In "Can You Relate?", I started sharing some ideas that could help people connect more deeply to their neighbors and place God has planted them. To help us remember four key ways to make that a reality, I introduced the acrostic ROOT: Relate to everyone; Openness to the reality of your place and the presence of the Holy Spirit; Organize around existing assets; Trust God.
Let's think a bit about the first “O”—the idea of being open to the reality of your place and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Here’s an invitation to approach our neighborhoods as learners. It's helpful to learn the history of the place where we live. One way to do that is to find the people who have lived there a long time and ask about their experiences.
What is the history of this place?
How has the neighborhood changed?
In what ways has it improved?
In what ways has it gotten worse?
Another way is simply to research and read books about the place where you live. For instance, in the early 1900s our neighborhood was mostly made up of Italian immigrants. The only visible evidence of that today are the Oberto sausage factory store, Borracchini's Bakery (family owned since 1922), and the old craftsman house across the street that was the center of an apple orchard owned by an Italian family around 1912.
In the 1950s and '60s, the racist policy of redlining was in effect in Seattle and our neighborhood became a blue collar neighborhood of African Americans, many of whom worked for Boeing. After the Vietnam War, a massive influx of refugees from Southeast Asia again changed the make-up of our neighborhood. Today, our neighborhood is a multi-ethnic stew, and gentrification is again bringing changes as younger, high-tech workers are moving in.
What about the presence of the Holy Spirit in that place?
Where do you see such values of the Kingdom as beauty, goodness, truth, justice, joy, and celebration? These might be places where the Holy Spirit has been working.
Where are the believers? Do they pray for the neighborhood?
Are there buildings where local religious congregations meet? Do you know the leaders there? Do people who attend live in your neighborhood, or do they commute?
Also, don’t forget the amazing truth that the Spirit of God lives in you. I'm convinced that God is working in your neighborhood for at least one simple reason: He put you in it!
I hope these ideas stimulate you to ROOT in your neighborhood. As the early church leader James reminds us, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” (James 2:8, ESV). What if every follower of Jesus began to relate in love to the people around them, and what if they began to be open to the reality, history, and outbreak of the Kingdom right where they live?
How about you? What do you know about your neighborhood? In what ways do you see evidence of the Holy Spirit on the street where you live?
Al Engler serves as director of Nav Neighbors, a Mission of The Navigators. You can learn more about the Englers' Navigator ministry or email Al here.