Won’t you be my neighbor…?

I grew up in the western suburbs of Minnesota in the 80s. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was a constant in those days, and I remember watching his puppets and that little red trolley with quiet reverence as I slowly popped warm raisins in my mouth. (That’s me in my Mr. Rogers fandom days!????)

Oh how I wish all of our neighborhoods could be like Mr. Rogers’…But they’re not. There’s pain everywhere. And my little suburb had it too.

In 1985 my parents got divorced, and this milestone impacted me deeply. It uprooted me, ping-ponged me between neighborhoods, and inevitably shaped the way I see the world. As I grew up, I continued to experience this “shuffling” since my mom switched jobs a lot. This meant more moves for me — more new homes, new neighborhoods, new people, and new schools. I went to eight different schools by the time I graduated high school!

Every time I entered a new neighborhood, I always felt the same: scared and nervous. It didn’t matter where we were (city or suburb), or who our neighbors were (white, black, Hispanic, or Asian), I always felt unarmed and wondered: What are those sounds outside my house? Are those people down the street nice? Do they want me to be here???

So many questions, so many fears, but I had to press in to them because I had no choice. Ultimately this turned out to be a good thing, because eventually those feelings would quell and I would make new friends and my new neighborhood would become home.

I tell you this now for two reasons: 

  1. Anytime you get out of your comfort zone you will feel uncomfortable, awkward, or afraid. Every time. Expect it.
  2. Your discomfort is part of the process. Trust it. Trust in God.

Fred Rogers said, “There’s no ordinary life that is free of pain. It is the very fighting with our problems that propels our growth.” And friends, I believe God wants us to grow in big ways right now. He is asking us to branch out and make new friends. He wants us to experience someone else’s reality – in big and small ways; because in so doing, it will transform hearts.

This happened to me recently when I went to North Minneapolis to drop off goods in support of the recent destruction that had happened there. Immediately when my husband turned into North, I felt that familiar feeling of being “out of place”. My guard went up a bit and doubts crept in…

We eventually parked, and I got out of the car. The intensity and smell of sweat and ash encompassed me…and for a moment I thought, You don’t belong here.This isn’t your home. No one wants you here. All lies! So I pressed in…

I pulled my three heavy bags out of the trunk and awkwardly shuffled them from hip to hip. Not a minute later, a young man started walking toward me. He had long black dreads peeking out from underneath his white-brimmed hat; he carried no smile, no way for me to know his heart, and then….

“Can I carry your bags for you?”

It was so simple yet so loving; naturally, I said yes.

We walked over to the donation spot and talked about our neighborhoods …….. and then we walked BACK to my car since the donation hub had been full. And as he placed my bags near the trunk of my van, he smiled and said, “God bless you.”

God bless you!

Talk about beauty! Talk about the Holy Spirit! That young man was the hands and feet of Christ to me WHILE I was trying to be the hands and feet to someone else! 

Isn’t that just like God? Isn’t that how he moves? He’s not bound to a specific neighborhood, economic class, skin color, or educational status. He doesn’t pass judgment, feel afraid, or choose to stand still. HE GOES TO THE WELL, just like that young man came to me (John 4:1-42).

Friends, this is good news! This means God is already at work! He’s everywhere. He’s in the local churches and organizations; he has boots on the ground in Minneapolis, Spring Lake Park, Wayzata, Duluth, and beyond. And he’s asking us to partner with him: will we take this chance to expand our horizons, make new friends, and help local leaders TRANSFORM MN?

That’s what Mr. Rogers did. He got out of his comfort zone to implore kindess and love at every turn. Jesus did this too … and so should we.

(To read more about Fred Rogers’ “Radical Kindness”, read THIS ARTICLE and watch this 2 minute video. I‘d encourage you to watch it with your kids, too, so you can discuss the many ways to say “I love you” to your neighbors, new and old.)

Jonna Meidal is a mother to 3 girls who seeks to parent them by the fruits of the spirit (and her Quiet Hat). She’s been to 20 countries (yay!), loves to write & laugh (a LOT), & can’t get through the day without eating popcorn (duh!). You can read more of what she’s been up to at jonnameidal.comor follow her adventures on Instagram @jonnameidal.