Who is my neighbor?

Guest post by Tami Arceneaux, At Our Table

Many of my ministry friendships were formed over email and Skype calls instead of coffee at the kitchen table. Despite the fact that I’ve never met many of these women in person, the Spirit forms an instant bond and we become real-life friends through shared prayers, similar goals, and common struggles. A comment on a blog post led to my friendship with Tami Arceneaux from At Our Table, an online community that seeks to equip women through God’s Word, cultivate authentic friendships, unite for the sake of the gospel, and link arms to do good in their community.

They had plenty of opportunity to link arms during the floods that ravaged their Louisiana community last summer. In this guest post originally published at At Our Table, Tami shares just how far a real neighbor will go.

In August 2016, South Louisiana was hit by record breaking rainfall that was so widespread it covered nine parishes. Early reports were that an estimated 31% of homes in those nine parishes were flooded, some parishes being hit harder than others. In my parish alone, 86% of homes and businesses were affected! This community was drastically changed! Six months after the flood, most of my neighbors’ houses are still scarred, empty shells—phantom-like reminders of what they used to be, with their former inhabitants still scattered and displaced. My immediate neighbors’ houses are in the process of being torn down because the river current utterly destroyed them. Since the flood, I continue to ask,

Lord, who is my neighbor?

A lawyer once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered him by telling a story about a man who was attacked while travelling alone. The attackers robbed and beat him. A few “good” people saw the injured man as they traveled by, but rather than helping him, they chose to ignore him, leaving him to die. An unlikely helper, a Samaritan, came along and rescued the man. He bandaged his wounds and gave him a place to rest, so that his wounds could heal. This Good Samaritan saved the man’s life without hesitation. He saw a stranger’s great need, had mercy on him, and immediately went to work meeting the man’s need.

Usually, when I read about Jesus teaching the lawyer what it means to love his neighbor, I identify with the people who were given the opportunity to be a good neighbor to the injured man. I’ve wondered what I might do in that situation—always hoping I would be a good neighbor when the opportunity arose.

Lord, who is my neighbor?

As soon as my husband and I learned the Amite River was going to flood, we went shopping in a torrential downpour to purchase “comfy” mattresses so that our home could be a refuge for family and friends who were sure to be flood victims in the coming days. Our house is built about nine to ten feet above ground, with an apartment and storage on the ground level and our living quarters upstairs. The thought never occurred to us that we would be rescued by neighbors in a bass boat less than twenty-four hours later, with nine feet of river water rushing between us and our lawn. The rising river had converged with flash flood rainwater, proving to be a combination that brought unprecedented and wide-spread flooding. Instead of our home being a refuge, we had become refugees in search of a place to wait out the storm.

Lord, who is my neighbor?

After our rescue, we found refuge at my sister-in-law’s home several miles away. We had spent hours surrounded by the deep, churning current of the Amite River, so we found it difficult to comprehend that we were on dry ground and were no longer in danger of rising water. We were assured our refuge was not within the 100 year flood plain. We could sleep knowing all is well. Only a couple of hours after we surrendered to sleep, we were awakened by the panicked voice of my brother-in-law alerting us that somehow water had begun to surround the house and we needed to leave soon! But where could we go?

Lord, who is our neighbor?

As God would have it, only a couple of miles up the road on a slight ridge lived a friend who had slept with her phone by her pillow in case anyone needed her during the night. At 1:30AM I made the desperate call. “Can you take us in? There are eight of us, plus two dogs and two cats.” Without any hesitation, she said, “YES!”  An hour later, my family and I were given a place to lay our heads and rest. Some slept on cots, some on air mattresses, and some on living room furniture, all thankful for refuge from the storm. I remember our gracious hosts apologizing for not having a “comfy” bed for everyone instead of cots and air mattresses. In that moment, I gained more insight into hospitality than I had ever known. After all we had been through, it didn’t matter what sort of bed we slept in. What mattered was that someone had opened their home to me and my family in the middle of the night. Like the Good Samaritan, their compassion moved them to care for us, even though it meant they would surely be inconvenienced. The words of Jesus in Matthew 25:35 came to mind. “For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

For several days, we sheltered with this generous couple as the waters continued to rise across nine parishes. They cooked delicious meals for us and made sure we were as comfortable as we could be. We were beginning to hear reports of shelters flooding. Helicopters flew overhead as they rescued people off nearby rooftops. Hundreds of people, including people we loved, were stranded in their cars for days! Our hosts continued to take in refugees from the storm. At one point they sheltered fifteen people, five dogs, and two cats! It didn’t seem to matter to them that some of these people sleeping in their home were strangers.

There are literally thousands upon thousands of flood stories like mine. Looking back, I recall stories of other people whose homes didn’t flood taking in strangers, of motorists stranded for days sharing what little provisions they had with each other, of people who had lost every earthly possession rescuing others, and one person even gave his life to save a desperate woman and her child.

In the midst of the flood event a young friend genuinely asked, “How can this possibly glorify God?” I know there is still much to learn as we process this catastrophe, but in every flood story I see God’s nature displayed through people created in his beautiful image—people like the Good Samaritan. I’ve seen mercy, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, provision, protection, refuge, comfort and love–all characteristics of our Creator. Every good characteristic mankind has brings glory to God as it points us back to Him. As I continue to ponder what it means to have witnessed these things with my own eyes, the final words of the Good Samaritan story echo in my mind. “Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’ ” Luke 10:37b

Lord, who is my neighbor?

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