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Locally Grown: Neighbors Become Friends

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By Jennifer Falb

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

It is with this command in mind, that a group of people here at Fairlawn Mennonite Church in Apple Creek, Ohio have recently felt called to form a Community Missions Team. While not called to overseas missions, we have felt a growing burden for the people of our own neighborhoods who desperately need to know the redemption of our Savior. The team, led by Steve Bixler and his wife Becky, is composed of people of various ages and life stages who share a common goal of intentionally serving our community in order to make Jesus known.

We have met as a group many times to pray about opportunities to serve. We have been in awe of how, with much prayer and "waiting on God to part the waters," we have been able to serve our community in diverse ways. One of the ways we have begun to minister is through outreach to a nearby trailer park with a largely Hispanic population. These folks speak a different native language than we do, live a very different lifestyle than the majority of Fairlawn congregants, and live only a few miles down the road! One of our team members began a summer reading program last summer as a way to provide a positive activity for the children and help them not to fall behind on their studies over summer break. This energetic lady used her gifts in teaching, worked with the local elementary school, and developed a fabulous summer program. People from Fairlawn served as tutors or helped prepare snacks for the children. Many children in kindergarten through seventh grade were able to participate in reading and writing activities as well as form relationships with the people from church. Some of these same children later attended Wednesday evening activities at the church. "It has been neat to see the trust being developed," commented one team member.

"We are discovering, or perhaps learning at a deeper level, that it is not necessarily easy to be a missionary in our own community."More recently, our team organized a concert in the trailer park and invited not only those who live there but the congregation at Fairlawn too. We served hot dogs and other refreshments, worshipped Jesus, and hopefully showed the people who live there we desire to get to know them and we care about them because our Jesus cares. Over Christmas time, we caroled to the community there. Currently, we are looking at the possibility of constructing a basketball court. The court would provide a nearby constructive outlet for our friends in this neighborhood during the summer months. Whether it is working in the trailer park neighborhood or serving coffee and an encouraging word at a community civic event, we are seeking to accurately present the Gospel through our acts of service.

We have seen God at work in our own lives as well since the formation of the team. We are discovering, or perhaps learning at a deeper level, that it is not necessarily easy to be a missionary in our own community. While in many cases, though certainly not all, we share a common culture with those around us, our faith in Jesus Christ makes a distinct difference in the choices we make and in the way we live our lives. It is all too easy to develop friendships with the people we interact with daily and talk about the weather but never broach the subject of faith or beliefs because "Won't the neighbors think we are odd?!" or "We don't want to make things awkward." These excuses too often allow us to lapse into complacency. Many of us are discovering a newfound boldness in leaving our "comfort zones" and winsomely sharing the Good News through our actions and words. We have certainly developed a bond since the formation of the team. It is so encouraging to gather together in prayer and to feel the support of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We talked recently about the sense of urgency we feel. The trailer park community tends to be a transient culture and people will move on. Are we making the best use of our time? Have we planted the seeds of faith in Jesus? These are questions we as a team must ask of our efforts and truly, each of us as believers in Christ must ask individually. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. Neither are our friends and neighbors next door and down the street. We invite you to join us, in living intentionally in the communities in which you are placed to help bring people to Christ so that he is glorified.

“Locally Grown” is a regular column featuring stories about what local churches are doing to reach out to their communities, as well as ideas and advice from RMM personnel and others. If you are aware of a local church with a creative and effective ministry, let us know! Just e-mail mosaic@rmmoffice.org.