Real-Life Daughter Redeemed: Loving Your Neighbors with Jaz

love your neighbors

For a few years now, I have dreamed of doing a series of interviews with real-life daughters redeemed. Today, that dream is coming true!

I knew I wanted this first interview to be a special one, so I asked my dear sister in Christ, Jasmine (aka “Jaz”), to share with us on the topic of loving our neighbors. Jasmine and I met years ago through mutual friends and got to know each other a little better when she started attending CrossWay Community Church in Bristol, Wisconsin. When CrossWay planted a church in the nearby city of Kenosha, she and her family jumped right in!

Jaz blogs about their neighborhood ministry at Mama J’s Jabberings, and I have been so very encouraged to watch God work through her family. I’ve told her on numerous occasions that I think she needs to write a book, but for now, let’s all soak in the wisdom and encouragement she has for us in this Real-Life Daughter Redeemed interview. Seriously, friends. This is a treasure trove of gospel goodness.

Tell our readers a little about yourself.

I’m just your average girl who was far from God but was brought near by the blood of Jesus. I love my husband, kids, coffee, and teaching Kindermusik.

I grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin and never left. I’ve been married to my husband, Rick, for 18 years and we are living a life we never dreamed of or planned for. God erased our original hopes and dreams and gave us new ones, and we are grateful. We have six children, so life is a messy, loud, and busy adventure.

We are members at Christ the King Church, a four-year old church plant of CrossWay Community Church. We are located right in the heart of Kenosha, so there are many opportunities to make known the life-transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a diverse group of people.

How did you come to live in your neighborhood?

Several years ago my husband and I were convicted by a sermon preached out of John 17. In His High Priestly prayer, Jesus says, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” We were convinced that as “sent ones” we needed to live intentionally as missionaries right where we were living and raising our family. We had not been doing that well.

We began to pray for our neighbors, but also for the city itself, and decided that at some point we would like to move to an actual neighborhood (we were on a private road with neighbors who wanted to be left alone). We began to intentionally spend time downtown, and God began to knit our hearts to the community and increase our desire to live, love, work, and be a gospel presence in a part of the city where a lot of people were hurting and considered outcasts.

In God’s providence, my husband lost his nice job at his family’s business and took several part-time jobs. As a delivery driver for a pizza place and an inspector of foreclosed homes, he spotted the house we currently live in quite by “accident”. Before we knew it, we were looking at the house and buying it with the knowledge that CrossWay would be planting a church in that general area. We literally moved in two weeks before the church leaders announced the location of the church. In God’s sovereignty, we ended up ten blocks from our church and in one of the more active, people-filled, materially poor neighborhoods in Kenosha!

What does neighborhood ministry look like for you? Can you describe a “typical” day for us?

We have an open door, open yard, open life policy every day. We invite people into our home, make lots of sandwiches, and pour lots of coffee. We spend a lot of time getting to know our neighbors, laughing and crying, sharing stories and parenting hardships, praying with people, and talking about Jesus and the Bible. We visit apartment buildings, porches, yards, and do a lot of living in our front yard like everyone else in our neighborhood does. We just do so with gospel intentionality.

There are a lot of children in our neighborhood so they play with my children. You will often see kids playing a game of catch or football, drawing with chalk on our driveway, sitting on the porch chattering away, or performing the occasional dance show. We host a Bible Club for children every summer, and this year we did what we called “Hotdogs and Hangout” once a week all summer long. We taught a Bible lesson, served hotdogs, and hung out with whoever showed up.

As we learn and grow, our ministry changes. Because a bridge has been built between the neighborhood and our church, we recently started a once-a-week gospel-centered mentoring ministry for children. Each week, mentors eat dinner with the children, play games, have a story time, and work on educational skills. We then teach a Bible lesson and break back up into discussion groups. This has become a vibrant church-wide effort. I’m filled with gratefulness and in awe of what God is doing.

You live in what our culture would probably label as an “undesirable” neighborhood. I know you’ve experienced some scary stuff on your own block, but you and your husband have chosen the Great Commission over safety and comfort. How have you been able to do that?

“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” – Romans 14:8

Knowing who we belong to is a very comforting and compelling reason for us to stay on mission.

