I live outside of Washington, D.C., a city teeming with people from all walks of life, from doctors, lawyers, and politicians to crack addicts, gang members, and homeless people. Not long ago, I recognized an increasing discomfort when talking with others different from me; I seem to have difficulty finding common ground.
I sometimes feel a similar discomfort in my neighborhood, which is experiencing a growing and increasingly diverse population. Yet, Jesus calls us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31). How do we get beyond our discomfort, step out of our comfort zone and into what God is doing in the lives of those around us? Who exactly is our neighbor?
As a Baby Boomer, I sometimes find it challenging to initiate relationships with others from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. My twenty-two-year old son, on the other hand, thrives on diversity, both in his church and friendships. Regardless of where we are on the spectrum, God's Word remains clear. We must embrace others in the love of Christ, no matter how different their lifestyle or heritage from ours and no matter how uncomfortable we might feel doing so. It boils down to a choice.
At my office, I work alongside a Vietnamese woman, Hang, who, after many years in our country, still speaks very broken English, making it very difficult for others to understand her. Most people in the office avoid speaking with her since she sometimes has to repeat herself three or four times to be understood. Hang seems hungry for friendship and relationship, so I have made a deliberate choice to befriend Hang, stopping to talk with her, even though her broken English makes the relationship challenging. Will Hang come to Christ? I don't know, but I do know that I am walking in obedience to God's Word to love my neighbor.
Then, two incidents occurred, which took our casual friendship to a deeper level--her husband committed suicide, and, soon after, she received a diagnosis of lung cancer. Through both incidents, I remained by her side, offering friendship, support, and comfort. As her cancer progressed, her pain increased until the morphine no longer helped. She grew gaunt, reminding me of pictures I had seen of prisoners in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. It became increasingly difficult for me to watch her waste away, and I considered visiting less frequently as she often seemed unaware of her surroundings. However, I chose to remain consistent in my visits, trusting God would bless my obedience. The day came when I had the privilege of praying for Jeannie to receive Jesus Christ as her personal Savior. When she died a short time later, I had the comfort of knowing that she would spend eternity in His presence, free from pain and suffering.
The path of love is rarely easy. People's lives are messy--divorce, mental illness, addictions--yet, God calls us to walk as Jesus did, to love as He loved. It is not about our comfort or convenience, but conformity to Christ.
May we choose obedience over comfort and step out in faith, trusting God to minister through us.