Mapping Your Neighborhood w/ Linda Sitterley, Ceeja Malmkar, Bibi Sanchez, & Juanka Barrero
Welcome to the GC Podcast, a podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience. Here are your hosts, Cara Garrity and Christianna Doele.
Cara: Welcome everyone to today’s episode of GC Podcast. Christianna, it is so good to have you here with us today.
I’m wondering what are you celebrating these days?
Christianna: I don’t know if this is the biggest thing to celebrate, but I would have to say the end of exams. You know when you finish a project or a paper and you close all the million tabs you have open on the computer and you put away all the notes and books.
Finishing the exams is really akin to that feeling, except there’s a lot more excitement realizing that you have time off. So that’s definitely what I’m celebrating right now.
Cara: Yes. Amen. Congratulations. And I’m glad that you’ll be able to take a breath and a bit of rest through that.
Today we will be exploring the Love Avenue practice of mapping the neighborhood and what that can look like. What comes to mind when you think about the concept of a neighborhood?
Christianna: In many ways, I think of the concept of neighborhood as tied to community. Neighborhoods are where specific places become the center of engagement, fostering relationships, and developing friendships. So, there’s a sense of connection to the library, the church, even the grocery store, because those are the places that you share with your neighbors. Those are the people that you see and connect with every day.
Cara: Yeah. The sense of shared living. I really like that. And this idea of mapping the neighborhood we’re going to be talking about, but what does that even mean? That’s not really a phrase that I’ve used in my everyday life. Can you expand on that phrase a little bit for us, Christianna?
Christianna: Mapping your neighborhood is like the process of contextualizing and interpreting scripture. Through that process, when we consider the text in terms of original language, the culture, and historical context of the people addressed by the text and the immediate text of the verses that surround it.
That process is similar to when we map our neighborhoods, reading the audience of our neighbors in order to draw meaning from them. Mapping your neighborhood involves considering the numerous aspects that shape the community and your focus neighborhood from ethnic and religious affinities to cultural perspectives, to daily practices.
When we map our neighborhoods, we apply and live out what we learn in scripture in ways that will engage our focus neighborhood.
Cara: Thank you, Christianna. So, it’s like actually getting to know your neighbors and your neighborhood in a real and meaningful way. Let’s hear what our guests have to share about their experiences mapping their neighbors.
Hello, friends and welcome to today’s episode of GC Podcast. This podcast is devoted to exploring best ministry practices in the context of Grace Communion International churches. I’m your host, Cara Garrity. And today we’re doing things a little bit differently. We’re taking the pod vignette style to hear what mapping your neighborhood can look like in different neighborhoods settings.
Today we’re welcoming pastor Linda Sitterley, lead pastor for the Eugene, Junction City, and Salem congregations in Oregon U.S. A. She’ll be sharing from her experience of new mapping, the church neighborhood in these settings. Pastor Linda, thank you so much for joining the pod today.
Linda: Hello. Thank you for having me on.
Cara: And before we get started, I’d love to just hear a quick word: what’s something that’s bringing you joy these days?
Linda: Probably, I would say my reading. I like to read. I’m starting another book club within my fellowship. And music, of course has always been a big thing for me. Even though I pastor I’m still on the worship team, and I’m their keyboardist so they can’t really get rid of me.
Yeah, those things, that and gardening. When it starts to get warm outside, then gardening will step up, and there’s weeds that have to be pulled and stuff. But yes, those are the things that I really find my joy, my peace. My tranquility is in that.
Cara: Amen, thank you for sharing.
And first, before we start digging in really deep, I’d love for you to just tell us a bit about your church neighborhood and the discernment process that went into being in that neighborhood.
Linda: Our neighborhood is the small town of Junction City. It’s about 7,000 people right now. It’s a very fast-growing bedroom community. And it’s situated just north of the Eugene Springfield metropolitan area, which just lies to the south. And because we have a concentration of members in Junction City and the bulk of our membership, just to the south of us, it has been on our radar for quite a long time for Junction City to be that potential target community.
And so, it wasn’t so much a discernment process, but a feel like a move by the Holy Spirit. And I was approached a while back by a member of the congregation to see if we’d be interested in leasing a church on a piece of property that was there in Junction City, because they were wanting to buy it to build a house on it because it would have enough room for that, but they still wanted to keep the church there because they wanted us to be able to have a church home. And so of course I said, yes.
And then just as things have progressed this last year, we’ve been able to actually purchase the property from them. For various reasons, things didn’t work out for them to have a house built there. But it was our blessing to be able to purchase it from them. So that’s where we’re at and that’s really how it all came to be. It was like we wanted to be a part of Junction City, and this allowed us to have it happen.
It was just really, definitely, I think the Holy Spirit inspired everything happening from them wanting to purchase the building, to us being able to really get into it. And now here we are in Junction City where we wanted to be for a long time.
Tim and I have lived in Junction City for over 37 years, really. And our children are raised in the schools there, and our son and his family has still lived there now, actually. It really feels like this is the time, so that’s why we’re there.
And Junction City is in a very interesting town. It’s a farming community, has always been a farming community. It has a lot of other aspects to it as well in that it is a bedroom community. It’s starting to take on a little bit more of that vibe. That city vibe is starting to come into it. That urban vibe is starting to grow because younger people are moving in. It’s a town full of families.
And the schools are overflowing to the point where they’re trying to figure out how they can build more. And so, it’s really a growing town. In fact, it is listed as the number one growing town in the state of Oregon. Yeah. And so, to be here on the cusp of some of that happening is pretty exciting.
Cara: Yeah. And to be able to find a physical location for the church community to meet in a neighborhood that you guys have wanted to be in for a while, and that your family has been rooted in some time. That’s incredible.
Linda: Yes. We have quite a few connections. We’ve got other families, like I said, other church members who live there, as well as a lot of other connections, other friends, and then friends who have friends. There’s really the connection growing—that it just seems that, yeah, this is the time.
Cara: That’s amazing. And so now that you’re in Junction City, and you have this meeting location and now’s the time, what kind of things have you all done to get to know your neighborhood a little bit more? And as you’ve done that, can you share some examples, both of what has worked well and what hasn’t worked well?
Linda: Yeah. What hasn’t worked so well is COVID, that has been—here in Oregon, a lot of the mandates are still in place, and we still have our mask mandates for indoor activities. And there’s still restrictions here, and we don’t want to step on that.
That’s the one thing that has really been on our hearts is to make sure that the community knows that we respect what’s been laid out by our governor and everything. And we don’t want to be disrespectful and have them think that we don’t respect the law or anything like that.
And so COVID has been one thing that’s kept us from really making the big push that we wanted to do. We’ve pushed back any open house or anything until we feel it’s safer to do that. And so that we let the community know that we err on the side of safety.
