Neighbors living around our church are always coming and going. Many move into our community as a first stop for their migrant families this side of the border. Other families move in, only to try and move their kids away to what they hope will be better homes and schools. We have worked with some students for years, only for them to abruptly leave us, never to be seen again. Ministry here reflects our larger changing world, and while this can seem a challenging environment, it has also taught me the rewards of being faithful to the work God has given us.
To disciple someone takes commitment. Sometimes, after months or years of thinking we have lost contact with some student or family, we find them again living in another part of the neighborhood, and we are able to reconnect. This happened recently with a girl we met when she was 7. We had lost contact and then met her again as a 10-year-old.
She is now a vital part of our weekly children’s and youth programs and has brought her entire family with her to church. While it is true that it takes a certain sense of initiative and mission to be there to reach a child with the gospel the first time, it takes the Spirit teaching us patience and the importance of faithfulness in order for us to be there years later to find and receive that same young person again.
By moving intentionally into a neighborhood, in our case literally across the street from our church facilities, we can seek to show our ever-changing community that we are committed to being with them and growing with them. This means watching families grow.
One of our neighborhood families includes a pair of brothers who live with their mother in a nearby apartment complex where we pick up children for church every week. For a time, these brothers were coming to church frequently. The women of our church even hosted a baby shower for their mother to welcome their baby sister.
However, as they grew and got more involved with sports and other activities, we saw less and less of the boys. In fact, these growing adolescents began showing animosity toward our church and would mock church volunteers as we went into their apartment complex each week. They had a negative influence on many younger church members, discouraging them from attending. For a time, the brothers’ behavior was very disruptive when we tried to do neighborhood work. We prayed for the situation and continued to show love and kindness to these brothers until we stopped seeing them altogether.
But then, five years after that baby shower and one year after the worst of our encounters with these young men, their little sister began coming to church. So, although the boys are not active in our church, our persistence with this family has enabled us to continue having a positive influence in their home and has prompted an opportunity for reconciliation. This relationship is continuing to blossom and has brought another child to a safe and welcoming place where she can learn about Jesus.
Whether we call such kingdom work evangelism or discipleship, one thing is clear: it stretches us to grow in faithfulness to God and our neighbors. In God’s good plan, who knows what hosting a baby shower today could grow into five years from now?