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Our New Neighbors

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Clair had been living in the same apartment complex in Chicago for nearly 30 years when suddenly, while walking down the hall, she saw a woman wearing what appeared to be a black cape with an equally black veil covering everything but her dark eyes. She looked like she was from the Middle East or maybe Afghanistan. Her heart pounding hard, Clair flew into her apartment and immediately prayed to God for protection.

In the following weeks Clair’s neighbors began moving out, each with the same explanation: they were uncomfortable that the changing environment no longer felt like home or even like a safe place to live. As they left, men with dark beards and women with long robes and head coverings moved in. Clair earnestly cried out, “Father! Is it time to leave? Should I follow my friends and family to a safer place where I will not feel so threatened by the unknown or intimidated by differences?”

As time passed, God impressed upon her that this apartment complex was exactly where He wanted her, and Clair’s prayer changed: “Father, I know You are surrounding me with a mission field right here on my doorstep. Please enable me to be light in these hallways. I know You love my new neighbors just as much as You love me. Help me, God!”

To counteract her own fear and do something with the opportunity she was given, Clair started meeting weekly with a few friends to pray for the new residents. Through this, God inspired her to use the natural gifts with which He had blessed her. Clair stepped out in obedience and began offering music lessons to the women and children in her building, often resulting in deep conversations and casual English lessons over cups of tea. She found herself with new friends who delighted in talking about something that mattered deeply to her: God. Clair began to realize that they were like any other women she knew and that they desperately needed to hear about His love.

2 Timothy 1:7 declares, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” Clair felt overwhelmed when she realized just how many new immigrants were living in her neighborhood. Yet through much prayer and the realization that she was to “love [her] neighbor as herself ” (Matt. 22:39), she was equipped by God with power to overcome that fear. He gave her love to overlook what she saw as their intimidating differences. And through Him came self-discipline to invest long term in the hard work of sharing the light through her deeds and words.

Clair has made a commitment to not run away in fear, but instead to engage in building relationships. She has grown to understand that they have deep needs that only Christ can meet. She realizes how deep His love is for them and has committed to being a channel of that love. She has embraced the idea that God brought them to her neighborhood with a purpose, and she increasingly sees herself as a part of it.

Clair’s story is a lesson for all of us. God is bringing unreached people from around the world to our doorstep, and we are faced with a decision. Will we allow fear to cripple and paralyze us or will we represent Jesus to them?

As more people immigrate to the United States, many ministries with a focus on specific peoples have produced valuable materials to equip local churches for outreach. The JESUS film is produced in many languages, including the majority of dialects spoken by Muslims worldwide. To obtain copies, go to www.christforallpeoples.org/jesus-filmrequest/index.html. Other helpful resources include the DVDs More Than Dreams (www.morethandreams.tv) or Magdalena (www.magdalenamovie.com). These can be shared with new immigrant friends or even put in welcome or Christmas baskets for neighbors. Watching one of these DVDs with a new Muslim friend can lead to helpful conversations. The Crescent Project (www.crescentproject.org) offers training and outreach materials for Western churches.

So here’s the challenge: Will we close and lock the door, as Clair originally did, shutting out our new neighbors? Or will we choose to be light, reaching out to them through our words and deeds as faithful representatives of Jesus Christ?

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