And that’s where we’re at, but we have done a few things since being there. We have in the past had tremendous success where we were located before doing Easter icons and Easter activities on the day of Easter, and those were always very well attended. And so, we thought let’s see what we can do here. We gathered people together, and we went out in the very early hours of the morning on Easter and hid eggs in the yards of member children’s yards, as well as friends that we knew. And then friends of friends—we’d say, who do you know has children that would appreciate having an Easter egg hunt for the children in the morning?
And so, we did that, and it was interesting to be out in the middle of the night and trying to hide eggs without being—we’re in a small town, and you don’t want to have people going and calling the police on us. But we were able to do that. And we were able to (within those eggs and things) we also had little cards that personally reached out to each of those children with their names, wishing them a Happy Easter.
And then I heard through grapevines, that people were shocked. And others said that their friend broke down in tears and cried because again Easter egg hunts were just put on the back burner for right now because of COVID and everything. And so, they have something in their yard for their children to wake up to was very moving. And so that was successful. And we do plan on moving forward with that as well and seeing what we can do to expand that.
The other was we did a Trunk-or-Treat and that was good. It wasn’t as heavily attended as we had hoped, but it was still successful in that we got people [in attendance] who got eggs in their yard.
And then they came through our Trunk-or-Treat, and then they realized it was us who did their eggs. And they were just like—I had a lady started to cry when I was talking to her. And she was so thankful that we did that for her little girl. And then here they were at our Trunk-or-Treat.
And so yeah, that was good, just making those connections, letting them know that we’re here, this is where we’re at. And so, the Trunk-or-Treat was very successful. We’ve always been very successful Halloween events. (If anything—don’t like to say this, but—all of our Halloween decorations far outnumber any Christmas or Easter decorations that we have.) Like I said, we’ve always been very successful on our Halloween events. And moving to this location, we just decided to keep it as a Trunk-or-Treat, and that was again, a nice moderate success for us. We were happy with it when it was all said and done.
And other than that (again with the COVID), we haven’t really done any more than that. Like I said, we’re hoping to have an open house this summer and really just opening our doors to everybody.
Cara: Yes. And continuing to create those spaces where you’re able to get to know people in your neighborhood. I love that example you shared that somebody who received Easter eggs showed up at the Trunk-or-Treat and was like, wow, it was you guys. And you’re building those connections and getting to know your neighbors in that way. That’s incredible.
And as you’re making these connections and building on connections in your neighborhood, what difference has it made to go into your neighborhood as a learner first?
Linda: Yeah, that was interesting. That’s an interesting question. I know when we’ve got out in the past at our previous location it always felt like a struggle to know, where do we begin? What do we do? How do we—because even back then, we always knew we needed to make a connection, but we never knew really how to start. We knew it always started with prayer and we have done the prayer walks and things like that, but it was always after we did that, it was like, okay, what’s the next move? What do we do next?
And we already found out that, we did well engaging in local community events. We had a small event every summer that we were part of with the city of Eugene that is, like I said, the town that’s close to us. And we were in that event. It was a city-wide event for that particular part of the neighborhood, and we were always engaged in that.
But we would engage it, we would do face painting and rubber band, gun games, and things. And people were always swarming our booth, but we never really made the connection. We just couldn’t find; how do we engage them? How do we bring them back? How do we get them to ask about us? So we were, I don’t know—I always felt like we were missing direction and it just seemed like—I didn’t want to say—we were wasting our time, but it just felt like, wow, we have so much to offer. How can we make it more profitable for people? So, I guess the challenge is now to find the ways to make those connections.
From our time living here—and Junction City is again of a festival community. They’re very Scandinavian. I forgot to mention that, but they are Scandinavian. And every year they have an annual Scandinavians’ festival that lasts for four days. And so here, we’re thinking, wow, can we become involved in that? Is there a way to find our way into the festival?
And then we’re thinking we have the schools. We’ve always done a school thing in the past. Again, getting in there and letting people know who we are, but again, the connection is not made.
And so here we have these schools, but now it’s easier because now we have kids who attend in every level from elementary up to high school. And parents are involved, and they’re involved in all the clubs and the activities. So now we’re thinking, ah, we have a better connection now because of this.
For us, our challenge is: how not to make the mistakes that we made in the past. And now we want to know what the questions are and not going in thinking we already have the answers because we do not have the answers. And we’re looking to know what the questions are. And so, as a learner, we’re looking for the questions. We’re looking, where can we fit in? What can we do? So that’s, I guess where we are in this step as a new church going into a community, and we are trying to be that learner first and not coming in with any preconceived ideas of what we think we should be doing.
Cara: I think that’s so key, Linda. I love that you say that to not come in thinking that well, we have all the answers, but first, what are even the right questions to ask.
Oh, that’s good. That’s good. And then I think that helps. What are the meaningful connections? How do we meet people where they’re already at with the things that are already important to them? And that’s one of the things that I heard that was really meaningful, even in the example of the Easter egg hunt and the Trunk-or-Treat, in your community of Junction City, you mentioned there are a lot of families.
And it sounded like, especially during COVID, families were missing out on something fun that their kids could engage in. And to meet them where they were in that, and to say let’s find a different way to have fun and to build connections and to do something for families. When we go in figuring out what are the right questions to ask, instead of we automatically know all the answers and the right way to do things, the possibilities are endless.
Linda: We took what we knew we could do and what we did well, but we knew we couldn’t do it the way we had done it in the past. And there was no way, without it failing, we just knew that. We just had to come at it at a shorter level, a smaller level and just see. And just say, hey, we’re just going to build on this and let’s just see how it goes. And if it’s a moderate success, it’s a moderate success. And if it fails, it’s gonna fail. And then we just can’t take that on ourselves; it just wasn’t what was needed. And that’s how we’re approaching things, if it fails, that means it wasn’t what was needed for right now.
So, we already knew what we could do, but that was at a different location. Now we’re where we’re at. We’re at home now, we’re home. And now the members who don’t even live in Junction City, but to them Junction City’s becoming their home. And so that is what’s important for us now is getting the rest of the membership to think of Junction City as our target, as our target community.
Cara: Yes. And I love what you said about a failure’s just a failure. And that just means it’s not what was needed. I think that’s so key in this learning posture because we’re just learning: what does our neighborhood need? What is meaningful to our neighborhood? And it’s a posture where we can learn and along the way, we may do something that for the folks in our neighborhood, it just doesn’t connect with them. And that’s okay.
Yeah. And especially like you said, what works in one community or neighborhood might not be meaningful in another, and that’s okay too. How do we keep learning and connecting along the way? That’s great.
As you’ve made these connections, as you’ve come with the posture of a learner in this neighborhood community, how have you continued to develop the relationships you’ve made along the way, or maybe even build some collaborations within the neighborhood?
Linda: Since we like I said, Tim and I had been here for a long time, we’ve already made some connections within the community, just on a personal level. I have a lot of inroads in with some of the local businesses, and with the chamber of commerce, we have connections both personally and business wise.
