By: Rebecca Peterson

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37–39 Have you ever been blessed with the gift of good neighbors? I can remember specific neighbors at every home I lived in as a kid and the significant roles the neighbors played in my life. They were a source of wisdom, encouragement, and kindness. I know there are bad neighbors and we’ve experienced those, too. They blast music at late hours, keep piles of junk and old vehicles on their property, and don’t maintain their yards. But then there are the good neighbors who offer a friendly wave as you pull out of the driveway in the morning, who have an extra egg or a cup of sugar when you run out, and who keep an eye on your house when you’re not home.

My husband and I are currently experiencing the blessing of having not only great neighbors—but good friends—next door. When the Wilson family moved in 10 years ago, we had no idea who they were. We quickly became friends as our preschoolers spent a large amount of time in the back yard. By the time the landscaping was almost finished, we decided not to put a fence between our two yards but to leave a section open where the kids could freely go back and forth. Since then we’ve carpooled to school over 3,000 times. When my husband had shoulder surgery, Mr. Wilson mowed our lawn for the entire summer. When my husband broke his ankle, Mr. Wilson shoveled all the snow from our driveway. Each week when Mrs. Wilson goes to the grocery store, she texts me to see if she can pick up anything up for me. Our kids have played, fought, and celebrated milestones together like siblings. One of the main reasons we don’t consider moving is because of the family next door. Our life would look different without them.

When I was in Russia last year, I saw three beautiful pictures of neighbors. The first was at the Kostroma dacha. As we walked around the property, an older woman in her nightdress came out, hollering in Russian and waving her arms around. I had no idea if she was upset or just persistent in trying to gain our attention. As the Russian words kept flying out of her mouth, our group, along with a translator, went over to see what she was trying to communicate. She told us how “lucky” she was that orphans spend time at this dacha. This sweet babushka went on and on, telling us how much the orphans care for her. They cut her firewood for the winter, shovel the snow off of her path, and help her garden in the summer. In turn, she donated some items to the dacha.

The second time I observed the blessing of Russian neighbors was in Ivanovo. When we arrived at the ministry center there, an unfamiliar face joined us at the dinner table. Once the meal was over, George asked to be introduced to her. Through a translator, we learned that she is a neighbor to Ruslan, an orphan who frequently visits the ministry center. She told us how Ruslan had become like a son to her. She lost her husband a few years back and Ruslan has helped her with minor repairs in her old apartment. In the springtime, the two of them go out to her husband’s grave site. Together, they clean it up and put flowers out. Over the course of time, a relationship began. This neighbor helped Ruslan research and complete the necessary documentation and government paperwork to get housing. Through these simple, daily interactions, a bond formed until they became as close as family.

The last glimpse into the blessing of neighbors I observed was at Luda’s apartment. Through Orphan’s Tree’s Homes4Orphans program, Luda found a place to call home. There is an older woman who lives across the dark, old hallway from Luda. I’m sure she was more protective and aware of Luda than a watchdog would have been. She heard us coming and boldly stepped out into the hallway to see who we were and what we were doing. Once she understood the purpose for our visit, she became warm and welcoming. She invited us in to see her apartment and offered us her opinion and ideas on everything! She attended the dedication of Luda’s home and continues to be a faithful presence in her life.

You may not be blessed with family nearby, or perhaps your close friends all live far away. But do you have a neighbor in need? Have you taken the time to meet them, to offer a helping hand or a warm cup of coffee? God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Consider making it your goal to meet and reach out in some way, big or small, to the people God has placed around you.