Moving Into My Own Neighborhood Part 2: Wait a Minute, Who is My Neighbor?
This whole series of articles was prompted because I was reading the Gospel of John. I was struck by the way John 1 talks about how Jesus moved into our neighborhood. It came alive because I started wondering what it would look like in my neighborhood.
As I continue reading, I’m learning something else about my neighborhood. In John 5, Jesus was walking into Jerusalem. He sees a man sitting by a pool waiting for the waters to stir so he can climb in and be healed. Jesus had an encounter with him and ultimately heals him.
Sometimes for Jesus neighborhood happened to be where he was at the moment; he had a way of being present to the people he was with.
Earlier this week I had to drive to Klamath Falls. About 70 miles from Klamath I decided to take a break and stop at a rest stop. It was about 4 in the afternoon on a warm day, and there was a man in the restroom washing his sunburned head, face and neck with water from one of the sinks. His clothes were ragged and there was a large, well-worn backpack leaning on the wall next to him.
We started talking, and I discovered he was from Sacramento. He had gone to Seattle for a job. The job had fallen through. He had expended all his resources in the move, so he was headed back to Sacramento on foot. His plan was to walk into Klamath that night and find a shelter where he could sleep and get a meal. I pointed out that Klamath was still 70 miles away and even at a brisk walk it would take him a couple of days to get there.
He leaned against the wall in dismay and thought for a moment. He looked up at me and asked if I could give him a ride to Klamath.
I was on my way to meet with the church board at Klamath Falls, and I could think of a fistful of reasons I didn’t have time, but the story of the Good Samaritan came to mind and I saw my face on the priest who passed the wounded man. I knew I had to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
As we drove away from the rest area I said to him, “I don’t even know your name.”
He stuck out his hand and said, “my name is Bruce.”
I laughed and took his hand, “my name is Bruce.”
On our drive to Klamath he told me how he entered the foster care system when he was 4 years old. He told me he avoided his family because he didn’t need to be reminded that he was worthless. He told me he didn’t have a high school diploma. He told me he was 47 and still didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.
Maybe it was because I heard the story from someone with my name, but I couldn’t help seeing myself in his seat. The only difference between him and me is that I had parents who stayed together and stayed with me. I had a church family who thought I was important enough to invest themselves in, and I have friends who walk with me through life. None of the blessings in my life are about me; they are present because the people God put in my life chose to reflect him to me.
Bruce was a gift to me at that moment and I wanted to be a gift to him.
When we got to Klamath, we had dinner at Subway. He ate half of his foot-long sandwich, wrapped up the other half and stowed it in a pocket of his backpack—he didn’t know where his next meal would come from.
After dinner I took him to the Amtrak station. I gave him the $40 dollars I had and said, “I don’t know if that will get you to Sacramento, but it should get you somewhere in California.”
I left him sitting at the station waiting for the evening train.
The encounter was a gift to us both. He got a sandwich and a train ticket out of our meeting. I learned that even though he lives in California and I live in Portland we’re neighbors. And I learned I serve a God who managed to intersect our neighborhoods at an isolated rest stop far from both of our homes.