My husband and I joke that we live in "the slums of Water Valley." Starter homes, weedy yards, and porches with peeling paint dot our neighborhood. Across the way, Water Valley shows off million dollar houses and signs warning that the walking paths and fishing ponds are theirs alone.
When our children were growing up, two dozen other children their ages lived on the block. They played in our yard and rang the doorbell to ask for bubbles. Now fewer than ten children live in the houses around us, and we know only three of them well. In the summer, troubled teens gather in noisy clumps on the sidewalk.
Renters occupy nearly half the houses. Yards that were well groomed are now rock or weeds. Some cars sport obscene or anti-religious bumper stickers. Police visit several times a year for domestic issues. Although the changes made me sad, I didn't think I could do much about them.
The Answer to My Own Prayer?
A few years ago my husband, Tony, and I realized our concern for our neighbors had gone dormant. Inside those little homes were real people: one-parent families struggling to care for children, teens experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and people in financial crisis. How long had it been since I saw them with compassion instead of criticism and condemnation? When did a call to police become a better way to address loud music than walking across the street and explaining that shift workers couldn't sleep because of the noise?
That night Tony and I decided to pray for the people on our street. We promised each other we'd be open to meeting needs God placed before us. We prayed, and we waited. At first we saw only the obvious opportunities. We waved at neighbors and gave token gifts at Christmas. We tried to be friendly with the dropouts who hung out across the street, despite the vulgar language and loud music. This was hardly the buzzing ministry I'd expected.1