We humans were created as social beings. Two are better than one, we are taught. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart, we learn in Ecclesiastes. That’s why this unusual time we have been in — of being shut in and shut out — is still having a lingering impact.
Christians and non-Christians alike miss their old routines and social interaction and are anxious about the future.
It would seem there is no better time, therefore, to reach out to neighbors, to strangers who look nothing like us, with friendship, with encouragement, with love.
That’s what was going on in the “low country” of South Carolina during the height of the pandemic. The Grove, a church plant still somewhat in its infancy, focused on praying for people in the community. They were engaged in intentional, focused prayer and forging deeper relationships as they studied Jon Wiest’s Banding Together, a guide on how to make disciples and start a church or community movement.
Rev. Brittany Jolly, an ever-smiling, Jesus-loving, energizer bunny of a lead pastor, became laser-focused on a neighbor we’ll call Mandy. Brittany prayed specifically and intentionally for Mandy and made an effort to get to know her during quarantine. One day, Mandy shared some of her troubles with Brittany. There, on her porch, with tears in her eyes, Mandy said, “I don’t know why, but every time I walk past your door, I get this sense of peace.” Bam. Opportunity knocking.
Brittany answered that knock, not by inviting Mandy to church or sending her away with a Bible but by leading Mandy to Christ. Right there, on the front porch — in front of God and everybody.
“It all started with that intentional prayer and then an effort to deepen our relationship,” said Brittany. “It has been incredible watching her grow.” Brittany is quick to add that we cannot expect people to change overnight just because we led them to Christ, and that Mandy’s “potty mouth” hasn’t gone away. That’s why it is so important to start building a relationship first and follow up with discipleship.
About the same time that we were hearing about Brittany’s story, we learned of another pastor in the Charleston area who had just experienced his own version of “front-porch evangelism.” Rev. Andrế Winters, lead pastor of The Corner Church, a two-year-old church plant, prayed for God to show him which of his neighbors he could build a relationship with for the purpose of leading them to Jesus. After a drive-by shooting at a house just three doors down from him, Andrế knew instantly which neighbor God wanted him to reach.
Much like Brittany, Andrế is a happy, positive, ever-smiling, non-threatening kind of stranger to meet. After a few months of getting to know the man and his daughter who lived there, a second drive-by shooting happened.
“It was a miracle no one was hurt, and I knew that night that this could be the very moment that God grabs ahold of his life.” The next day, while standing in this man’s front yard, Andrế led the man in a prayer of surrendering his heart to Jesus.
“He may have smelled like weed at that moment, but I was determined to see God change this man’s life.” Andrế told the man that he would be by in the morning to pick him up for church and that they would start reading the Bible together throughout the week.
“He has not only never missed a Sunday, but now he serves every week, and every time we meet to read the Word, I can see in his eyes afire for God — hungry for more.” Andrế said he can see this man walking in obedience and truly being made new.
This is a reminder to us all that, whether you are on your front porch, in your local bowling alley, serving on your Chamber of Commerce or with the Boys and Girls Scouts, loving your neighbor and sharing your faith is never the wrong answer. Being a friend while praying intentionally for someone may just change a life.
Jennifer Jones is district administrator for the South Carolina District.