And I think that for us, it’s important for us to continue to improve those relationships and make them deeper because I believe that, going forward having business on your side is important to an event that you might want to put on to help the rest of the community, because businesses are all about the community as well. And especially in Junction City, like I said, it’s a small town and everybody looks out after everybody. And building those partnerships is very important
And I’m also part of the local pastors’ association. With our group of pastors, when we meet, they always bring in guests from the outside, from the community that attend these meetings as well. We’ve had the chief of police with us on many of our luncheons and people from the fire department, and we’ve had school principals and a lot of people who serve on a lot of the local nonprofit boards. So, we have this group of people all coming together.
And I think that’s one of the good things about being in a small town. It’s that the church isn’t looked down upon by that many people (there are those who do), but for the most part we all work together. It’s all a nice collaboration. And so that’s how you build those partnerships. And I think that we will only continue to build those. And especially as we get past COVID where we can really, like I said, move further out, I think. I’m looking forward to summer and actually some of the events that are going to start taking place because of the warmer weather.
Cara: Yes. And those strategic partnerships can help the church community learn more about the neighborhood. And like you said, position them to serve the neighborhood. Yeah, that’s great.
Linda, any final encouragements or words of advice that you have to share with our listeners today, as they begin to go out and map their neighborhood or get to know their neighborhood, in other words?
Linda: We’ve said numerous times over the years that we should plant a church in this community. We have said it. Tim and I used to joke, we have so many members, we’d always say, why don’t we just… why are we driving all the way into Eugene when we could just have a little church in Junction City?
We’ve made so many connections over the years and to finally see it come to fruition. That to me—I just still can’t get over it! The fact that we are now in our community.
And our challenges going forward would be like the rest of the world, COVID. And once we’re past that, we can make the push that we’re wanting to make. And you know what? COVID has, in some respect, been a blessing because it’s allowed us to get moved into a new building, making the renovations that we needed. And it’s forced us to have this digital presence that we’ve always wanted, and we tried for a long time, but just can never get it right. So, without the pressure of having to hurry all of these projects along and risk them turning out poorly, we were actually able to do it well.
And throughout this process, we’ve come to know so many families in the area, and so we’re really looking forward to opening our doors and welcoming them in. And then hopefully, the community welcoming us into it. So, it can happen; you can’t just say, it’s never going to happen because, oh, I’m the last person to actually believe that this actually happened! It took a long time, but it happened because it needed to be the right time, and it’s the right time.
Cara: Amen. Amen. That’s a good, final word. It can happen! In God’s timing, it can happen.
We’re coming up to the end of our segment where we get a little bit silly. I’ve got a couple of fun questions for you, Linda. No pressure. Just say whatever comes to mind first. You know, after dropping all those wonderful, wise insights, we’ve got to get a little silly.
My first question for you: if you had to play one song or one album on repeat for an entire year, what would it be?
Linda: I was just talking about this to someone else the other day! I know this is going to give my age away, but it would just have to be any Monkeys album.
Cara: Yeah. All right. What item on your bucket list are you most excited about checking off?
Linda: Wow, that’s a hard one. Because I honestly don’t really have a bucket list. Yeah, I’ll have to say that I don’t have a bucket list because for me, it’s every day’s an adventure. And so, I don’t need a bucket list to check anything off.
Cara: I love it. I love it. And then finally, what is your number one must do recommendation in Junction City?
Linda: My number one recommendation is for me to—actually, my number one thing is (I’ve been telling everybody this and it might be silly, but) I want to be in the Christmas parade next year. I want to be in the Christmas parade. That’s my number one, my personal number one goal. I don’t know about the rest of the congregation, but I’m going to be there!
Cara: Ah, I love it. Linda, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been an absolute pleasure.
And next we will hear from Ceeja Malmkar from GC Surrey Hills, Oklahoma.
Ceeja, thank you so much for joining us today.
Ceeja: Thank you for having me, Cara. I’m super excited.
Cara: Ceeja is the Love Avenue champion and the MTC coordinator at GC Surrey Hills in Oklahoma, USA. And today she’ll be sharing her experience mapping the neighborhood in GC Surrey Hills. But before we go ahead and jump right in, I’d love to know Ceeja, what is something that is giving you hope these days?
Ceeja: Man, there’s just hope all around me. For sure I know that all of it, every single bit of it, the source of it is Jesus and the move of the Spirit, but it has just been so evident. I feel like I’ve been given front row seats to a miraculous show of the Spirit, and I’m just so blessed that I’ve been able to have my eyes open in a way to see the miracles that are happening all around me. It is just so exciting to be a part of and to get to witness.
Cara: Amen. Amen. And speaking of witnessing what the Spirit is doing around you, tell us a little bit about your church’s neighborhood and the discernment process that went into being in that neighborhood.
Ceeja: Yeah, so it is a story of God. Absolutely. We have had a small church; it was actually at a double wide trailer house, about three miles west of where our target neighborhood now is. Originally, we were in a very small unincorporated neighborhood, but luck should have it, that we had a few members that actually lived in our neighborhood now, which is Surrey Hills. And over time as we weren’t getting traction from our ministry and our door-to-door and trying to meet the other neighborhood where we were, we discovered that something was happening in Surrey Hills.
There were relationships happening. Because some of us lived here, we were taking the opportunity to get out and get to know our neighbors and our neighborhood. And we just started seeing this beautiful thing of relationship. And I just know that Jesus works through relationship, and as this is happening suddenly multiple of our members just start moving to Surrey Hills.
A lot of the leadership didn’t even know that was the plan. They had already bought houses and were moving before we found out. And so, there was just this move of the Spirit to bring us to this neighborhood. And it was just a beautiful thing. It was undeniable.
We had to experience some doors shutting in our face where we had been for 15 years before that. We had a lot invested there. We were there for 15 years. We kept trying. I believe we were doing all the right things, but it wasn’t in the right place. It wasn’t where God had for us, that he had something bigger and better. And we just didn’t know it. So, we had to experience some of those doors shutting and facing that and facing the truth in that before we could even see the beautiful windows that were opening all around us, pointing us in a whole new direction.
Cara: Yeah. I love that idea of seeing around what is God doing, around what direction is he pointing you in? And so, as you guys started to see and move in the direction that you felt like the Spirit was leading you in, what difference has it made to go into your neighborhood of Surrey Hills as a learner first?
Ceeja: It is I think, it’s amazing. I’ve always said this, how in the Bible you hear Jesus talk a lot about loving your neighbor, right? And there’s this term neighbor, and it is so intimate and so important when you think of the term. And neighbor isn’t just someone who looks like you or who believes like you or who acts like you. Your neighbor is the person living in your community that you’re in relationship with.
And it definitely opened our eyes to this whole new ministry, which has always been Jesus’ ministry. But it took us a while to get that let’s get out and get to know our neighbors. And it was as simple.
I can tell you that my husband and I when we had our babies and they were little, there’s always that driving around in the car to get them to go to sleep. So, every night we would drive up and down every road in Surrey Hills, just to get to know our neighborhood. And then we took advantage of that. If we saw trash, we would stop, but we would pick it up. If we saw a neighbor, maybe unloading groceries, we would stop and ask if they needed help.
