New Neighborhood

I have noted that people come and go in the trailer park.  There are really two groups of people who live here.  One group is made up of people who have made this place their home and are here for the long haul.  The other group is more transient.  They are here for six months or a year and then they move on.  One is not better than the other, but they are different.

As I have thought through this series, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the people around me now, but also I have spent some time thinking about the people who have left.  People who we were around, then one day they were gone.

I think about our neighbors Wayne and Edna.  They were raising their grandson, who would often come over for Rachel to help him with his math homework.  I think about a man we knew name Jon.  He decorated everything he could find with the rebel flag and I gave him the nickname Rebel Jon.  Jon was raising his kids as a single dad and times were often tough for them.  We once delivered a couch we got for free to Jon so his kids would have someplace to sleep.  We would bring them food from time to time.  In the end he was just gone.

I think about an atheist we talked with named Mike.  We talked a lot about his life.  He had been a drug addict and alcoholic.  He had been sober for several years.  He was convinced there was no God.  One day he looked terrible.  He told us his body was shutting down from the years of abuse it had taken.  The doctors had given him a few months to live and he was shaken.  He asked us to pray with him.  A few months later he was gone.

I think about the woman who had bi-polar paranoid schizophrenia who was convinced the Mafia was out to kill her.  Her family tried to help her but she was always going off of her meds and spinning out of control.  We invested in her life.  We visited her house.  We prayed with her.  We hoped to help her by listening to her paranoia and working through her fears logically.  One day she was gone.

All of these people were only in our lives for a short time.  They moved on.  Some to better things, some to worse things, and some we have no idea what happened to.  This is a real part of life in the trailer park.  People leave.  It’s true in life too.  Life moves people around.  Those we are close to move away.

Writing this series has also made me think more about those around me right now.  I don’t know if it’s clear on this blog, but I am actually a pretty big introvert.  I don’t like meeting new people.  I am not a fan of talking to people I don’t know.  It’s not easy for me to make new friends, or engage new neighbors.  Taking the time to reflect on our time here in the trailer park has been good for me.  It has given me some needed perspective.  My neighborhood is constantly changing.  The thing about people leaving is that new people take their place.  Every week my neighborhood has new opportunities to see Christ in people.  New chances for me to be Christ to people.

A few days ago I backed my truck under my carport like any other day.  Across the street in Bill’s old trailer my new neighbor is raking up the first leaves to fall in his yard.  My inner introvert I telling me to simply wave and walk inside.  I think about all the people around us who I’ve written about.  Against my nature I go over and talk to my new neighbor.  We talk about the leaves.  I let him know he is starting on a job that will last all fall.  I tell him it seems like all the leaves of the entire trailer park end up in our corner of the park.  We talk for a while and I enjoy our conversation.  His name is Bill.

My neighborhood is always new.  Someone is moving out.  Someone is moving in.  There is opportunity in every trailer.  Not a superficial “reach people” opportunity.  It’s an opportunity for real relationship. Jesus is working in every life and he is using me as part of his plan here by simply being here.  It’s a new neighborhood.  It’s my neighborhood and I’m lucky to live in it.

Ms. Lena’s Neighborhood

When we first started in the trailer park the goal was simple.  We wanted to help lead people into a real relationship with Christ.  We met in the clubhouse for a few years.  We would meet and pray God would lead us to the right people, then go out to try and find those people.  We prayed he would work in the hearts of people there.  In that time we met a few residents of the park.

Our fellowships are different than most “church” settings.  We believe the same Jesus lives in all of us and can lead through any of us.  This means we rarely have a meeting where only one person talks.  In fact, this means most weeks everyone has something to share.  It may be a scripture, a way they saw God work during the week, or a prayer request.  This has led to a very full understanding of scripture and an intimacy in the members that is sometimes missing in traditional church.

It also opens the door for people with strange ideas.  This has been a complaint from some of my pastor friends.  By allowing “untrained” Christians to speak I “open the door for false teaching.”  This is true, however the door is open even wider for correction.  My argument is that in a group of believers with mixed maturity, where everyone is free, invited, and expected to speak, any wrong theology will be immediately corrected. This has consistently proven true.

