I’ll never forget the day that my wife and I moved into our cul-de-sac of fifteen homes in Southwest Portland. With three little kids at the time, I was sold on it when we came out from our second visit to find the street filled with kids at play, the nearby park packed with families, and one of the neighbors walking around offering fresh warm brownies she had just baked. Since then Picasso Place has not only been our home, but also the hub of our community.
Bringing Jesus into our conversations was not difficult as early discussions quickly circled around to career, and I was working as a youth pastor at the time. Rather than opening up more opportunities, I found this knowledge fueled the skepticism common toward most Christians in our Northwest culture. Slowly, we learned that our neighbors held differing beliefs like Buddhism or Judaism while many preferred no religious affiliation at all.
"I found this knowledge fueled the skepticism common toward most Christians in our Northwest culture."
Through this decade of living out God’s mission on our street, I’ve come to take Paul’s instructions in Colossians to heart; “make the most of every opportunity.” With those words ringing in my head, I’ve come to several conclusions about the process of becoming a trusted friend and a faithful witness:
1. It takes time – Trust can be forged quickly in a crisis but during the "daily-ness" of life, it requires diligent patience. I remember late one evening when my neighbor across the street called to ask if my wife or I could come over to be with their little boys as they slept, so he could be with his wife who had just been admitted to the hospital. That privilege to serve came from becoming trusted friends.
2. It requires initiative – I look for opportunities to “bump” into my neighbors, whether it’s when I’m working in the yard, going to the mailbox or playing outside with our kids. Intentionality requires getting out of my house to interact and make time to talk to others. Pausing to listen, over the course of hundreds of casual conversations, has built a foundation that has allowed us to share deeply personal moments in our lives.
3. It grows by sharing – This idea seems like a no-brainer as we follow Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 25 to share with those in need. But I’ve also found that asking others when we have a need can build trust as well. One of my neighbors even now goes out of his way to offer me his long ladder for cleaning my gutters or precarious hanging of Christmas lights. But just a word of advice, borrowing equipment and returning it late, broken, or empty of fuel does not enhance your witness or your friendship.
"Pausing to listen...has built a foundation that has allowed us to share deeply personal moments in our lives."
4. It builds on common ground – Through conversations with our neighbors, we have found shared interests in sports, travel, remodeling, gardening, pets, and fitness just to name a few. Looking for common ground and building on the interests of others (like my neighbor’s passion for adult league kickball) gives abundant opportunity for conversation and shared experience. When we moved to the neighborhood, several other families with children the same age moved here as well. Sharing this journey as parents has by far been the most bonding reality in this season of our lives.
5. It helps to have fun – Our neighborhood does a fourth of July BBQ that shuts down the street for food and fireworks, and we host a summer driveway movie night where people hang out under the stars and watch a video projected onto our garage. In December, we do a progressive Christmas meal in three different neighborhood homes. These are just a few examples of how if you’re willing to initiate or support an idea and do some of the legwork, you’ll likely find neighbors willing and eager to participate.
"If you’re willing to initiate or support an idea and do some of the legwork, you’ll likely find neighbors willing and eager to participate."
During the past couple of springs, we’ve hosted an Alpha in our home and invited our neighbors and friends to join us for the conversation. Some have come. Many have not. But we continue to invest in the relationships on Picasso and allow Alpha to be just another natural context for connection when they are interested.
Text by Kirk Petersen, Alpha USA Regional Director, Oregon
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