Updated: May 16, 2020
Ava had the opportunity to participate in a summer program with Solidarity (the non-profit where I used to work) in our neighborhood over the past few weeks. While that might not sound like a big deal, it held deep significance for me. This is the same program that I ran for 5 years - right up to the point that Ava was just a little peanut in my belly.
For years, I spent a couple hours every day with young students from my neighborhood. I helped them with homework, led games and crafts, taught Bible lessons, and took them on field trips to new places. I watched these students grow up. I saw them both struggle and excel. I got to know their families and hear their stories and receive such genuine hospitality from them. Now, some of those same students are in high school, and they’re leading my daughter in the same way that I led them. Talk about full circle.
The neighborhood I live in is very different from where I grew up. It’s a low-income, primarily Latino neighborhood made up of families of mixed immigration statuses. When I first entered into this neighborhood 14 years ago, I never could have imagined that I would be raising my family here now. I came in, as most of us in places of privilege and power do, thinking that I was here to make a difference and to meet some needs. I didn’t know how much I would learn and receive from my neighbors.
I didn’t know that my neighbors would teach me what it looks like to be the kind of neighbor we see in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). I didn’t know that my immigrant neighbors who are often marginalized, ignored, and degraded, like the Samaritans of Jesus’ day, would consistently give their time and limited resources to care for those around them – myself included. I didn’t know that my neighbors would invite me into their homes and feed me. I didn’t know that they would pitch in money to support my co-workers and me when funding was low and we weren’t getting paid. I didn’t know that they would throw a surprise baby shower for me when I was pregnant with Ava and give me gift bags full of new clothes and diapers. I didn’t know that the kids that I took care of would grow up and take care of my own kids.
I think this is what Jesus means when he says to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). It’s not about pity and handouts. It’s not just about serving or using your resources to give to “those in need.” It’s sharing life together. It’s both giving and receiving. It’s recognizing that we all need each other and that we all have something to offer.
Our privilege, power, and social status do not determine our ability to contribute to society. Each person was created in the image of God, which means that from the beginning, God instilled value, dignity, and gifts inside each person. God intentionally designed each person with something to offer to the world. When we recognize that, we can choose to live in a way that invites others to develop and share those gifts rather than assuming that they don’t exist because of what we see on the outside.
I think that if we could really grasp this, it would change the way that we interact with others and the way that we think and talk about some of the polarizing issues that dominate our current political conversations. Imagine how the conversation about immigration or homelessness or the LGBTQ community would change if we saw these groups of people not as liabilities or threats to our way of life but as brothers and sisters who have so much to teach us.
I know that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for the ways that I have learned and received from my neighbors. And I am so grateful that my daughter is now getting to grow in relationships with the same people who have impacted me so much.
I recently read the book Same Kind of Different as Me, and it illustrated this point so well. Check it out if you’re interested in reading a compelling true story of the transformation brought on by an unlikely relationship.
Also, make sure to check out Solidarity‘s work, and if you like what you see, donate to the incredible work they’re doing.