At one of our early meetings, before we moved into the trailer park, there was a lady who was coming to our meetings.  She had some mental problems mixed with strange ideas.  One time she claimed she had a special revelation from the Lord about how to get closer to Jesus.  It went something like this:  When Adam sinned God threw him and Eve out of the garden.  Then God put an angel at the door who had a flaming sword to keep man away from the presence of God.  We jump forward to Isaiah and the angels in Isaiah’s vision are also seraphs.  So, in order for man to get to God after the fall they had to go through the angel guarding the gate to the garden or the seraphs in the Holy of Holies, like in Isaiah’s vision.  An angel was always guarding man from the presence of God.   The seraph allowed Isiah to enter the presence of God, however.  The Hebrew word for seraph is also the word for serpent.  Therefore in order to properly worship Jesus and be in his presence, we must first worship Satan, the serpent.

I’ll let that sink in a second.

As I said, in the beginning we often met folks who weren’t quite all there.  Her theory was of course immediately corrected in love.

Our goal was to share real relationship in Christ with people from the trailer park and yet for a very long time it was only the outsiders who met together and shared.  In part, the way we meet and our openness to people often leads people who have been rejected by most people of faith to feel at home.  I love these rejected people, but it is challenging at times.  For a long time these were the only people who would be a part of our fellowship.

That changed with my neighbor Lena.  Lena is one of my favorite people.  She lives down the street from us.  She also works at Nixa Hardware.  With the work I do at the farm I am in the hardware store almost daily.  Everyone in there knows me by name and I know them.  So I get to see Lena on almost every supply run I make.

I met Lena through a string of friends.  Her story is a rather incredible one. Lena and her brother were orphans in Russia for years.  When they were teens they were sent to the US to an adoption agency in New Orleans.  She and her brother were then adopted by a Mormon family in this area.  This family had adopted them as a mission. (This is my interpretation.)  After years, Lena refused to convert.  This, at least in part, led to her adopted family kicking her out and basically choosing to have nothing to do with her.  After a few years of bouncing around she moved in with some people from Nixa.  Her brother has shifted back and forth between mental institutes and prisons.  He has several issues we are constantly praying for.  A few years ago she moved into the trailer park.  We met her shortly after we moved in.

We weren’t close to her at first, but had the chance to pray with her about different things going on in her life, and she was always interested in trying to learn something more about Jesus.  Eventually she started going to a large church in Springfield.  She seemed to really enjoy it and after a few months she accepted Christ as her savior.

But the church refused to baptize her.  They said that because she still had a certain sin in her life they wouldn’t perform the baptism.  She asked if I would be able to do it.  She was convinced that as long as she wasn’t baptized she was being disobedient.  We had a long conversation about what it meant to be a follower of Christ, what baptism was all about, and about sin in the life of a believer.  After our conversation I was convinced she was a true follower of Christ and we set up a time for the baptism in the trailer park’s pool.

You can watch the video here.

Lena is the first neighbor from our neighborhood to be actively involved in our fellowship.  She shows me a part of Christ too.  In the year since Lena’s baptism, life has not been easy.  She is someone who always expects Christ to be working and she is quick to give him credit for what he is doing.  She is full of prayer requests because she believes Jesus will hear and answer.  No matter the thing going on in her life, and trust me, there is plenty, she always worships God because she believes he is up to something.  I have seen incredible faith in Lena.  She sees God working everywhere in everything.

Every time I see her in our neighborhood, at the hardware store, or at our fellowship I know she is going to tell me about something God is doing.  It humbles me and it blows my mind how real her faith in God is.  Some people in her life have tried to talk her out of the things she gives credit to God for, but she is unwavering.

For a lot of us faith is a title.  We are people of faith.  We have faith in God.  Our actions often betray the facts of where our faith really is.  This is a struggle for me.  I want God to move mountains, or to shift molehills.  I ask him to, then I immediately make my own plan and try out of my own strength.  I don’t wait on him to move.  I don’t look for what he is doing in every part of my life.  I don’t have faith he will do things the way I think he should.

Lena is a huge encouragement to me.  It’s not just that she is the first person in the park to join us in this ministry.  It’s not the she brings other people to fellowship.  It’s not that her life has magically gotten easier.  It’s not that trials aren’t around every corner.  It’s her faith.  She has real faith in a real God.  When I see her faith it builds up my faith too.

Ms. Lena’s neighborhood is a place where God is working if you have the faith to see it.  It’s a place where when times are tough and everything seems to be against you, you believe God is up to something.  It’s a place where sometimes you are hungry and there isn’t enough food, but you believe God has not forgotten you.  It’s a neighborhood where faith is the nourishment of daily living.    It’s my neighborhood and I’m lucky to live in it.