We believe the the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. Jesus brought the good news of the gospel to the poor, oppressed, and disenfranchised. As his followers, we want to participate in His ongoing work.

Many people in our neighborhood are living in material poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, and mental illness. We see sin destroying those around us. They are dying in their sin–some literally though overdose or violence. The people in my neighborhood need more than food, fair housing, and clothes. They need good news, and they need to be set free. We have the words of life and know the One who can save them. God did not call us out of the kingdom of darkness we were living in to be comfortable and safe. He called us to be disciples who make disciples. As people who have tasted God’s goodness and grace, we want others to taste it.

I love the verse in the song “Glorious Christ” that says,“You left the air of heaven to breathe the dust of earth and dwell among the outcast and the poor.” This is where we want to dwell for His name’s sake. Just as Jesus came to dwell among us, someone needs dwell with them–truly growing to understand and share the good, the bad, and the ugly they face everyday. This is a very relational community. Coming in once a week or once a month like you’re a savior means nothing to them. We are convinced that the best way to bring the gospel to this particular community is to dwell with them.

The scary things we have experienced have only been used to get us to see the urgency of the task and shake us out of our slumber and complacency.

When a man you see everyday is shot and killed in broad day light, and you know his fiancé and children and experience the effect it has on them and your community, you say, “We have to open our mouths. We have to be the hands and feet of Jesus now and until we die.”

When you sit on the porch and see a car drive around the corner and you hear, Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!” you don’t say, “Let’s blow this joint.” You cry and get angry right along with your neighbors and friends, and you stay woke!

Sisters, speak words of life to your neighbors. This world is broken. They need to know that there is a God waiting to rescue them.

I’ve seen pictures of neighborhood kids around your table. Do you have any practical tips for women who might feel intimidated by inviting the neighborhood into their homes?

When we moved in, our neighbors were highly suspicious of us. They would not speak to us, and sometimes the women would rush to their doors if my husband said hi. We decided to bake some cookies and muffins and go door to door giving them out. At first, nobody would open their door more than a sliver. But after that day, I got smiles, my husband got a hi back, and then all of the sudden doors were opening when we knocked. Kids were allowed to come over and play, and we became brave enough to invite our neighbors into our home a little at a time. Now we no longer have to invite anybody. They just show up!

Start by praying for your neighbors. Ask God to give you a desire to be hospitable. You’ll be amazed at how God will use these prayers to knit your heart to your neighborhood.

Then, just do something!

  • Bring your neighbors some homemade goodies and tell them you just wanted to bless them today.
  • Sit at your picnic table and invite a neighbor over for coffee.
  • Plan a neighborhood cook-out. Keep it simple. Just pass out invitations and set out some food.

Start with the people right beside you. It doesn’t have to be the whole neighborhood!

Your church family has been great at partnering with you in sharing the gospel with your neighbors. How have they come alongside you, and how can we come alongside our own brothers and sisters as they seek to love their neighbors?

Ministering in our neighborhood has truly been a church effort. I have never done a Bible club alone! One summer, I had a sister come and walk the neighborhood with me praying several mornings a week. Our elders have prayed for us, encouraged us in the Word, and equipped us with resources and classes (see the question about resources for some great ones). I also had one dear friend from church come every week and help with Hotdogs and Hangout, which was a huge time commitment.

Our church opened up its doors for the gospel-centered mentoring ministry I mentioned earlier. We have nine adult and five youth volunteers serving every week by giving rides, teaching math and reading, leading a discipleship group time, teaching Bible lessons, cooking dinner, and telling fun stories to engage the children’s minds. They are investing their lives into this neighborhood for two hours or more each week. Some have even begun to visit families and engage the children outside of that time!

How can you come alongside your brothers and sisters in Christ engaged in neighborhood ministry?

  • Pray with and for those who are engaging their neighbors intentionally.
  • Go to a neighborhood cook-out that they are hosting and help with the food.
  • If they invite neighbors to an event you’re at, make every effort to get to know them.
  • Ask your friends how they are doing emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
  • Consider giving them a break so they can recharge and refresh. Neighborhood ministry can be intense and extremely time-consuming. We have had brothers and sisters invite our children to spend time with their families so that our kids can take a break from our relationship-heavy lifestyle. We have even been gifted time away!

