Loving Your Unexpected Neighbor

Manda Hart

December 10, 2023

A few years back, I joined a Bible study. I loved the diversity of age and denominations of the women in the group. But there was one woman who tended to get political in discussions, leaning the opposite way I typically lean. And a few times, I was the target of her passive remarks. I avoided her. But then "Emily" (not her real name) started asking for prayer for a young co-worker of hers. Finally one week, Emily shared with us that this co-worker was curious about the Bible. Not only did Emily buy her a Bible, she had her name engraved on it in silver lettering and shared some meaningful passages. The young woman was ecstatic. And Emily smiled, full of joy, while she told the story. I was taken aback. Emily was spreading the gospel. Suddenly her politics wasn’t the thing that defined her. A hard, crusty corner of my heart softened toward her. I often find that Jesus extends the unexpected gifts of fellowship and grace when I am in community with unlikely people. Maybe even unlikeable people.

Put yourself out there, assumptions aside

When the new church we attend announced that small groups were forming this fall, I signed my husband and I up for a time slot where the host and other participants were unknown. This is a larger church with many people around our age. But when we showed up the first week, we arrived to find three older couples, roughly 20 years older than us. I had to hide my disappointment. We all shared a little of who we were. When one of them shared the date of his first Sunday at this church, I quickly calculated it to be eight days before my birth. I felt out of place. This did not fit the vision for the small group I needed. It was like a plexiglass check-out lane divider had been lowered onto the dining table between us. We could still see each other, but the communication was a little muffled, my heart a little closed.

By the end of the first dinner, I had each person pegged into my own tidy category. Except then one woman shared about her son who died by suicide. She was quietly tearful as the wound bubbled open while she spoke. She mentioned a verse that she’d held onto like a gift straight from God. One that I’d never heard. And in this context, the verse was sharply beautiful. Quickly the tears slid down my cheeks as well. It was becoming more apparent that Jesus was again using “unlikely” people in my sphere to grow my faith.

Follow the example of Jesus

Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. She is definitely not someone he would normally hang out with. First, she’s a woman; mixing at the water cooler would be considered highly inappropriate in this time and culture. Second, Jews and Samaritans did not normally interact, for many historical reasons. But Jesus goes straight through Samaria when other Jews would have gone around. He asks the woman for help to draw water, and with a few simple questions he allows this stranger to recognize her true need for eternal life. That’s the main point of their interaction. And she’s so full of joy, she runs away to tell about it, even leaving her jar behind. Now she is the evangelist, someone no one respected because of her tainted lifestyle. Even more surprising, the people believe her and asked Jesus to stay longer to teach them. The divisions were suddenly gone between them. The truth rang like a bell, diminishing their beliefs about each other in exchange for Jesus’ striking truth.

Take time to listen

Two weeks later, our small group met again. In the meantime, I’d reminded myself very pragmatically that this group was orchestrated by God for a reason and to be open to the possibilities. But my heart was still a little set on my own vision of how that would look. This time another couple was to tell their story. As we all listened, the reality that spilled out was so far off from the stories I’d subconsciously written for each of them that it was almost funny. It seemed that the sheer faith and humility needed to survive these stories zinged with the electric grace of God. And I was humbled once again.

I guess you could say I am learning to set down my own water jar, filled with my expectations, assumptions, and requests. I’m slowly opening to truth that tends to reveal itself in the unlikely and even uncomfortable spaces where Jesus leads. Maybe even from people with whom I disagree or don’t seem to have much in common. And it’s likely way beyond what I could imagine. In an age where people are more divided than ever over issues both in and out of the church, I am learning to find the unexpected gifts of fellowship and insight with unlikely people. We need each other.

Posted in: Spirituality

About the author — Manda Hart

Manda Hart is a proud English major. She enjoys many roles in music including teaching piano lessons, planning church worship, and accompanying school musical groups on piano. She comes from a line of builders, designers and creators and is excited to continue that thread with music and writing. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband Paul, four kids and the only dog she will ever love, Obi.

Other programs from ReFrame Ministries:

© 2006–2024 ReFrame Ministries. All rights reserved.

Privacy Policy / Sitemap

User Experience Design by Justin Sterenberg

Web Development by Build For Humans