Mr. David’s Neighborhood

It’s before 7 am on a weekday early last spring.  I am sound asleep in my bed.  In my dreams I hear a noise.  It’s not a pleasant noise.  It’s like a low growl.  It drones on in a slightly changing monotone.  It annoys me.  I start to stir from my sleep.  The noise remains.  Someone is mowing their yard at 630 in the morning.

The mower is close.  Real close.  I lay in my bed and I think, “Who the heck is mowing so early!  Da@# this cracker box of a house! The walls are so thin I could hear a squirrel fart!”  Finally the mower stops.  I can get back to some quality sleep.  I turn over and am about to reenter a happy land where I am fit and beautiful.  A land where I am a super hero flying to the rescue of pretty women.  I let out a deep sigh and drift back.

Grrrrringfffffft!  Now there is a weed eater invading my happy hero land.  I groan and roll over.  It gets closer and closer.  I can hear the string cut through the air.  “Why is it so close?!?!” I mutter half awake.  Then an unholy ring blasts out.  The weed is hitting a gutter.  My gutter!  I jump out of bed and peek through one of blinds of my window.  My neighbor David is hard at work.  All that noise from the mower and the weed eater sounded so close because he is mowing my yard!

David is an interesting guy.  He works for the trailer park as one of their maintenance guys.  He is one of the hardest working guys I know.  He push mows over 50 yards in the trailer park.  Part of those are owned by the trailer park and others he does for people here in the park.  David has a knack for mowing my yard the day before I planned to do it.

Here is the thing.  He never does it because I ask or because I pay him.  He always just tells me, “That’s how neighbors do.”  I see Jesus so clearly in David through his heart of service.  He is a helper.  He is always doing something for someone.

If you have followed my blog for a while then you know I used to do a lot of mowing and landscape work.  I quit that this year as I felt like it was taking the time I needed for the farm.  I know what it is like to mow a lot.  I know how old it gets.  I know how hot it gets.  I know how dirty it gets.  So, when David, who already has to mow tons of yards, mows my yard it means something to me.  It is a real gift of service.

Service, is not really talked about much in the Bible.  Not directly anyway.  Paul says in Romans 12 “if your gift is serving other, serve them well.”  But I think we see the real beauty of service, if we go back to how it used to be described.  In the King James the gift is describes as the gift of ministry.  Other versions call it the gift of helps.  I like to think of it as the gift of doing.  The gift of service will always be about getting a job that needs done, done.  The grass is tall, so we cut the grass.  The gift of service is a gift of action.  It involves our body.

We see the gift of service highlighted in the book of acts.  The widows are being neglected and some guys are chosen to get them fed.  They are called to do the work.  The church gathers and lays hands on these guys to be called to service.  These guys became the template for the Biblical office of deacon.  Deacon literally means servant, or (in my mind) doer.

Jesus was the greatest servant of all.  We like to highlight the servant leadership of Jesus.  He bent down and got dirty setting the example of what it meant to live a righteous life.  Today we get so pious.  We tend to equate righteousness with being good.  It’s all about having pure thoughts, a pure heart, and not doing bad things.  But an attitude that relegates righteousness to spiritual and mental realms while ignoring the physical, practical world is not really righteousness.  James put it this way:

“Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.’”

When I see David mowing my yard, or helping someone here in the neighborhood I see Jesus.  Jesus put his physical body on the line many times.  He got dirty and sweaty in his ministry.  He washed the feet of his disciples.  His body was literally sacrificed for our salvation.  So, when I see David using his body to serve others, I see Jesus.

It challenges me to think about what I am doing.  Not what I am thinking or feeling or even reading in scripture, but what do all those things make me do?  If I sum up James; faith is action.  We take action because we believe in the calling or result.  If I am standing on train tracks and a train is coming I will move because I believe the train will turn me into locomotive pancake.  If I don’t believe it will hurt me why move?

I often challenge people about what they really believe.  I am convinced we all take action completely based in what we truly believe deep down.  We could teach and preach about the need to share the gospel, but if we never tell a single person do we really believe it?  We can talk and talk about feeding the poor, or serving the widows and orphans, but if it’s all talk is it really belief?  Maybe we just believe it should be talked about, but not that any change needs to happen.  Your actions prove what you believe.  This is the beauty of service.  We can clearly see belief in action.  It’s what I see in David and what I see in Jesus.

Mr. David’s neighborhood is a great place to live.  It is a place of action.  It is a place where the grass is cut, the chores are done, and the servant heart of Jesus is easy to see.  It’s my neighborhood and I’m lucky to live in it.

