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Who Is Your Neighbor?

Who Is Your Neighbor?

The next day, as people entered the church for worship, each person was greeted with a hug and kiss. I truly felt like a family member, and part of the congregation, not a visitor interrupting their special time together on Sunday.

Mike Rhoades | Dec 23, 2015

One of the great privileges of working in missions is the stories. Thousands of stories every year of what God is doing in and through people all over the world. It's humbling and inspiring all at once. The following story is by Tad Craig of Wilkesboro Baptist Church. He took his youth group to Puerto Rico this last summer. As the farewell service began, Pastor Isai of Templo Baustia Oasis de Amor, opened his sermon with the lawyer’s question in Luke 10:29, “But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Immediately the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, revealing that this community of Villialba taught me this lesson of loving our neighbors. “Loving your neighbor as yourself,“ at the core means treating everyone like family. This moment, I realized that God was teaching the real message of the Parable of the Good Samaritan; treat everyone you meet as family. It is no coincidence that the sign in front of the church reads, Templo Baustista Oasis de Amor: Fe, Familia Y Amigos, in English, “Oasis Baptist Church: Faith, Family, and Friends." From the moment I arrived at the host church, our group was greeted with a hug and kiss on the cheek. We are friendly in North Carolina, but we don’t usually kiss strangers. We may kiss family as we greet each other because they are allowed in our personal bubbles, but not strangers. The next day, as people entered the church for worship, each person was greeted with a hug and kiss. I truly felt like a family member, and part of the congregation, not a visitor interrupting their special time together on Sunday. Being a neighbor involves making everyone feel like a part of God’s family, welcoming him or her without any hesitation. Loving your neighbor as yourself centers around meeting the needs of the people around you. Pastor Isai went above and beyond to meet the needs of our group. He noticed that the youth loved the bread being served every day, so he went and bought extra loaves for us to have throughout the day. He observed that we bought sodas to drink during free time, so he purchased sodas to serve to us at meals with ice; ice was a luxury that most people in this rural community went without. Working with the chef, Joel, he made sure we had authentic Puerto Rican dishes like Mofongo, Arroz con gandules, and Tostones, while also making sure the vegan and dietary allergy concerns were all considered. All the Puerto Ricans we encountered wanted to make sure this foreign group were filled with the wonderful foods of the country. The person next door to the church cut down coconuts, mangos, and star fruit from his trees to share with us. On Tuesday, our van broke down on the side of a mountain road. While we were waiting in the driveway of a complete stranger, he brought us a bag of fresh bananas. Like the Samaritan in the story, our physical needs were fulfilled beyond expectation. I had to be best of my ability prepared our mission team for all the cultural differences would could possibly encounter, knowing that we would be uncomfortable. We had one shower for 22 people to share with no hot water, no paper products could go in the toilet, and no AC in the church. There were lots of bugs flying around, there was very little English spoken, and we would have to pack up our mattresses and belongings every day so VBS could take place in our sleeping area. We were all way out of our comfort zone, but God sent the pastor’s wife and the deaconess, who always did their best to make us feel comfortable and supportive. Carmen, the deaconess, opened her home for the some in our group to take a shower. The pastor’s wife was constantly singing, smiling, and hugging us. At the end of the week, the women gave us each gifts to show gratitude for our hard work. It felt like Christmas, with each person opening a little package with things that we would treasure forever from our new family. A kind neighbor brings relief to those who feel uncomfortable. Finally, a good neighbor helps us grow in our faith. After several mission projects falling through due to logistics, the PPM group leader, Trent, discovered that the Pastor wanted to build a baptism pool in the river behind the church. We got the okay to dam a section in the river and raise the water from one foot deep to four foot deep. This youth group of eleven teenage girls, four teenage guys, and seven chaperones with no engineering experience successfully pulled up huge rocks, cut down logs, shoveled gravel, and packed pebbles to create a worship environment for this church to witness Christian Baptism in a full pool of clear, gentle flowing water. As we finished the trail leading down to the river, we put up a cross, made from bamboo and vines. After working diligently to complete the project, we were able to have our own worship service where I, the youth minister, baptized all the youth. As each of the youth was participating in this worship experience, the PPM leader felt led to take part in this experience because he had never been baptized as an adult. With tears in my eyes, and every youth watching from the bank still dripping from their own experience in the river, I had the privilege of baptizing the group leader. Baptism in the early days of the Christian church was a worship service showing that we were no longer individual people living in this world alone, but we were a united family, held together by the love of Jesus. Dios es bueno. God is good. As the pastor’s wife sang a song in Spanish from the hillside, I felt the Holy Spirit alive around us. It is truly an experience, I will never forget. An experience that will encourage me to grow as a leader. An experience that gave me the meaning that everyone is our neighbor and love is the most compelling Who is our neighbor? “The one who showed mercy toward him.’ Then Jesus said to him, “’Go and do the same.’” (Luke 10:37).


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