Alumni Stories: Neighboring with Gospel Impact

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Often, being a good neighbor means taking action. 

Many of Love Thy Neighborhood’s interns learn this by experience as they seek creative and practical ways to reflect Christ to their neighbors. Over the course of a summer or year, several interns shared stories of experiencing gospel neighborliness, sometimes in unlikely places. The stories that follow illustrate how gospel neighboring requires three things: 

  1. Noticing Others,
  2. Moving Toward Others,
  3. Offering Friendship.

Noticing Others: 

During his year at LTN, Trevor Stanliff served the local church by coordinating their connect team, which sought to show “gospel hospitality” to those entering the church on Sunday mornings. His responsibilities included making coffee, preparing communion, and greeting churchgoers. It wasn’t long before he found himself going through the motions, accustomed to routine. 

“I have been praying that God will work in my heart to intentionally love those who go unnoticed.”

Soon, God challenged Trevor’s routine through the actions of some new summer interns. The interns told Trevor about their conversation with a man outside the church one morning. “It turns out that this man was just released from jail two days beforehand and wanted to go to church,” Trevor wrote. “However, he did not feel as if he belonged to one, because of the way he looked. The LTN interns then continued to talk to him for a few hours and then went to a church service with him.”

In his newsletter, Trevor reflected on this conversation, and on how his routine may have caused him to walk right past the people who needed him most. “I have been praying,” Trevor wrote, “that God will work in my heart to intentionally love those who go unnoticed.”

As Trevor learned, gospel neighboring has a lot to do with noticing those who are outcast or overlooked, and welcoming them no matter their appearance or circumstances. 

Trevor Stanliff, Love Thy Neighborhood 2018

Moving Toward Others: 

Travor is just one of many interns who have experienced the type of neighboring that meets people where they are. Another intern, Sarah Neely, shared one of her earliest experiences as a summer intern.

“We had just sat through a very unsettling safety seminar, where we were told that [our neighborhood] is one of the most violent areas of Louisville,” Sarah recounted. Because of the training, her fears were already heightened the night that she and her roommates heard a traffic collision outside their apartment building. 

Acting on instinct, she and her roommates rushed to help, unsure of what they would find on the dark street outside. Sarah didn’t even take the time to put on shoes.

By the time she and her roommates were outside, several other neighbors had arrived. The people in one of the wrecked cars had already fled the scene. In the other car, the helpers found two young girls, unharmed, and their mother behind the wheel with an injured arm.

“Seeing everyone rallying around this family showed us that there is good no matter what the situation is.”

“It was absolutely amazing seeing the neighbors talk to them, provide them with chairs, water, snacks, and wait [with them] for the police to arrive to make sure that everything was taken care of…this was so special to me,” Sarah wrote in her newsletter to friends and family. “Seeing everyone rallying around this family showed us that there is good no matter what the situation is.” Sarah found the opportunity to move toward her neighbors in need, and in doing so, witnessed gospel neighboring in action.

Sarah Neely, Love Thy Neighborhood 2018

Offering Friendship:

Another intern, Sherry Huang, took it upon herself to learn what being a good neighbor for the gospel looked like, despite discouragement. 

During her time in the Pregnancy Resources internship track, Sherry felt a growing sense of disappointment as none of her gospel conversations with clients were leading to their salvation. Would she have the opportunity to lead one of these women to Christ by the end of her internship term? Would any of them say ‘Yes’ to the gospel?

Then Sherry encountered a Bible verse: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Prov. 17:17). In a newsletter to her supporters, Sherry wrote, “[This verse] highlights the importance of having genuine friendships. After spending some time in prayer, I decided that I would shift my focus from getting people to say ‘yes’ to trying to be a good and true friend to them.”

As it turned out, her new approach would soon pay off: 

“[A client] is trying to get her life back on track after an abusive marriage. Her ex-husband shows up at our building to intimidate and threaten her. There were times she became very anxious and was afraid to take the bus home by herself. I started taking the bus home with her because I believed that’s what a genuine friend would do. After a few weeks of busing home together, she finally said yes to attending church with me. This past Sunday was her first church service in 20 years!”

Though it was weeks before this woman agreed to attend church, those were weeks during which Sherry was able to be a positive, safe presence in her life. Sherry was reminded again in scripture of the value of planting seeds during her time as an urban missionary: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Sherry Huang, Love Thy Neighborhood 2018

As these interns learned, the gospel often takes root through faith in action. When God’s people care for others the way Jesus would, it can look like starting a conversation, helping in a moment of crisis, or being a safe presence for someone who feels far from safety. If a seed of the gospel is planted through friendship, we can trust that God will help it flourish at the right time.

What steps will you take to be a good neighbor with gospel impact?

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