If we saw someone outside and working in their yard, we would stop and compliment them on their beautiful yard and their hard work. And before we knew it, all these relationships are starting to happen. And the thing that happens with relationship is trust. And once that trust is there, you get open hearts and open minds, and you just get this sense of community.
I’ll never forget our first official—I like to say it because we tried something once and it didn’t work and I’m going to get to that—but the first thing that did work that we did, is we joined the neighborhood. Instead of having a GC Surrey Hills outreach, we had a neighborhood outreach that was sponsored by GC Surrey Hills and our neighbors.
And we invited the neighbors to come out, and we did a service project on this little, they call it the Hidden Park; it’s hidden in a greenbelt. And it was a beautiful park that it hadn’t been touched in probably 30 years. So, we went in and gave every—cleaned it up, repainted, gave everything a fresh coat of industrial paint, made it much more family friendly.
And we had more neighbors show up to that than we had church members, and we had quite a few church members. That was the first impact that we were like, wow! For 15 years, we have been trying to get our last neighborhood to show up. And this time, they showed up and we joined them. We didn’t ask them to join us; we joined them as well.
And it was the beginning of a beautiful, beautiful story!
Cara: Amen. I’m going to pause for a second, rooted that audio cut out for you as well.
Okay. Ceeja, can you back up? It was just like a quick moment. Should we have her backup? Just a couple sentences so that we can catch all that. Okay.
Back up to that, when you were saying like, that was the first, in our old neighborhood to get them to.
Ceeja: So, for 15 years in our old neighborhood, we struggled by doing these outreaches, trying to get that neighborhood to join us and show up. And this, for the first time we experienced neighbors showing up in a huge way, but not because we were asking them to join us, but because we were also joining them. And it was just the beginning of a beautiful story.
Cara: Amen. The posture of how you showed up in the neighborhood made a difference, is what it sounds like.
Ceeja: It did! It did make a difference because now we’re not just a church trying to get neighbors to come to their church. Right? Now we are a church, a group of people who are neighbors, loving and serving together with neighbors.
And so, it’s not this us-them; it’s this we. We all have this neighborhood in this community in common, and we all have the love of God that holds us together in common, (whether we know it yet or not.) And so, when it became about us and we and joining the rhythms of my community, it was a major change. It was a major shift and it led to some really amazing things to follow.
Cara: Yeah. That’s incredible—to be a neighbor. That’s amazing.
And you alluded to this, what are some of the things that you’ve done to get to know your neighbor and to be a good neighbor? Please share both examples of what’s worked well in your neighborhood and what hasn’t worked so well in your neighborhood.
Ceeja: Yeah. I’ll start off with what hasn’t worked. When we first decided that, wow, let’s maybe let’s test the Surrey Hills market and maybe see if that could be a neighborhood that we also outreach to. We did a little Trunk-or-Treat at our church building in Richland, because that’s the only building we had. It was three miles from the neighborhood. It was out in the middle of nowhere, but it was our building. And it was a great little trunk or treat but I don’t think we had any neighbors from Surrey Hills because we were trying to get them to come to us.
And so, we’ve learned really fast that when it comes to building relationships and, finding your target community, we cannot rely on, “Well, we’ll know when they come to us.” We’ve got to get out there. We’ve got to join the healthy rhythms that are already existing within our target communities.
And the same year that we did that little Trunk-or-Treat, a couple of neighbors in Surrey Hills did their own Trunk-or-Treat. And a lot of people went to that. And I became friends with these neighbors and that’s also a huge thing. It was important to me to find the people in the neighborhood that were the doers and the talkers and the relational people because I knew I wanted to get involved.
I knew I wanted to be a part of what was already happening and hopefully, even with the move of the Spirit, make it even greater and bigger. I was strategic. I’m getting to know people. I used our neighborhood Facebook page to see, who are the people who are heading these up, who were the big volunteers?
I went to HOA meetings. I just went to introduce myself, to hear what was going on, and to volunteer, to help make a difference. That’s actually how we got the park project was I went to an HOA meeting. I listened to what they had going on and I said, “I have a little church and we are looking for ways to serve this neighborhood. We would love to do a work party for your park and open it up to the neighborhood so we can all work together.”
So, it was going out and doing those things. I got to know we have a lions club park here in our neighborhood. I went and intentionally got to know the neighbor that is over the Lions Club Park and the Surrey Hills Lions Club.
And to this day, it is such a beautiful relationship that now one of our long-time members has joined the Surrey Hills Lions Club, and he’s volunteering his time.
I’m a connector, right? My primary voices are pioneer and connector. For me, I am seeing this beautiful tapestry of all of these lines, these connections, like going everywhere throughout the community. And it is undeniable that this is a God thing.
Cara: Yeah, there’s a couple of things that I heard in what you said that I feel are particularly in insightful. One, I heard that the things that you did that were particularly impactful in getting to know your neighborhood, weren’t always events.
Now events are great, right? Like we have some really great big events in the neighborhood. We have a Trunk-or-Treat that over 2000 people come to, and it’s incredible. These events are great, but the reason they’re great is because we already have the relationships. So it’s like a family gathering, right?
Family gatherings can be so much fun, but would it be as fun if you didn’t know those people? They’re fun because of the relationships, getting to come together, and spend time together. And so that takes an initiative outside of the church walls.
This is when it comes even to a personal level. Each of us is called to be the church to our neighborhood, to trust that God placed each of us exactly where we are. And that we are called as individuals to be the church. And before you know it, all these individual relationships, like I said, these connections start happening. It just flows into the life of the local church, and it’s beautiful.
Cara: Yes. Yes. And the second thing that you said that I don’t want to miss is you have to go to where the people are and not expect them to come to you. Join the life rhythms of the community.
Ceeja: Yeah. Yeah. It’s huge. It is so huge. It depends on your community. For example, this is a great example. I’ve always advised people, if they’re going to do a Trunk-or-Treat, and it’s in a neighborhood, maybe don’t do it Halloween night because now you’re trying to compete with the healthy rhythm that the neighborhood already has going, whenever my regular trick or treating is.
So instead of trying to compete, let’s offer something extra so that they can do both. Now, this isn’t always [true]—this is why it’s important to get to know the rhythms of your community, right? Because we have another church [in GCI] that in their community, they did their Trunk-or-Treat on the same night as the Trick-or-Treating, but because of the location of their church, it wasn’t a competitive thing. They added on to it. They were like their own station in the trick-or-treat path.
It’s just so important to get to know your community, get to know your neighborhood, to find out those healthy rhythms and then join them, bring something extra, join it, make it better, make it bigger, more love.
It’s just so important.
Cara: Yeah, I love that because it also recognizes that God is already there. And he’s already doing something. And so how are we participating in what he’s doing in this place that he has brought us as a church community to participate?
Ceeja: Yes. And it can be scary, right?
