know” to “Someone who cares deeply for others beyond their own concern,” “Someone you can borrow eggs from,” “Someone who is able to love someone else regardless of differences,” and “Someone who makes an effort to get to know those around them and is willing to be helpful.”
The question seems almost juvenile for those of us raised in the church and reminiscent of Sunday School classes when we were given an animal cracker for understanding “the moral of the story.” But if we don’t know how to define a good neighbor, how can we possibly follow Jesus’ command to be one? What is our motivation for participating in an organized day of service, and how can we know if we’ve accomplished anything? These questions seem to haunt many of us, and to investigate we must turn to those whom we mean to serve.
On this semester’s Day of Outreach, I visited four of the fourteen locations where Multnomah students were serving and interviewed a worker at each organization. They shared the background and vision of the the ministry they serve with and then answered two very telling questions: What is a good neighbor and what would redemption look like here? From their responses, some answers began to coalesce.
John is an experienced volunteer at The Inn, a home for at-risk boys and young men. It was established in the 1960s by a group from the Portland community whose main goal was to get youth out of the foster care system and into a home where they could learn to be a positive member of society. They are taught physical skills such as dressing themselves, bathing, and cooking, as well as emotional skills like self-control and setting healthy boundaries in relationships.
John’s idea of a good neighbor is “Being willing to assist – a friend in need is a friend indeed. We’re all part of something, and life is easier because we work together.” In the context of The Inn, redemption looks like ownership: “Learning to understand yourself and do things for the right reason.” If the young men under John’s care can take responsibility for their hearts and actions, he considers their situation redeemed.
Alicia, of Compassion Connect, was very relationally oriented in her vision. This organization strives to connect the church and the community. For Alicia, this means bringing together local churches and Stonecreek Apartments – a community of older singles, often retired and/or disabled, many of whom qualify for governmental housing assistance. Her mission in living among them is to show the love of the Lord that they have too frequently been denied by Christians.
“The longer you live with them, the more they open up,” she shared glowingly. A good neighbor, according to Alicia, is “Being willing to listen, taking initiative, and showing that you care. Also being interested, asking how they are, and being consistent and genuine.” At Stonecreek, redemption would look like “Seeing people connect with neighbors and the church and seeing perspectives change.” She said. “It might be slow and you’ll see ups and downs, but the struggle shows that [God] is working. Basically you’re seeing relationships being built, and introducing God to this community again.”
BRIDGER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
I met Deb at Bridger Elementary School. She is the current PTA president devoted to meeting the needs of the school that teachers can’t fill. Those needs stem from the fact that many of the students come from poverty-stricken families or homes in which English is a second language. She is excited about Multnomah’s involvement at Bridger because her goal for this year is making connections so that greater improvements can be accomplished.
For Deb, being a good neighbor is “Sharing skills, checking in with the neighborhood, and taking a step when you think no one else will.” What she envisions for the redemption of this school is “Caring for someone other than yourself,” which in turn fuels community development.
My final interview took place at Shepherd’s Door, a shelter where women learn self-control, return to their core values, and begin to live normal lives, usually in an effort to reclaim children taken by child services. I spoke with Ron, a professional chef and avid gardener, whose mission at Shepherd’s Door is to teach the women to grow and cook their own food.
In Ron’s view, “A lot of people complain about problems, but a good neighbor is someone who takes initiative to help a person. They get involved and find out more, because there’s always more than we see.” Redemption for these women would include “Reawakening them. And for the women trying to reclaim their children, helping them make the transition to take part in their child’s life.”
“Being a good neighbor” is more than just serving: putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. It involves redemption: healing the hurts of broken humanity. Unfortunately, we cannot claim to accomplish this by work that we do for others. In the words of Multnomah student Joe Borelis, “We could do a million Day of Outreaches at these locations, but if God doesn’t do something it won’t matter.” We can only be obedient to the lifestyle and teaching of the One truly Good Neighbor, and trust in His power to redeem.
–Hannah Jensen is a junior English major and a TESOL major.