Saturday, April 6, 2013

Acts of Generosity and Inroads into the Neighborhood

When Kevin and I moved to our apartment, we both dreamed of the idea that we would quickly and easily connect with our neighbors. However, forging relationships has been far more difficult than we imagined. Part of the reason is that very few people spend time outside their houses on our street. The people we have the most relationship with are the people who are "on the street" the most -- the owner of the tiendita (or little store) on the corner, the people at the fruit and vegetable stands where I go to buy my produce every week, and the restaurants and coffee shops in our neighborhood that we frequent. By and large, our neighbors do not approach us, other than a quick "Hola!" if we see them briefly before they disappear into their homes. At Christmas I made cookies for our neighbors, and only one of all the people that we gave the cookies to invited us in to chat. The rest simply thanked us at the front door, and one didn't even come to the door but received the cookies through her window! All that said, we have been a little at a loss at how to get to know our neighbors better.

But now, I think we just might have found our secret weapon, visitors! When my mom came to help out at Owen's birth she was often approached by people in our neighborhood that wanted to practice their English. We generally speak Spanish outside the home as a general effort to fit better into our environment. However, the people that my Mom met back in September have continued to be people we greet when we see them on the street, and occasionally have conversations with. The most striking experience of meeting our neighbors because of our visitors ocurred this last month when my parents came to visit.

The evening before my parents were to fly home Kevin was bringing our car into our garage when he was stopped by one of our neighbors we had barely seen before. The neighbor asked if it was our family that was visiting (it was a bit of a weird feeling to realize how closely we are observed), and then mentioned he had hoped to bring them a cake. Kevin kindly said thank you and that they were leaving in the morning, so probably there wasn't going to be time for the cake. But the neighbor then insisted, saying, "I'll go get it right now!". We were all in our pajamas, I was folding laundry, and the house was hardly in order to receive visitors, so I was a little taken aback by Kevin's announcement that our neighbor was bringing a cake by! Still, the golden rule of life here in Mexico is "relationship, relationship, relationship", so, even though it was unexpected, I hurriedly tried to prepare for our visitors. Ten minutes later, after a flury of picking up, the doorbell rang and Kevin went down to answer our door. The couple who emerged through the door were probably a little older than my parents, and not only did they come bearing a cake (a big, beautiful, expensive one), but they also brought my parents coffee beans and farm fresh cheese for me. The man, was extremely friendly, employing all of the English he knew. He told us that he often has to fly to the States for work. The woman was a little more reserved -- she told Kevin on the way up the stairs that she was a little embarassed to drop in on us like this -- but also very sweet and friendly. In the end they were only able to stay for about ten minutes because they were on their way to an appointment, but when they heard my parents were leaving tomorrow they didn't want to miss the opportunity to extend hospitality to my parents.

We have lived in our neighborhood for a year and a half and never had an experience like this. It caught us by surprise and had us talking about their generosity for days. To be honest, I have no idea what spurred on the interest in meeting my parents and extending them hospitality, but I am thankful for an opportunity to get to know our neighbors more. The entire experience caused me to reflect on how I am perceived by the people around me. As a Christian, my main focus is to live out Christ's love for all of the people with whom I come into contact. I think, at best, living out Jesus' love would be a little like meeting these neighbors, surprising, enjoyable, and producing the question, "What is different about this person?". I think I have a long way to go to evoke this response, but it is a goal I would like to work toward, and I am thankful for any opportunity to get to know the people that God has placed around me.

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