My husband and I started praying regularly for our neighborhood last spring. At the time, we were on the cusp of marriage and eagerly anticipating a new life together – cultivating a garden, working on our 1920’s Craftsman-style bungalow, enjoying home-cooked meals together after work, and getting to know our neighbors. We prayed hopefully that God would grant us grace and show us how to demonstrate Christ’s love to them in a way that would be winsome and wise. I planned to make them plates of Christmas cookies; perhaps to offer vegetables from the garden. As we married, and I moved into my new husband’s home, we started making a concerted effort to get to know the couples that lived in the homes next door and across the street. We asked about their children. We invited them to dinner.
As is so often the case, God presented an opportunity far different from the idyllic scenes we had imagined. We quickly learned that a house down the block was home to several convicted felons; that drug deals were being conducted on our street on a regular basis. As I visited with the neighbors next door, I learned that their cars had been broken into on a few occasions. Another told us that someone had attempted to break into their house.
Early one morning, my husband left our house at 6 a.m. to start a shift in his job as a registered nurse at the local hospital. As he strode toward the car, he noticed a young man lying on the ground. He had slept on the sidewalk in front of our house all night, clearly strung out on something. My husband took his vital signs, asked his name, and called an ambulance. We started praying for “Mark” on a regular basis; for God to free him from the bondage of drugs and deception of Satan. We asked a Western Seminary professor for help regarding intercessory prayer; we started interceding with Scripture and asking God to bring light and freedom into our neighborhood.
We started to notice men loitering on the corner outside our home. One night, when I came home from work, I found the back door gaping wide open and cold air streaming into our home. While we were at work, two men had forced the bedroom window open and made off with our laptop and other belongings. I felt afraid. The police were a great help, and we spent the next several days making security improvements to our home and installing a security system.
And yet, in the midst of these challenges, God was at work. We noticed a shift in our relationship with our neighbors as we confided in them about our robbery. Our polite conversation changed to, “What can we do to help? Is there anything you need?” They demonstrated care and compassion, and stopped in to see how we were feeling. We continued to pray.
Soon after, we learned that another group of neighbors had already been meeting in regards to the drug house, and we were invited to join them. We were shocked to see that we were just two of many people who had recognized the problem and were willing to get involved, even if it meant that they may face retaliation from the occupants of the drug house. As a community, we started a log of suspicious activity that we submitted to the police on a weekly basis. We signed a community warrant and testified to the police regarding our observations of illegal activity. The police told us this week that they are preparing for a sting and we can expect them to intervene soon.
Rallying together to address the presence of criminal activity is not what we envisioned as God’s plan for helping us love our neighbors, but it has been a powerful way for us to show sacrificial love. It feels vulnerable to take action, to testify, to sign our names to a warrant. It also feels right to stand in solidarity with neighbors who are single mothers; who have young children; who have also experienced theft and fear. We talk together about throwing a block party this summer. We are coming together from a wide range of backgrounds and feeling united in a common cause. We are asking God to redeem this situation; to teach us to deeply “love our neighbors as ourselves.”
And my husband and I have learned a lot about the power of intercessory prayer. We continue to pray for our neighborhood – both that the occupants of this home would be forced out, and that they would each come to know the healing and hope only available to us through Christ. As we pray for the men and women deceived by our enemy and captive to sin, our hearts are moved by compassion for them. We are feeling stretched beyond our comfort zones, and we are thankful for the assurance of God’s presence with us in a precarious situation. As we consider this situation through a gospel-centered perspective, we can see God as our redeemer, turning a dark and hopeless situation into an opportunity for building relationships, for standing up for the vulnerable, and for powerfully praying for freedom for captives. Our God is a good God.
Kristin is a student in Western Seminary’s Master of Arts in Counseling degree program. Before attending seminary, she worked in full-time ministry for a para-church organization in Latin America, and then with short-term mission teams and mentoring students in a local church. Upon graduation, she hopes to serve as a counselor helping people deal with grief and trauma.