It’s absolutely scary. It’s so much easier for people to stay in their houses with the doors shut and locked and just go to church on Sundays. That’s way easier, but that’s not who we were created to be. We were created to be in relationship with one another. And it’s just so important to get out of our comfort zones. And really, what is there to be afraid of?
We can’t fail. It’s not possible because we’re not the ones that changed hearts. We’re not the ones that build the church. Jesus is. And he doesn’t fail. There’s nothing to be afraid of outside of our own—we are our own worst enemies when it comes to our fears.
Cara: That’s a good word. And I want to follow up on one of the other things that you mentioned: you were strategic in building some of your relationships in the neighborhood.
And so how have you continued to build strategic partnerships or collaborations in the neighborhood?
Ceeja: Man, it has been incredible! Getting out, like I was talking about earlier, and just being a good neighbor, and getting to know my neighbors. Doing things like starting a Surrey Hills “Meals of love” page on Facebook, so that anyone in the neighborhood, if they were experiencing sickness or tragedy or rough times, we could do a meal train for them, and as neighbors, bring food.
And volunteering at different neighborhood outreaches and events—and that includes things outside of my church. One of the things that we did is we went and assisted another neighborhood church in cleaning up the grounds behind their building, where a private school is.
And it’s being a part of that, you start to build these relationships and before you know it—for me, a great evangelist tool (my secret weapon) is my Facebook, right? I’m becoming friends with these individuals, and we become friends on Facebook. And before I know it, I’m like, oh, they own this business, and they do this for a living, and they do this. Once you get to know them, it was just incredible. There’s businesses! Surrey Hills has so many business owners.
As we started dreaming big and doing some of these big outreaches or events, because I got to know these people, I was able to put out just an open invitation and say, “Look, we want to throw this neighborhood event. We would love some sponsors. If your family or your business would be interested in sponsoring this event, we would really appreciate it.”
And that’s all I had to do, Cara. Because they trusted and because there was relationship there, the first year, I think we had five or six people in the neighborhood who owned businesses or who were private families that each donated a hundred dollars to be sponsors.
Because they did that, and this was a community event, we made sure to honor them with sponsorship signs and Facebook postings and making connections. When someone’s looking for a house cleaner, “Wow! We have this great person in our neighborhood that does this, and she sponsors our community events. What a good neighbor!”
And before I knew it, I don’t even really have to put out posts anymore. Now, I will have a budget for an event, and I will fill up all those sponsorships for that event. Then I get multiple emails saying, how come I wasn’t a sponsor? Can I be a sponsor?
And it’s yes, I’m putting you on my list. So now we have this list of probably 20 or 25 local neighbors who own businesses that want to sponsor any and every event that we will open it up for. This has allowed my Love Avenue budget to be 90% covered by the community that we’re serving.
And now we’re able to take that money that we had budgeted in our budget and pour it back out into the community in other ways, through ministry and connect groups and camps and outreaches and all the other things and to support the other Avenues. It’s been beautiful.
Cara: Yeah. And when the neighborhood sees neighbors being neighbors, that’s compelling. Right? And so those partnerships, man, it just amplifies the ways that you’re able to participate in what God is doing in your midst.
Ceeja: When something big and wonderful is happening, people want to be a part of it. And there’s nothing more wonderful than community and relationship and love, right?
That’s what God has for us. That is the biggest blessing that he has given us is relationship. When we are participating in that and we’re doing these things, it’s just amazing. It’s like casting that compelling vision, and people want to be a part of it. They want to be a part of community.
They want to be a part of neighborhood. So, it’s really incredible to see the Spirit move throughout Surrey Hills.
Cara: Amen. Amen. You love to hear it!
My final question for you, Ceeja, what final words of encouragement do you have to share with our listeners who are maybe beginning to map their neighborhoods?
Ceeja: Yes. My advice would be to be authentic. Be yourself. When you go up and meet somebody, don’t say, “Hi, I’m Ceeja. I’m with Grace Communion Surrey Hills.” Say, “Hi, I’m Ceeja. I’m your neighbor. It’s so good to meet you.”
And then as the conversation develops, they’re going to say, what do you do? Everybody in this neighborhood that knows me, knows my church. It’s undeniable. I don’t hide it. I’m very proud of it, but I also don’t want them to feel like a project as soon as I meet them. And people can sense that. Nobody’s stupid anymore. They get it, they know what’s happening.
So be real, be authentic and watch what Jesus does. Watch what he does!
And pray for God to open your eyes to see the things that he’s doing around you, because it’s really easy to miss, Cara. It’s really easy to get stuck when we see doors closing to be so focused on that shut door, that we aren’t seeing these beautiful windows opening all around us.
It’s so important to open the eyes of our hearts and be willing to accept maybe what God’s telling us, because some of us may not be in our target neighborhoods. We may have an amazing building. We may have an amazing congregation, but if it’s not reaching outside of that, are we willing to listen to the Spirit?
Are we willing to test the waters and possibly see, is there somewhere? It may just be the next neighborhood over. It may be just a couple of streets over, but to open our hearts to what God’s doing and to see what he has for us and to trust that it’s a huge step out in faith. But again, we can’t fail because all we’re doing is joining Jesus, and he never fails.
Cara: Thank you so much for that encouraging and challenging last word. How are we joining in what the Spirit is doing in our midst and not maybe what we would like to do in our midst? Thank you so much, Ceeja, for those insights, but I’m not finished with you yet. I’ve got a couple of random fun questions to ask and yeah, no pressure, just say the first thing that comes to mind. We’re going to have a little fun with it.
First question for you. If you were a wrestler, what would your entrance theme song be?
Ceeja: Oh, I’ve so got this. So, it’s not really a song, but have you guys seen the new—I don’t know if it’s Tiktok or Instagram reels, but there was this lady on Family Feud. And she went into play “fast money,” and she’s like, “Hold up. Holy Spirit, activate! Holy Spirit, activate! Activate! Activate!”
That’s my Title walk.
Cara: That would be fantastic!
Ceeja: That’s my title walk in life. I asked Pastor Joe, if the next time he has me giving a sermon, if I can come out with that playing as my title walk.
Cara: I’d pay to see that. Next question. (I might also pay to see this.) If you could bring back any fashion trend, what would it be?
Ceeja: Oh man, I feel like they’ve all started to come back slowly but surely.
Yeah, probably the big hair. The 80s big hair where you spend like an hour with hairspray and teaser. The reason so is, nobody has a bad hair day because we all are having bad hair days.
Cara: Fair enough. And finally, what is your number one must-do recommendation in Surrey Hills?
Ceeja: Oh, Surrey Hills? Joined the neighborhood Facebook page. You will not get any more entertainment than that. No, the must-do would be—in fact, we’re so blessed because we just built a church on it. There is a beautiful pond nestled, right by the golf course in the heart of the neighborhood. And it is, I believe, the most beautiful and serene place.
There’s a lot of wildlife, ducks, and geese, birds. And it’s just beautiful. And it’s just a place it’s open to community to come and have picnics or fish. That would be the place that everybody needs to visit when they come to Surrey Hills.