It takes a church, friends. Christians are known by their love for one another. Let your neighbors see that love!

You are closer to the black community than most white evangelicals—what would you like to say to your white brothers and sisters in Christ on the topic of racism? How we can do our part to promote racial reconciliation?

I fall so short in wrapping my head around this. My family and I are learners right now. We are learning to listen.

Brothers and sisters, please listen to the black community. Listen to your black brothers and sisters in Christ. Their life/American experience is very different from yours. You and I do not understand it–we just don’t.

Stop throwing around statistics and talking about the major improvement in society and in your church. You just sound like you’re making excuses.

Stop saying that racism is a thing of the past, because it isn’t. I’ve seen too much while sitting on my front porch or even sitting next to my black friends on their front porch. Racism is alive and well.

Make an effort to be friends with people in the black community. You’ll find that you care about the things your friends care about. You will actually weep and rejoice when they weep and rejoice because you are invested in each others lives and what affects them affects you. I’ve experienced firsthand how your heart and perspective changes when you actually get to know someone.

We can talk about racial reconciliation all we want, but until our dinner table changes, it doesn’t really matter. Honestly, this article says things way better than ever could.

If a black person comes into your predominately white church, do not assume they need something from you. I’ve heard too many stories that show how condescending we can be.

And please, please, stop saying that this is not a gospel issue. Racial reconciliation is a gospel issue. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the wall of hostility has been broken down. We need to live out the blood-bought unity we have in Christ. If we really want to see racial reconciliation in our churches, it is going to take us dying to ourselves, our preferences in worship, and our political agendas for the glory of God.

Are there any resources you’d recommend to us as we seek to love our neighbors?

“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

-Matthew 9:35-38

  • The Bible – I can be tempted to simply meet the physical needs of those around me, but true life comes only through the word of God. I am learning to drink deeply myself so that I might give it boldly to others.
  • Prayer – Pray earnestly. We are in a spiritual battle. We must be utterly dependent on the Spirit to move. He alone can change hearts.
  • The Art of Neighboring -A Christian website with lots of helpful resources for neighborhood ministry.
  • The Turquoise Picnic Table – Kristen Schell put a turquoise picnic table in her front yard in hopes of engaging more with the people around her. That small step of faith has turned into an entire movement of #frontyardliving. This video tells her story.
  • Helping without Hurting – A FREE online study on mobilizing your church to engage in effective, non-harmful poverty alleviation
  • Church in Hard Places: How the Local Church Brings Life to the Poor and Needy – A book by Mez McConnell and Mike McKinley that offers biblical guidelines and practical strategies for planting, revitalizing, and growing faithful churches in hard places
  • Missional Motherhood – This book by Gloria Furman had a tremendous effect on my thinking and living as I saw my role in God’s unfolding story of redemption. I hope this tidbit from the book helps you to see your home and neighborhood a little differently than perhaps you do now…

“We, too, as ‘aliens and strangers’ in a world that is passing away, need to learn that our home is not our refuge. We nurture life in the face of death and leverage our homes for gospel work. For those whose hope is in the coming kingdom, our homes are less like retreats and more like a network of foxholes for planning and hosting kingdom advances into this present darkness. Our homes are centers of hospitality to show strangers and neighbors the light of Christ. And they are equipping centers for traveling ambassadors to help them on their way to doing the King’s business.”

– Gloria Furman, Missional Motherhood

“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”

-Matthew 22:37-40

Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?

If anything, dear reader, I hope you are encouraged that God calls normal Christians “sent ones.” You are an ambassador. You are a peacemaker. You are a gospel-worker.

My husband and I are not professionals. We are not in full-time ministry. We are not seminary graduates. We work normal jobs in order to make ends meet. We are in the thick of parenting. We have piles of laundry like everybody else. We are just normal disciples who have been called–like you!–to proclaim all of God’s excellencies to those around us.

Our big, faithful, missionary God has called you to live on mission with him. It doesn’t take great giftedness or big programs. He will take your small and seemingly insignificant step of faith to make Jesus known to the person next door to you, and he will multiply it for your good and His glory.

Thanks, Jaz, for sharing your heart for Jesus and your neighbors! May God continue to do great things in downtown Kenosha.

Ruth 4:14

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