I have a bit of a phobia of losing my house keys. You probably know the feeling; it usually happens when carrying lots of heavy bags of stuff, or when it’s really late at night and you’d really rather be in bed. You search your bag or pocket before feeling an overwhelming panic, as you can’t seem to locate the small piece of metal that unlocks the literal door to your home.
Our house keys are very important possessions; we’re able to lock out the dangers of the outside world, and lock in the valuable possessions that we own. Our house keys mean that we don’t spend hours stranded on our doorsteps. Yet in the good old days, most people didn’t have to worry much about their house keys because it was likely that their next-door neighbour had a spare set.
But I’ve never been so lucky. I’ve lived next to noisy families, friendly mothers and nice-looking couples, but none of these people ever owned the keys to my house. My next-door neighbours seemed friendly enough but I was never sure whether I could fully trust them.
I don’t think I’m alone. We live in a society of uncertainty and cautiousness, and that includes our interactions with the people living on our doorsteps. The media so regularly bombards us with stories of kidnappings, daylight robberies and stabbings, meaning that we live in fear of the unknown, and wonder if we can really rely on the kindness of strangers anymore. Even as Christians, where loving your neighbour is an actual commandment of Jesus, there’s always a nagging doubt in the back of our minds that it might not be such a good idea.
So we worry, and we shy away, and we shut the front door really fast.
I ran away from London earlier this year to live in Rwanda for a few months and there I found that next-door neighbours are great. In Rwanda, local community is a big thing. Yes, everyone knows their next-door neighbour, but they probably also know the other 90 people living in their village too. In our local area there was a big fundraising project going on for one of the women living in the village. It was initiated by, you guessed it, her neighbours. They’d seen that her house was a bit damaged but they couldn’t afford to fix it themselves. So they had a meeting about it, and vowed to fundraise the necessary money to ensure that her home was safe to live in again.
This woman wasn’t particularly well-known in the community, but she was a part of it; so she received love and support from the people living right on her doorstep. And at that moment, I realised that if my neighbour back at home had been in trouble, I wouldn’t have realised because I didn’t know them. The fear of trusting a stranger meant that I wasn’t doing a very good job of living out my faith or following Jesus’s commandment. Yes, I was managing to love my global neighbours in Rwanda, but I wasn’t doing such a good job back home.
So what happens if we start loving our literal, next-door neighbours? How can we start to engage with people living right on our doorstep?
Our doorstep communities – the people living around us – are very important places. Engaging with strangers might be scary, but it’s also one of the most exciting places to live out our faith. Getting to know our neighbours might take time, but it’s also one of the best places to start investing time.
Because in doing so we’re saying that we do not believe that we should live in fear of the people who live next door. We’re saying that we have time for people who live right beside us. We’re engaging with others in a way that could be transformational.
You never know what might happen if you just say hello.
I’m trying to explore what it means to love your next-door neighbour. I’m looking for stories of hope that happen on doorsteps – of people who have opened their doors and their lives to others, rather than closing them really fast, like me. Because I have a feeling if we live in local community, great stuff can happen.
When the early Church joined together, they shared their possessions, and they ended poverty in their local area; nobody was in need. In Rwanda they’re managing to do this too, so why can’t we do the same? All it takes is opening the front door – whether or not your house keys are in your pocket.
The Doorstep Community Project is seeking success stories – of people who have opened their front doors. Join in: medium.com/the-doorstep-community-project