Cara: I love it. love it. Thank you so much, Ceeja for sharing and for spending your time with us today. We thank you so much.
Ceeja: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. I always love getting to chat with Cara.
Cara: Join me in welcoming Bibi Sanchez and Juanka Barrero from GCI Bogota [Columbia]. In Bogota, the church is known as Comunión De Gracia Internacional Bogota or CGI Bogota. Juanka and Bibi are part of the worship team. They serve translating GCI material for Latin America, and they are the happy parents of baby Carla. Thank you both so much for joining the podcast today.
Bibi: Okay. Thank you so much.
Cara: Welcome, welcome. Before we get started, I would love to know what is something that is bringing both of you peace recently?
Juanka: I guess definitely our families, relationships, the relationship with God, and to feel that you belong to something special. There’s something special about that sense of belonging of a family, that you matter, that you’re a part of, right?
Juanka: Yeah. I know, say, definitely something really specific. It’s when I have my baby in my arms and she’s sleeping, that’s the most peaceful thing. Yeah. So also, that.
Cara: Amen. Amen. Thank you for sharing that today. We are going to be talking a little bit about mapping your neighborhood as a practice of the Love Avenue.
To begin, can you tell us a little bit about your church neighborhood and the process of discernment that went into being in that neighborhood?
Juanka: Yeah, sure. Maybe the first thing that I have to comment is that we own our church [building], and that’s a blessing. It’s a blessing that, I don’t know, the Holy Spirit just guided my dad. And before we got the opportunity to buy a home, he invested in a church, specifically, a church. It was a Catholic church.
And so, we have this amazing opportunity to have our own place. And because of that, well many, we can consider that place our first home. And regarding the Love Avenue, during the 2021 with the pandemic situation and all of that, the pastoral team gathered, and we had a foundation called “caras felices” (that’s happy faces in English) in which we visited far away neighborhoods and took food, clothes, gifts, music to serve and give to the children in need. And at the same time, talking to the parents about the gospel.
This worked for a while but reading about the Love Avenue concept regarding going to your neighbors and something that is close to church, we knew that it was the for best to reconsider our service to our community. And we discovered some interesting facts about our neighborhood.
Bibi: Yeah, so there is this couple that is in charge of “caras felices / happy faces,” Andrey and Gisella (and Salomé, their daughter). They started mapping important institutions and key points of galleria, which is our neighborhood. So yeah, they also discovered that nearby our church, the mayor changed some institutions that support children, also people with disabilities in some community centers and cultural house in front of our church.
Juanka: Yeah. It’s incredible. We visited that cultural house a couple of times, and it was good. They were a little bit crazy, but they were okay. There are a lot of teens in the neighborhood because of a soccer stadium, and it sometimes get really violent because of the fans.
Bibi: Maybe. There’s also a park when closed, so a lot of teenagers they go in and play soccer.
Juanka: So that was a good start to the process because the mapping was very important. And then another couple, which is Diego and Jenny, both of them are lawyers, and they serve in our pastoral team. And they took this information into account, and they discovered incredible realities in our neighborhood.
They discovered, for example, that some elderly people, that they were the owners of their own houses, they were in need. They were actually living in poverty because of the pandemic situation. Some of them, they’re just really old and they don’t have a lot of family around or they don’t have any relatives. And others, they’re just begging, begging for money, and they go to community diners because of that. So that’s crazy!
Many of these people have been victims of robberies and scams. I don’t know, our neighborhood during the day, it’s kind of okay.
Bibi: But at night! Yeah, it changes a little bit.
Juanka: Yeah, it’s hard. Some of our members, in fact they had stolen the wheels of their cars at night.
Bibi: Yeah. During our meetings at church.
Juanka: Yeah, it was at night, but during the day it’s okay. But all of this was positive because we decided to start this year with a chocolatada. Chocolatada is something—we like to drink chocolate.
Bibi: Yeah, like hot chocolate.
Juanka: Yeah, we invited a lot of people from the neighborhood, and they came, and we talked about plans, and we meet them (some of them.)
It’s really difficult to have a conversation that is enhancing that is positive with them. Many of our neighbors, they’re just not that interested in attending church. But they have received postcards and Christmas celebration invitations.
Bibi: And some information about our church. So yeah, we’re in the process to get them to come to church.
Juanka: Yeah. It has been a slow process.
Cara: No, thank you for sharing that. One of the things that I want to know that I heard that is really incredible is you all had a moment where you paused. And you thought about, we used to do it this way and now we’ve got to think about, what about our neighborhood where our church building is located. Maybe we need to think a little differently. And I think that’s really important to have that moment of maybe we can think differently and see what God is doing right close to where our church meets. That’s wonderful.
And so, it sounds like you have done a lot of learning about that neighborhood and trying to get to know people. And you said trying to get to know their needs. As you’ve done that, what difference has it made to go into the neighborhood as a learner first?
Juanka: I guess it has opened a lot of opportunities with a mayorship and some people from the government, because it turns out that one of our dear beloved servers on the worship team, she has a disability in her eyes. It was very difficult for her to see. And we got like the contact of the person of our neighborhood that was in charge from the government of helping these kinds of disabilities and things like that. I guess I don’t know, as a learner, first it’s overwhelming with all the things that you can do.
And maybe you realize that there’s so many things that you can do outside of church, not inside. And just getting the contacts and scheduling meetings, that has been lately something very positive. And now we are proud of this because we are working with a mayorship and having some training sessions with them. They are helping us with many topics for the young.
Bibi: I will love to say also that when you go as a learner, you stop thinking about what you want as a church for your community, and you start seeing what they really need from us, because that’s really important to stop there and watch them and listen to them.
Cara: Yes. Yes. And so be out in the community learning, instead of, like you said, we can get outside of the walls of the church, there’s much to do in the community as we learn what the needs are. Yeah.
And you’ve mentioned some examples. What kinds of things have you done to get to know your neighborhood? And maybe share some examples of what has worked well and what hasn’t worked as well, as you’ve tried to get to know the neighborhood.
Juanka: Something that has worked very well, is that for some reason, we’re trying to go outside of the church, but there’s this huge missionary group living next to our church. And they’re using our church as their headquarters, but that has brought a lot of teams and a lot of people inside our church. And so, we have meetups, a lot of new people and people that come from different countries, especially from the U.S. I don’t know, it was a coincidence, and the guy in charge is his name is Jesus. Not joking.
Yeah. He’s a cool guy. He’s a Venezuelan, and he’s in charge of a training, some people that come from the U.S. and telling them about the dangers of Bogota, but also about the beautiful things about our country and our city. And so that the church is also giving that service to the community right now.
And that’s one thing that it is positive. Maybe negative things that have happened with the community is that sometimes there are, we have some neighbors that they work in, I don’t know, maybe she’s a nurse. They have these schedules and so on Sundays, they hated (or they used to hate) when we were worshiping because our roof was too thin, but we got that fixed by now. It is fixed now. But they used to complain, why do you have to sing at 8:00 a.m. Sunday?
