By Tom Hocking
“Who is it!?”
Uh oh, I thought. This neighbor sounds more than a little irritated and definitely suspicious. Through the closed door, Alfredo and I introduced ourselves as the Spanish- and English-speaking pastors of the church on the corner.
The door opened barely a crack. “Yeah? Well, whaddyawant?”
“We’re part of Bless/Bellflower–an organization of churches and Christians who live, work, and worship in Bellflower, and we’re hoping to help our neighborhood become more prepared for the inevitable ‘Big One’–the expected catastrophic earthquake that is predicted to hit LA. Would you be willing to help us do that by answering four short questions?”
The door opened a bit wider. Then a Hispanic gentleman stepped out and asked hesitantly, “What are they?”
Since he was bilingual, Alfredo and I both conversed with him as we wrote down his answers to our list of questions:
1) Do you have an earthquake kit? (No)
2) When the “Big One” hits to which of your neighbors will you turn for help? (None of them. I can take care of myself.)
3) Do you know where the nearest disaster-relief shelter is? (No)
4) Would you be interested in connecting with Bless/Bellflower and your neighbors to prepare for the “Big One”? (Si!)
Clearly, the questions piqued our neighbor’s curiosity and he readily gave us his cell number in response to the last question. Within a few minutes, we learned a lot about the man whose name we discovered was Freddy. Alfredo gave him some information about our church and we were able to pray with him about his job and family.
What’s my point? Alfredo and I have discovered that one of the quickest ways to connect with and serve someone in our neighborhood is to appeal to their survival instincts.
Several weeks ago we began asking our neighbors if they would be interested in connecting with each other to improve our community. But the most frequent response we got was an indifferent shrug, a shake of the head, or a frank, “No, not really.”
Community upgrades, you see, require more time, effort, and money than most folks are willing to donate. But, in Southern California, when you talk about earthquakes, you touch a nerve. It seems that people want to live! By offering a service that will help them to survive the inevitable disaster that is coming, Alfredo and I are gaining opportunities to influence people with the gospel of Christ.
After all, it is the gospel that spurs our efforts to connect Christians in our neighborhood together in service projects. As believers practice a lifestyle of “integrated”–or holistic–ministry, their conduct and character will validate their gospel-conversations. Alfredo and I see earthquake-preparedness as a way to take the light of the gospel out of our church campus and into our neighborhood where it is needed the most.
Certainly we want to prepare our community for a natural disaster. But our greatest concern is to prepare individuals and families for the ultimate catastrophe–death and the judgment that follows (Heb. 9:27). Interestingly, when the early ambassadors of Christ communicated the gospel, they regularly highlighted the fact that Jesus was the judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 17:31; 24:25).
Perhaps the apostles recognized the same truth that Alfredo I have learned on the streets of Bellflower: People are frequently more motivated by disaster than they are by dessert!
The 2009-2011 moderator of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, Tom Hocking is challenging Grace Brethren congregations in North America to unite in a commitment to make disciples through training leaders, planting churches, and adopting holistic ministries. He is the pastor of the Bellflower Brethren Church in Bellflower, Calif.