Confession #107: Do You Know Your Neighbor?

Dalen and Nalandson Last Day Of School-15Are you one of those parents who reminds their kid of the starving children in Africa every time they complain about finishing the food on their plate? You know, the ones who would be so grateful to have a plate full of peas and meatloaf?

Because I totally used that line the other night with my little ones. Except instead of little, far off African kids, I mentioned the ragged-clothed kids who live next door.

As a child, I remember my mom talking about the starving African kids once at the kitchen table. And I’ll admit, it didn’t register with me at all. I remember telling her that it didn’t matter if I ate my peas and meatloaf because it wasn’t like she could mail them my leftovers anyway. (Yes, I was one of those kids.)

I understand the point my mom was trying to make was to be grateful for the food God had provided us because in many parts of the world others did not have such blessings. But truth be told, as a six year old, I didn’t know any of these starving children and so relating to them seemed like a pointless task.

Now as a parent, gratefulness is on the top of my “values to teach my kids” list. As a parent raising Haitian kids in Haiti, you’d think that would be quite easy. After all, when I tell my kids to eat their peas and meatloaf, they can’t use the same excuse I once used with my mom. They could literally walk across the street and pass off their leftovers to hungry kids- kids they see everyday.

But guess what? My hungry kids next-door guilt trip didn’t work. My little ones just starred at me. Dalencia giggled. Nalandson rolled his eyes and said, “Oh mom, you’re funny”.

Oh mom! Oh mom? Are you kidding me?

And then it hit me: Despite living in Haiti, even despite being Haitian, my kids, just like me at age six, couldn’t relate. As a matter of fact, they didn’t even understand. The kids next door are hungry? They had no idea! Forget the kids in Africa, my kids can’t even relate to their own neighbor. 

And that’s a problem. 

It’s a problem because compassion starts with your neighbor. If I ever want my kids to grow up and become world changers, they first have to see the needs in those closest to them, be able to relate to them, and feel called to help meet their needs FIRST. If they can’t even see the hungry kids next door how will they care to see the hungry kids across the globe? They won’t.

We Christians often pose the question, who is our neighbor? Realizing that physical proximity has nothing to do with Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 19:19) we love and serve those across the nations. We sponsor kids in the 3rd world, start feeding programs in destitute neighborhoods, and build schools. And all of these things are wonderful, necessary, and need to continue. We spend thousands of dollars flying oversees on mission trips and call our churches to international adoption. Both, again, are wonderful, necessary, and need to continue.

But as I watched my kids pick at their food the other night, dumbfounded by the idea that the kids next door don’t eat as well as they do, I had to ask myself how often I, too, miss the needs of those right in front of me. How often in my own life have my eyes only been fixed on the global needs rather than the local? How often have I glanced over the malnourished kid standing on my street without regard after feeding my dogs our dinner scraps? 

Too often, my friends. The answer is too often.

So no wonder my kids glace over their neighbor’s needs as well. They don’t see their needs because they haven’t learned to even look.

No matter where you are raising your kids in this world, it is our responsibility to model and teach them how to love and serve our neighbor- our neighbors abroad and our neighbors next door. We need to teach our children to see the needs in those they encounter everyday. We need to model compassion in our own neighborhood as well as abroad. But it all begins with us.

Someone once asked my kids what it was like to grow up as missionaries. They didn’t know how to answer because they didn’t know what a missionary was. They didn’t realize working with the teens at Emmaus House on a daily basis was anything out of the ordinary. After all, they have grown up with these guys. To them, we just spend our days living life with family and friends. And you know what? I kinda like that they see our life that way. I like that they don’t know to label our family as missionaries. And I like that the sacrifices and service we do everyday is just a natural part of life for them- so much so that they don’t even realize the alternative.

I want that mindset to continue to grow in Nalandson, Dalencia, and eventually little Jake. I want service to be a natural lifestyle for my kids no matter where they live or what they do. I want service to not feel like a sacrifice but a natural response based on their love for Christ. And I want those they serve to always feel more like family and friends than a service project.

Perhaps that is where I need to start with the kids next door. Perhaps that is where the disconnect is. Those hungry kids on our street are nameless to Nalandson and Dalencia (and me). They aren’t their (our) friends. And so they (we) don’t know how to see their needs or the role they (we) can play in helping to meet them. Yes, that is where they (we) need to start. Their neighbor needs to first become their friend (and mine).

What about you?

Where do you need to start?

~ Jillian

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