Bibi: Yeah, the music is so loud, and we hear the drums.
Juanka: But we told him, don’t worry. We’ll try to, we’ll fix that. And now we don’t give an incredible concert at 8 a.m. We tried to just give like sweet melodies.
Cara: Yes. Yes. Even that is an example of communicating with your neighbors and to hear that need of oh, I’m tired at 8:00 a.m. in the morning because I worked all night, and to hear that and to say, oh, we care about you. We’ll fix the roof, and we’ll play sweet melodies instead of a rock concert.
Anything else that you’d like to share that you’ve been doing to get to know your neighborhood?
Juanka: We used to have these incredible—because they were incredible—soccer matches after church. And because as Bibi was saying a moment ago, there’s a park one block away from church.
And although sometimes we saw people fighting, and terrible things in that park, we used to gather there just to play soccer with the church members and also people from the community they joined in. And we ended up drinking water together after the game.
And that was something very special that was going on. But because of the pandemic situation, that was nowhere to be found, we stopped doing that. But we can tell you that right now, our favorite place of the church is the ping pong table that we have. And we invite sometimes people there and some teenagers, they like to just play ping pong.
Bibi: They just go and play. And then we can maybe talk about something about the gospel or something like that.
Juanka: Well, we try. “Matthew 13” but they’re just playing ping pong.
Bibi: Yeah. But at least we have young people there.
Cara: And I think that’s a great example of connecting with people and things that are meaningful to them because you’ve gotten to know your neighborhood, right?
Even that example of having soccer matches, you’ve realized that in that neighborhood soccer is of interest. It’s important to the people in your neighborhood. And so, you meet people where they are at the things that they already care about. And so that’s incarnational.
And that even gets to this question of, when you get to know people in your neighborhood, then the activities that you do as part of the Love Avenue, they may be changed to meet the actual needs. Like Bibi was saying, if people like soccer, then go play soccer. And then the people in the community will come join. If they like the ping pong table, then play ping pong.
And so that, I think that’s a beautiful example of meeting people where their interests are being incarnational in that way. Any other examples that you want to share about how getting to know people in your neighborhood has changed some of the different activities that you do within the Love Avenue?
Juanka: Yes, definitely. Definitely. I used to go—this was a challenge because a lot of people around the corner, there was like an MMA training octagon thing. And so, we went there and studied the Jitsu a little bit. And so, we were talking about the gospel with punches. Giving is better than receiving 100%. But again, the pandemic situation took so many things away. Because of the pandemic, they were broke, and so, they’re not there anymore.
But something that I have to mention that is positive is that many of the houses that are old and very close to our church, they’re being sold and they’re building a lot of apartment complex buildings. And so, I guess that we are seeing that we’re going to have a lot of community around us.
Bibi: Yeah, a lot of families. So, we have to take advantage of that.
Cara: Yeah. And it’s paying attention to how maybe the needs of your neighborhood are changing because of the pandemic even, and how are the opportunities changing. Yeah. But I love that if there’s an MMA training, then you go to MMA training.
Juanka: A couple of kids, they did a graffiti on our church. And five years ago, I would have cleaned that graffiti, but I left the graffiti there. And so now we have a cat.
Bibi: Yeah, kind of like a sticker.
Juanka: They put a cat on our logo, like a GCI, like a cat. I was trying during the week, like to remove it because we were fixing some things about the church with my dad. Two girls, like in a specific moment—that was incredible—in the very same moment that I was trying to remove the cat, they told us, “Why are you removing the cat? Leave the cat alone!”
So, I guess we left the cat there, and I have it now as my profile picture in WhatsApp, because I feel it’s this it’s funny. But they have a sense—that made me realize that they know the church, that they know that there’s a church there. And every time that they pass the cat or the church or whatever they see, but they know that we are there.
Cara: Yes. Building the presence in your neighborhood. That’s good. And as you’ve done, that speaks to the next question I have for you. How have you continued to develop relationships you’ve made as you’ve gotten to know your neighborhood, maybe even building partnerships or collaborations?
Juanka: Yes. There’s a very beautiful example about a family. A family that we were supporting since day one. They lived very near our church, and the lady she’s a hairdresser. And so, she had that business near the church, and we started helping that family in many ways. But I think that the best way that we helped is just opening our doors and being us and just to sharing our relationship with them.
And now I guess I’m proud to tell you that the oldest daughter, she’s part of our worship team and also part of our ministry of GCI kids, and she’s very involved in church right now.
Bibi: And even though they had to move away from church, she’s still coming. Then she is with our church 100% working. So, we’re happy to have her.
Juanka: Yes. Yeah. And so that is a very good example of a family that was from the neighborhood and stayed because maybe because God did what he had to do. And they felt welcomed in our community. And we are all like a family now, she’s part of our family. Whatever she needs, we do something about it. Or whatever we need, she’s like, what do you need?
Cara: Yes, God shows up when we make relationships in our neighborhoods because our God is relational. So, transformation happens when we build those relationships. That’s incredible.
Finally, I have one more question for you, both. What challenges and joys have you experienced while getting to know your neighborhood? Or maybe what final encouragements do you have to share with our listeners today who are getting started knowing their neighborhoods?
Juanka: It’s definitely a challenge to have the time because in our busy world, we have to work, and we have jobs and we have things to attend. And one of the things that I was telling Bibi is that maybe we should move a little bit closer because I feel that living a little bit closer, we will have more activities, more ideas about engaging the community.
So that’s a challenge because we live not that far—it’s 30 minutes away from the church—but it represents time and planning and things. And sometimes during the week, it’s difficult. And so that has to be a challenge and something to consider in the future.
And now regarding the joy of being in that community, while I was very, very happy with the cultural house, in front of the church because there was, they were always bringing musicians and presentations and about different instruments and things like that. They were a little bit crazy, like smoking certain things and just living an open-minded life, but what we were attending sometimes their community presentations, and they knew, oh, those are the weird guys from the church.
And we were starting to plan things. It was going to be awesome, but again the COVID came. And they were broke, and they had to go; now they’re in a different place. Now I think that we have to start from scratch.
Many of our leaders in our pastoral team, they have been incapacitated or they have been in a serious financial issue and they’re not coming back to church.
So, we were thinking about, okay, let’s start this from scratch. And even though we are doing that, planning that, God is wonderful because he has done whatever he’s doing, and people are coming without us doing anything. And so, we can plan a lot of things, and then we have these setbacks because of illnesses or because of financial trials as I was telling you about a moment ago.
And but some people in the community are just aware of us and they’re going to our church. And that’s very beautiful, very empowering for us. And just maybe we’re praying for more hands, more people that want to join the Love Avenue.
Bibi, anything that you want to add to that?
Bibi: Maybe encourage our listeners to keep getting to know the neighborhood, even though it takes time, it is worth it. It is worth it to feel that your church is part of the community, and it’s present.
Cara: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a good word. That’s a good word.
