Neighbors Anonymous: Moving into the Neighborhood

Here’s the latest in our Neighbors Anonymous series—real stories from real people living out our Calling, with names changed to protect the movement. —Al Engler, Navigators Neighbors director

When we moved into our neighborhood it was winter. Our neighbors had retreated into their homes for the season to avoid the rain and cold. Fortunately, if you want your mail you have to leave the comfort of your house and brave the elements as you walk to the centralized mailbox. We live directly across the street from the mailbox and, therefore, we have a great view of everyone who has ventured out to pick up their mail. So our story begins with getting the mail.

We had a strong desire to know and pray for our neighbors. Over the course of a couple months, we had successfully engaged each of our neighbors (usually at the mailbox). We would intentionally wait for a neighbor to walk to the box and then casually choose to get our mail at the same time. Eventually we learned our neighbors’ names, which homes are theirs, and how long they have lived in the neighborhood. We mapped our street and filled in the names of the people in the houses as we learned them. With great intention and by name (if we knew it), we would then pray for our neighbors.

Winter turned into spring and then into summer, and my wife said to me, “God wants us to throw a neighborhood party.” I listened to her as she listened to God and agreed. She decided to post a sign with a date for a neighborhood party on the mailbox. We committed to bringing our grill out to the street, some meat to eat and share, along with drinks and a side dish. The invitation was open to anyone who wanted to do the same.

The day of the event approached and talk on the street about the party had begun to circulate. We knew that some of our neighbors were going to come, but were not prepared for the nearly 100 percent turnout!

We learned a few things about our neighborhood that day. There are no more kids on our street. All of our neighbors are 20 years or more our senior. Many of them raised their kids on this street and now have grandkids all over the country. That day some of our neighbors introduced themselves to each other for the very first time. Many of them desired to know one another and longed to be close with their neighbors but were not given the opportunity for that to happen. They needed an initiator and a natural, casual reason to gather, to know, and to be known.

In the four years since we moved into the neighborhood, we have had regular gatherings each season. We now host a monthly soup night in our home. It is not unusual to get a nearly 100 percent attendance at our soup night gatherings. It’s also common for friends and extended family to come along as well. Now our neighbors intentionally leave their homes and stop their cars to talk with one another. When there’s a need, the first people we call are our neighbors. When there’s a death—and there have been two—it is the neighbors who comfort one another. When a new grandchild is born, or some other event in our lives is to be rejoiced over, it is the neighbors who throw the party in celebration.

Are you waiting for an opportunity to know your neighbors? You’re the expert on your own neighborhood. What kind of opportunity could you create that can be a catalyst for community?