GOD NEXT DOOR: Social Concern for Our Neighbour and for Those Overseas
By Kim Tan
Social concern is sometimes associated with helping with natural disasters, orphanage sponsorships, overseas medical missions, and the like. But is that what social concern is all about?
There was a story about two Christians who lived in the same neighbourhood.
John had a big heart for social concerns. He felt a burden for those suﬀering from leprosy in India and planned to go to there to help them. One day, as he was watering his garden, he began speaking to his neighbour, who was recently diagnosed with a prostate cancer. John expressed his sympathy and continued to make plans to go to India. He started to learn the necessary language and did all he could to prepare. Occasionally, he would pass by his neighbour and see his health deteriorating, but John was determined to go to India.
In the same suburb was Tim. He heard through the church that another man was ill with throat cancer. He knocked on the door of the stranger and asked if he could help. Each day, he came and washed the man. The stranger’s family was not from the Christian background. They were touched by Tim’s love and service. Eventually the ill man recovered, and the family started going to church and eventually became Christians.
John was about to go to India when he discovered that his visa was invalid. And sadly, he also discovered that his neighbour had died two months before. John wondered whether he had misplaced his energy and focus on the last two years preparing to go to India while he could have cared for, and ministered to, his neighbour.
Obviously the story above reeks of similarities with the parable of the Good Samaritan. However, it also shows the complexity of social work. How are we to allocate the limited resources of time, money, and energy? For whom? And how?
The concern for natural disasters, orphanage sponsorships, and medical missions is all important. We need to care for the vulnerable, especially those overseas who have great needs (Matt. 5:7).
But I wonder if, as individuals, we sometimes neglect to care for our immediate neighbours? Just as John appeared to experience sadness for not caring for his neighbour during his quest to help those overseas, we may experience the same regret.
There is much opportunity to show the love of Jesus as we go about in our daily lives with the neighbours with whom we come in contact.Kim Tan
As we go through life, it is not uncommon to come across people in our path struggling. It might be a physical, emotional, relational, financial or spiritual struggle. There is always temptation to say ‘It is not your problem, it is theirs’, or ‘I don’t have enough time’. However, Christ’s teachings exhorts us to ‘Love the Lord your God… and love your neighbour as yourself’ (Luk. 10:27).
Australia’s leading missiologist, Michael Frost, states that the best person to love another person is you, in the presence of another. In other words, Frost directs us to neighbourly love. Frost calls this incarnational love, just as Jesus became incarnate for us on earth. When you practice incarnational love, you are able to perceive best, know first-hand the context of the situation, and are physically in a position to take action in love. This is why neighbourly love is so important and unique. This is what Jesus practiced when he was on earth, healing, feeding and preaching to people, as he met them as his neighbours.
As an individual or a church, as we engage in social concerns overseas, we ought not to forget to care for our neighbours. It is incarnational love. There is much opportunity to show the love of incarnational love. There is much opportunity to show the love of Jesus as we go about in our daily lives with the neighbours with whom we come in contact.
In summary, both the love for our immediate neighbours and love for those overseas are equally important in Jesus’s kingdom. We must not forget neighbourly love. It was what Jesus commanded us to do. If we neglect one or the other, we do a disservice to God. If we engage both, it brings immense joy and glory to God.
Simon Holt. God Next Door: Spirituality and Mission in the Neighbourhood.
This is a good book if you want to engage in social concerns and evangelism in the neighbourhood you live in.
Will and Lisa Samson. Justice in the Burbs: Being The Hands of Jesus Wherever You Live.
This book teaches how to overcome barriers to engage in social concerns for someone living in a Western country.
Michael Frost. Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement.
This book explores how to minister incarnationally as Jesus did.
Kim is a Local Preacher and Social Concerns Steward of Kingsway Methodist Church. He previously worked as a Psychologist with people from disadvantaged and marginalised backgrounds for over 5 years.