Front YardA few years back, one of our neighbors was trying to convince his good friend, a fireman, to buy a house on our block. Our neighbor, also a first responder, joked, “I told him when the Zombie Apocalypse comes that he and I could secure our block and decide who comes in and out. If we have a question, we’ll come to you, our block elders.” We all had a good laugh over it, but he was partly serious.

It hasn’t always been that way. We were cordial with our neighbors, to be sure, but we didn’t pursue friendship. Then God brought the children to us. When our kids were young, they joined me while I pulled weeds when they wanted to talk. The neighbor kids started doing the same. “Can we help?” they asked. Of course, I told them. They usually went home with miniature roses for their moms.

My husband Tony decided to re-build the raised flowerbed in our front yard using landscaping bricks. One young boy was enthralled with the process and was over often. After the project was finished, Tony was in the house instead of the yard. The doorbell rang. There stood the young boy, “Can Tony come out to play?” Yes, of course.

A new couple moved in across the street; we had waved to them a few times but hadn’t really talked. I noticed they were home Thanksgiving morning and knocked on their door to say Happy Thanksgiving.  Both of them were very sick. The new mother looked desperate when she said, “Can you take the baby for a couple of hours so we can shower and sleep?” Yes, of course.

As kids on the block grew older, they weren’t as interested in weeding the flowerbeds as they were in simply making a connection. One girl asked, “Can I have some bubbles?” Of course. One winter day she came asking for bubbles to prove to her friend that I really handed them out.  Of course, I told her. They sat in the driveway blowing bubbles, snow softly falling around them.

For about a year, three families with young children lived on our block. When the kids played at each others’ houses, they got into kid-fights, and the visitors were sent home. They asked us, “Can we play in your yard? We don’t fight there.” Of course.  We have pictures of them playing in huge leaf piles Tony had created from the maple tree.

At dusk one evening we heard noises outside. We peeked out to see the same girls who couldn’t get along. Their scooters were lined up against the brick flowerbed. They danced in the driveway to no music. Absolutely delightful!

Somewhere along the way, probably after we started hosting National Night Out, the adults started treating us the same as their children did. Young guys still come down to borrow tools or get advice on a project. Young women stop by to chat on their way to the mailbox. One day the doorbell rang. Our next door neighbor said, “The woman who lives across the street just yelled at me to come get you. She said it’s an emergency.” They didn’t know each other, but they knew us.

Out the door I went. Socorro’s neighbor had fallen off his roof. The first responders were finishing up, but our limited-English speaking neighbor wanted to make sure I was there to close up the house and find out where he was taken. Since then, Tony has watched the man’s dog, checked on him during illness, and stopped to talk.

The Socorro’s family became special to us. Socorro and Manuel, their adult daughters and three granddaughters lived together. One of the young girls told us their mom had surgery. We took them a meal. The daughter said, “No one has ever done something this nice for us.” It was only a meal! We coached our new friends in English and helped Socorro prepare for her citizenship test. We attended the naturalization ceremony and saw our friend sworn in as an American citizen. What an honor!

None of this takes as much time as it sounds, but it does take intentionality. Matthew 22:37-39 says, “He [Jesus] said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself’” (italics added). Loving our neighbors started with praying for them. Then we noticed them. The more we noticed, the more we prayed—for and with them. Prayer became serving. Serving turned into love.

Loving our neighbors has turned into friendships. These are not one-way relationships. Our neighbors brought meals when I was going through chemo and radiation. One knitted an afghan to keep me warm, and another cleaned my house for months. Our driveway was shoveled in the middle of the night, relieving Tony of that job. Another time, sandstone was delivered for a backyard project. Before we could ask, two young men volunteered to get it from the street to the backyard.

In January our pastor unveiled our church’s ministry theme for 2024: Front Porch Ministry. He is encouraging us to move from the backyard to the front yard and get to know the people who live around us. We know from experience this opens doors to sharing Jesus.

It might even lead to some younger neighbors defending the block during a Zombie Apocalypse and coming to you, the block elders, for wisdom. Maybe. We haven’t tested that theory.