And I want to say that too connects with what Juanka was saying, that I think it’s something to think about with mapping our neighborhoods and thinking about the neighborhood of our churches. That’s a serious challenge to consider: is our church’s neighborhood, our neighborhood too? Do we live close enough that that’s also where we live our lives?
And I think that’s a serious challenge that you’ve named because then that’s the same that helps us do we continue getting to know our neighborhood getting to know our neighbors because like you said, Bibi it’s worth it. So, thank you both so much for sharing those final words and encouragement, but I’m not finished with you.
I do have a few fun questions for you and that you can answer the first thing that comes to mind. I’ll take it easy on you. I’ll take it easy. So, the first question I have is if you could become instantly good at anything, any activity in the world, what would it be? Wow.
Juanka: I guess I would love to parachute.
Cara: Oh yeah.
Juanka: Yeah. I’ve never done that in my life. And I’ve seen some videos and I don’t know if I’m afraid of heights, maybe not, but it has to feel incredible. It has to be incredible. However, I don’t know. I’m a little bit hesitant about that.
Cara: I would be too.
Bibi: Let me think. I don’t know. I will say maybe drawing because I love to draw, but sometimes I feel I don’t have the time to really study that. So, I would love to draw really good right now.
Cara: That’s awesome. I love that. The next question is if you were in the Olympics, what sport would you compete in?
Juanka: I am a very bad player in chess, but I would love to be like a Kasparov or something like that, learn all the moves.
Bibi: I know this one well, I would love to be a gymnast. Yeah. I love that. I love to see that on TV.
Cara: So fun. That’s so fun. All right. The final question.
What is your number one must-do recommendation in Bogota? If someone visits, what’s the first thing that you tell them that they have to do?
Juanka: You gotta be careful with some places, but Bogota’s a great city. And a lot of people are—this is like an international city, so it’s just a matter of knowing which places are you going to visit. But having fun in Bogota is good—it’s because of the people, maybe not the places.
Bibi: Yeah, I will say go to Monserrate. It’s kind of like a mountain, but it’s not that high so you can climb.
Juanka: Yes. But you cannot take the beaten path because there’s a lot of muggers.
Bibi: [inaudible] So I will say Monserrate.
Cara: Okay. I’ll make a note of that. Yes. I’ll make a note. I’ll make a note.
Well, Bibi and Juanka, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. It’s been a delight to learn from you. It is our practice to close the episode with a prayer. And so, Bibi, would you be willing to say a prayer for our churches, our ministry leaders, and our listeners.
Bibi: Okay. Yeah, of course.
Dear Lord, thank you for this place that you gave us today. Please bless all churches in the whole world. And we know that you are working with us, so please keep doing it. We love you God, and we give to you everything that we are and everything that we do. Please bless us all. Amen.
One of the reasons we went vignette style with this particular episode is to highlight the reality that every neighborhood really is unique.
And so, mapping your neighborhood is it’s an exercise of contextualization. What commonalities did you notice amongst the guests Christianna?
Christianna: I think building relationships is something that was common to all of our guests and seems really integral to the process of mapping focus neighborhoods. All of our guests emphasized and demonstrated the importance of seeking to build relationships of trust and compassion rather than developing a relationship that seems focused on transactional engagement.
Cara: Yeah, that is huge. That is a huge thing. That no matter how you’re contextualizing, mapping your neighborhood, and getting to know your neighbors, it needs to be based on relationship because our God is a relational God. Another thing that I noted that the way that they did that was going by going and being in the community, instead of asking the neighborhoods that come to them, and becoming a part of and joining those rhythms which I thought was really a shift in perspective and then learning from their neighbors.
Another thing that I love that I saw as a common thread between those three experiences of our guests was, they were open to God showing them a new way, a new way of engaging their neighborhood or even a new neighborhood, that they ended up settling in as their church’s target neighborhood or the place that their church would call their neighborhood home.
So, I thought that was a really interesting thing, that they were open to discerning where God was leading them to really plant their church neighborhood home. What examples of neighborhood contextualization did you notice that was maybe different between our guests based on their particular neighborhoods?
Christianna: I think one of the things—and this ties into what you had just mentioned about really seeing where you joined into the rhythm of the community—that was something that I recognized as a part of the neighborhood contextualization, that they recognize where they would join the community and engage in a way that was cognizant of current needs and areas where they could collaborate with folks that were already working to help their neighbors and to really be a part of creating meaningful relationships.
One of the examples that I loved was when Ceeja mentioned they helped to clear a park in their neighborhood. And that effort was in collaboration with the community. They understood that working together would benefit their community in a tangible and long-lasting way.
And I think that is a really good example of looking to understand and see where you can join in and not just looking from the inside out, and so looking into the community. So that was a, I think a really great example.
Cara: Yes. That I love how you say, not just looking from the inside out, but really looking into the neighborhood and seeing where you can join in that.
That’s a good way to think about that. And one of the things that I saw with the neighborhood contextualization from these experiences of mapping the neighborhood is neighborhoods really are all different. They have different character, rhythms, interests, and demographics. And so how you get to know one neighborhood is going to be different than how you get to know a different neighborhood.
And then what you learn about one neighborhood is going to be really different than what you learn about a different, another neighborhood, maybe even another neighborhood across town, but certainly another neighborhood across the country or on the other side of the world. And so, the implications of what you learn is going to be different, right?
The activities that they ended up doing based on what they learned or the needs that they saw in their neighborhood, ended up being really different. I heard like soccer versus Trunk-or-Treat versus festival. Can you imagine if we weren’t mapping our neighborhoods, if we weren’t getting to know them and we were doing things that just had no place to land, that they had no interest in them, in our neighborhoods? That would feel disconnected, like, does this church even know us?
Christianna: Right. I think that too ties into your efforts being long lasting and meaningful—when it isn’t just feeling like it doesn’t have a place to land, when you’re thinking about the ways that fits into the existing pattern of the community, that makes it more meaningful. And that makes it something that demonstrates you’re really caring about connecting with the people and families that are in the neighborhood.
Cara: Yes. Yes. And incarnational! Joining in with the rhythms that already exist instead of expecting people to leave their rhythms and come join the rhythms of the church.
Yeah. Thanks for that insight, Christianna. For our listeners who are wanting to learn more about the Love Avenue and what it can look like to map their neighborhood and join in with their neighborhood’s rhythms, where can they go?
Christianna: If you’re a yearning to learn more, visit resources.gci.org/love to explore the GCI Love Avenue resources and the Love Avenue toolkit.
Cara: Thank you, friends. We so appreciate you listening to the GC Podcast. If you’re liking what you hear, give us a rating where you listened to the podcast. It helps us get the word out and invite others to join in on our conversation. So, until next time, keep on living and sharing the gospel.
We want to thank you for listening to this episode of the GC Podcast. We hope you have found value in it to become a healthier leader. We would love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion on a topic, or if there is someone who you think we should interview, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, healthy churches start with healthy leaders; invest in yourself and your leaders.