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WORLDVIEW: Who is my neighbor?

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–She steps onto her eighth-floor apartment balcony in the morning, as she often does, to watch her neighbors on balconies nearby.

“Looking down and across, I always see a mature couple sitting at a table having coffee,” says the Southern Baptist worker who lives in a major Middle Eastern city. “He reads the paper in his undershirt, while she, in her housedress, is usually preparing some kind of food, chopping greens or snapping beans.” She sees them exchanging words, and wonders what they talk about.

On a ground floor is a taxi company. The drivers sit outside waiting for a fare, chatting and telling stories. Many of the second-floor residents in another building talk to people walking by on the street.

Her favorite neighbor, however, lives across the street in another eighth-floor flat.

“She is an elderly lady with black hair,” the worker says. “She is out several times during the day watering her flowers, sitting and enjoying the sun or just watching other people on balconies like I do. I cracked up one time when I saw her wearing a baseball cap with her nightgown. She must crack up at some of the things she sees and hears from our family as well. I’ve always wanted to go over and visit her. But I haven’t.

“As I look around at these and the other 997 balconies in my view, I’m overwhelmed. I can probably say it’s true that most of them do not know Jesus. This morning, same as many, I have felt compelled to just pray. These people, every single one, need to know that God loves them so much that He sent Jesus into this world, to love them, to heal them, to feed them and to rescue them through the sacrifice of His own life.”

Her high-rise neighbors, even the many who have yet to meet her, are blessed. A follower of Christ is lifting them up to Him –- and looking for opportunities to tell them about Him.

Up to 86 percent of all Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists do not personally know a Christian, according to mission researcher Todd Johnson. That doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to listen to the Gospel, however. Of the world’s 100 most responsive “megapeoples” (people groups with populations topping 1 million), 31 are Muslim, 31 are Hindu and four are Buddhist, according to the World Christian Database. An additional 22 are tribal.

“Christians should know and love their neighbors!” Johnson writes. “In the 21st century, it is important to realize that the responsibility for reaching Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists is too large for the missionary enterprise. While missionaries will always be at the forefront of innovative strategies, the whole church needs to participate in inviting people of other faiths to consider Jesus Christ.”

More and more of those Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, he reminds us, are moving to traditionally “Christian” lands. They join the throngs of other people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds seeking God. Do we help them in their search, or pass by on our busy way? Busy missionaries struggle with the same question.

A short-term student missionary bicycling in West Africa stopped in a small village earlier this year. “It consisted of a few mud huts, two old ladies, an old man and a young teenage girl,” he recalls. “The man had cataracts and was almost deaf, so he couldn’t see or hear me at all. The old ladies just sat around and watched in a slightly confused state. The young girl seemed to be pretty excited. I guess it’s not every day a white guy on a bike interrupts her from pulling water up out of the well.”

He left the village without telling anyone about Jesus; he lacked the language skills to communicate. Later, however, he passed the village again –- this time in a truck with a ministry team and interpreters.

“As we drove by I said, ‘I stopped in that village one time. It was just an old guy, a few old women and a young girl,'” he recounts. “Then I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a dying village. Those people are going to die, probably sooner than later. Who is going to tell them about God?’ I thought this as I drove by. With the two pastors and two interpreters we had with us, we just drove by, passing them up for a bigger village we had already planned to go to.”

The bigger villages, the priority appointments, the more strategic opportunities are important -– not only for missionaries but for all believers. You can’t stop for everyone. But you can stop for the people God places in your path.

“Look around your world,” pleads the Middle East worker from her balcony. “Pray for those around you. Ask God for the courage to go and share His love and message of hope in Christ with someone. Pray for me to be obedient, not only in praying for my sweet old neighbor who I see every day on her balcony, but to go and meet her. This is what it’s all about.”
Erich Bridges is senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Listen to an audio version of this column at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/39/3991/3991-21956.mp3

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  • Erich Bridges