Here in Hawaii, we live near several military bases. Each summer, there’s a transition when hundreds of families leave, and hundreds of families come. Our church feels this shift acutely. One summer we lost almost our entire children’s ministry team. That was a challenge! In addition to the constant military churn, we also see visitors who are here on vacation or temporary jobs. I love to see these individuals and families, who love God’s church enough to find a local body even though they are far from their own. Nevertheless, I feel a bit awkward saying hello and then figuring out they’re only in town a week or two. Do I go find someone else to greet?
One memory shapes my response to this “temporary” ministry and “temporary” friendships.
Early in my marriage, we moved to a new state, moved into a small house in a quiet neighborhood (on a military base, but that’s not important, actually). I figured it was important to go meet the neighbors, and the moon was right for boldness because I listened to the impulse and went to knock on the door next to ours. A pleasant couple came to the door to chat, and they mentioned that they were moving soon, within a month or two. “Ohh bummer,” I thought, “Well, maybe the other neighbors will be nice.”
Just like that, I left that house making the assumption that the nice people I just met were not worth my time, because they were leaving. Later, I felt ashamed of myself, enough for the memory to stay with me and nudge me anytime I felt like I didn’t have time to show kindness or love. Love isn’t wasted like that.
What I have learned is that God uses moments just as skillfully as years. Every connection with a person, whether a kind word at the grocery store or a sticker given to a toddler next to us on the airplane, can show God’s love in tangible ways, even when we don’t have an opportunity to share names and contact information. Sometimes God gives us glimpses into the long-term effects of those moments, but most often we don’t ever know. God knows, though.
One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard in a church prayer meeting was the pastor who, having met us moments before, said “Lee and Michelle, God brought you here tonight. How can we pray for you?” He didn’t know whether we were temporary or permanent, but he saw God’s providence in our presence. I’d like to be like that, too. We don’t have to overthink this one. If God brings someone your way to love, love them as you have opportunity. Let God figure out how long they stay, or why you’ve crossed paths.
Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.Hebrews 13:1-2