Mr. Bill’s Neighborhood

When we first started coming to the trailer park, we often did prayer walks.  We would walk around the trailer park and pray for people.  We would look at their house and try to guess the ways they needed prayer.  For example, If we saw a house with toys out front we would pray for the family life of the people who lived there.

On one of our many prayer walks we met a man named Bill.  Bill was partially disabled.  He could still do a few things like mowing his yard.  He liked to bowl, but other than that Bill couldn’t do much.  He had been in the service, but his back was injured pretty badly.  Bill lived with his mother, Pauline.  They were out most nice evening sitting on the front porch talking.  Every time we came by we would talk and we often got to pray with Bill and Pauline.

When we finally moved into the trailer park we ended up moving into the trailer directly across the street from Bill and Pauline.  It felt nice already knowing our neighbors.

Shortly after we moved in Pauline died.  She had a knee replacement and got an infection.  It was treated multiple times, but kept coming back.  Finally there was nothing to do and she passed away.  We did our duty as a neighbor and made a casserole for Bill.  Bill had been disabled and living with his mom for 25 years.  Things were going to change.

We saw less and less of Bill after Pauline died.  He quit going bowling and even quit mowing his yard.  Rachel and I would mention every now and then that we hadn’t seen him much.    His physical condition seemed to go downhill quickly.

We heard through the grapevine that Bill was moved to a hospital for some extended care on his back.  Some people moved into his trailer to help keep it up.  We weren’t really sure what was happening.  One day we woke up to flashing lights as an ambulance, firetruck and several police cars pulled up to Bill’s house.  I went outside out of curiosity.  The man who had moved in came over to talk to me.

“Bill killed himself last night.”  I was shocked.  I didn’t think Bill was even living there.

“Well, he tried to kill himself.  There were pills everywhere.” The man said.

I asked a few questions and found out that bill had been to the VA hospital where they cut him off of all pain meds and sent him home.  He had been in a lot of pain and wouldn’t even get out of bed.  He finally wrote a note saying he couldn’t live this way and just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up again.  He left some info for tying up loose ends and took all the medication he could.

In the end Bill’s suicide attempt wasn’t successful.  He somehow survived, but was moved to a long term care facility near St. Louis.

I set out to write about my neighbors because of all the ways I see Jesus in them.  And I’m sure as you have read along you came to this post and are now asking, “How is this Jesus?”

I want to be real.  What I see in this story is not a representation of how I see Jesus, but a real example of how I failed to be Jesus to a neighbor in need.

I think about the situation with Bill and I had a real opportunity to be an encouragement to Bill.  I had an opportunity to help him get things done around his house.  I had the opportunity to help him get him a ride to the places he needed to go.  I shut my eyes and my heart to all of this.

Whether you know it or not, my spiritual life has had major ups and downs since we moved to the trailer park.  It was supposed to be such a great thing, but it was such a stressful time getting here, it gutted my faith.  I came in with some bitterness.  Not always, but from time to time I would descend into a bitter, “you owe me,” mentality with God.  It affected every part of my life.  I still struggle with it from time to time.

Recently, I confessed a lot of the feelings I was having to a friend and he suggested I take a look at my pride.  The suggestion caught me off guard, but when I honestly looked at it, he was right.  I was coming to every part of my life with chip on my shoulder built on a sin of pride.  While I was focused on my own crap my neighbor Bill was losing hope.  He needed help and I missed it.  I can look back and see how I failed as a neighbor.

It’s not my fault Bill tried to kill himself.  I could blame myself, or the VA, or Bill’s family, but no one part of the situation is solely to blame.  I don’t know if fault ever lies at one particular doorstep in this situation.  I don’t know if his life or the circumstances would have dramatically changed if I had been available.

If I am being honest, then I can clearly see a passage of scripture here.  It’s from Luke 10:

“Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’”

What Bill needed was a Samaritan, but I was too busy being a priest and temple assistant.  I was too busy being “somebody” in my own eyes to see a man lying on the side of the road.  That’ what pride does.  It honors position over need.

When I think about Bill, it is a constant reminder to stop looking at myself and look at Jesus.  It’s a reminder to see where I’m needed and make the effort to do something about it.

Mr. Bill’s neighborhood is a place where hopelessness is allowed to build.  It’s a place of missed opportunity.  It’s a place where pride can been seen for what it is. It’s a place to learn from mistakes and to refocus on Christ.   It’s my neighborhood and I’m lucky to live in it.