Vancouver, the city filled with beautiful landscapes of the ocean, trees, mountains and… lonely people!
It is no secret that Vancouver is constantly berated as one of the most lonely places to live, while at the same time the city consistently makes it in the top 10 most livable cities in the world. Since moving here with my family last year, we have been able to see firsthand some of the causes and effects of loneliness. Without focusing too much here on the causes behind loneliness in our city, I want to discuss how we, as Christians and agents of God in this world, are called to mission in our lonely city.
As Christians, we often pray for our city and its lonely people. I love that our church is praying about this issue and taking this plea to God, and let’s not stop there. We are to faithfully and obediently put our calling into action as God’s agents of reconciliation in this world. I believe we, as the Church, should continually be looking for practical ways to address the issue of loneliness. Not least of all, because as the Father sent his Son into the world, so are we similarly sent into the world as his agents for redemption.
So how can we, the people of God, be his agents against loneliness in our city?
I think that one of the most basic ways is to reach out to people and invest in meaningful relationships with them. There are many ways to do this, but I think that one of the most accessible venues is right in our own neighbourhoods, more specifically, the people that live above, below, and next to us. Our neighbours!
One of the things I love about my Vancouver neighbours is they never park their cars in their garages. It means that I see and have opportunity to talk to them on a daily basis. But seeing them and having small talk doesn’t mean I have a healthy relationship with them. It takes more than that to share in the joys and sorrows of their lives. So how do we get to that depth of relationship where we start sharing our lives with one another in a full and healthy relationship?
In Matthew 22:39 Jesus tells a Pharisee that the second greatest commandment is to love his neighbour. In the last blog I wrote, I focused on the idea of eating as an act of worship. Maybe this says something about me, but I’m going to write about eating again!
I believe that we can use the context of a meal as a prime opportunity to live out our Christian calling to love our neighbours.
Of course, there are many ways of doing this, but eating a meal together allows people to be immersed in conversation and see the ups and downs of what someone’s life is truly like. To build a relationship with someone around the context of a meal actively fights against the loneliness that is so persistent in our world.
However, one difficulty that has been pestering me lately is the methods of how I build a relationship with my neighbours as a Christian. To be certain, my neighbours know that I am a Christian. And to be equally certain, I know that they are not. So I find myself asking, “What is my role in witnessing to them?” Do I need to preach the gospel to them, or can I focus solely on our interpersonal relationships? John Stott writes in his book, Christian Mission in the Modern World, “It comes more natural to us to shout the gospel at people from a distance than to involve ourselves deeply in their lives.” It seems like a much more simple habit than to spend the time and energy building a relationship with someone.
Alan J. Roxburgh gives an answer to my question in his book, Missional: Joining God in the Neighbourhood.
“The humanization of our relationships… is really learning how to have basic, simple, ordinary human relationships with the people in our community without any other strategy or intent.”
Doing so thereby humanizes the people around us. If we follow his advice, it means loving our neighbours simply because they are people, not only because we have targeted them for evangelization.
Removing the tendency to perceive people as objects to be acquired, they become human beings made in the image of God. Doing this moves us to love and care for them holistically in the context of a relationship.
To be sure, even if we have a meal with neighbours with no intent of evangelizing to them, the Holy Spirit will be present in our conversations. God will be moving in those relationships whether or not we realize it or explicitly acknowledge it. In sharing meals and inviting people to share in our stories of laughter and of pain, our lives will reflect the counter-cultural message of Christianity that God is redeeming his creation. By doing this, we will be engaging in meaningful relationships and living out part of our Christian calling of mission to the world.
So, as we live in a broken and hurting world and in a lonely city, may we, the people of God, step in to our Missional calling which Christ has sent us to carry out. Let us cry out to God for the redemption of our city, and be filled with the Spirit as we look to him for ways to take part in his powerful moving. Let’s take an evening this week or the next and set aside some time to have over a neighbour for a meal, to build relationships, and to be God’s redemptive agents in this world.
I am husband, father, student, and outdoor adventurer. Born and raised in the Midwest of the U.S., my family and I moved to Vancouver at the beginning of 2015 to study at Regent College. I am a person who at one time felt no sympathy for people. (Seriously, I broke my own Mom’s finger once!) It took two years of working on a cancer floor, taking care of sick and dying people, for God to place a deep desire in me to care for the pain others were experiencing. I am grateful that the Holy Spirit worked this miracle in me and look forward to many more years of caring for people.