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Who Are Your Neighbors?

What will you do when the house next door brings the world to your neighborhood?


Who are your neighbors?

by Martha Anderson


Imagine the scenario: I am in bed sick with the flu. My husband returns home after attending a men's prayer breakfast at church and informs me that our new neighbors are moving in next door. We already know they are from Thailand, and their son and daughter-in-law have lived in this country for a while.

So I say to my husband, "Oh, I wish I were not sick. I would welcome them in person with cookies or something."

He responds, "But that's not all. There is a crowd of people over there with a Buddhist monk, and they are praying over the property. In fact, the monk is in their backyard right now."

I can't resist. I pull my aching body out of bed, find my camera with telephoto lens, and do what any nosy neighbor would do—I take his picture. Now tell me, who would imagine that in an average community in the middle of New Bern, North Carolina, geographically located on the eastern edge of the Bible Belt, you would find a Buddhist monk praying over a plot of land? Even more important, why would they move in next to us? I know the answer, and you know the answer. Although my family is not going to a foreign mission field, the field is coming to us.


The House Next Door

The house next door has injected itself into our family life many times over the past thirty years. Our first neighbors were Christians who faithfully attended a Lutheran Church. Their two children were close in age with our son, and we have many happy videos of the kids playing together in the yard. I always watered their plants and collected their mail when they were away on vacation.

They were a bit odd at times, though. Late one night not long before they moved, we noticed a light in their back yard. Curious to see what was happening, my husband and I peeked from our garage to observe the wife holding a flashlight as the husband dug feverishly into the ground. Obviously, we have watched too much late-night TV because our first thought was, "They've killed someone, and they are going to bury the body." When no corpse appeared, we decided, "They've buried the family treasures and are digging them up before they move."

Eventually, however, the feverish digging produced a small container from the ground containing Bingo (no pun intended), the family dog that had died a few years before. They were taking his remains to be reburied at their new house. Very odd!

Our next neighbors were just as interesting, but in a different way. They too professed to be Christians, but their church attendance was sporadic (to say the least). They attended a large local church on Christmas and Easter. Our consistent church attendance must have struck a nerve with them, because in conversation one day the wife said to me, "We are good people, even though we don't go to church every Sunday like you."

That statement, of course, opened the door for me to explain to her that "none is good but God," and that I too “am a sinner saved by grace."

Then came neighbor number three and their three-year-old daughter. Caroline, our pre-teen immediately fell in love with the toddler. In time, we all learned to love this family. They were friendly, helpful, dependable, attentive—everything you would want in a neighbor. The husband moved furniture for us one time and even helped my husband wrangle a snake that had invaded our garage. Now that's a true neighbor!

The mother was a professing Christian, but the husband, though gracious and friendly, wanted nothing to do with Christianity or the church. We invited them to attend church with us, and occasionally the mother and daughter would attend. Years passed, and we continued to witness to this gentleman, but probably not to the extent Caroline did. Not only did she play with the daughter, she also witnessed to the parents on a consistent basis. She persuaded the couple to allow their daughter to attend the Wednesday night kid’s program at our church. It wasn't long until the daughter asked Jesus into her heart.

Caroline was elated, as we all were. Miraculously, the father agreed to attend one of her baptismal classes where our minister presented the simple plan of salvation. Did the father accept Christ? No, and sadly the family moved because of a job situation soon thereafter; but thanks to Caroline, the seed of the gospel was sown in the heart of this man.

New Neighbors

And that brings us to neighbor number four, the couple from Thailand—at least that’s what we thought. In the days and weeks that followed the monk’s blessing, we saw no one in the home, no activity at all. With a vigilance that gives new meaning to the term “community watch,” my husband and I kept a keen eye in that direction. Nothing. The mystery of the missing neighbors was not solved until a feature article entitled “Buddhist Monks to Help Asian Immigrants Celebrate Festival Sunday in New Bern” appeared in the local paper. In utter disbelief, we read that on the following Sunday the house next door would host “Songkran,” a Buddhist festival celebrating the new solar year, for as many as 600 Southeast Asians.

The festival is celebrated with water. Statues of Buddha are bathed during the ceremony. Young people pour scented water into the hands of elders and parents as a mark of respect, seeking the blessing of the older people. The writer stated that festival would be “a day of caring, love, and binding among family, community and religion.”

One moment, we were sitting in our den, reading our paper, enjoying a quiet suburban life. In the blink of an eye, our lives changed. “How could these people possibly think the house next door was an appropriate site? Six hundred people! Where would they park? Surely a city covenant or ordinance prohibited such an assembly. What about zoning? What would happen to our property value? How dare they move in next to us and flout their idolatry in our faces! Don’t they know we are Christians, and we live in a Christian nation?”

Upon further investigation, we learned that a private individual had indeed purchased the house. His parents would move in after they arrived from Thailand. But the home would also serve as a weekend dwelling for monks who would periodically “minister” to the Buddhists in our town—the Buddhist version of a “prophet’s chamber.”

Our private rantings soon became a heartfelt cry to God. We prayed, and we fretted. “What are you trying to teach us, Lord?”


Front Row Seats

Festival day arrived. The scene was surreal. The activity next door was incongruous with the traditional neighborhood surroundings. A nondescript backyard had been transformed into a pagan ritual site with all the accompanying colors, smells, and sounds. It was hard to get ready for Sunday school and church that morning while watching the amazing sight from the window: Large marquees, chairs, tables, flowers, colorful flags and bunting, the smell of Southeast Asian cuisine, and the otherworldly music one would expect from such a festival. In the center of the yard stood two large Buddhist statues bedecked with flowers. Nearby was a large vat of water with small tree branches used to sprinkle the water on the statues and other worshipers. It looked like an elaborate movie set. The only problem—this was no movie. It was reality.


Who Are Your Neighbors?

We left for church. (If there was ever a day we needed to go to church, it was that day.) When we returned, cars lined the entire street. Thankfully, none of them had parked in our yard. We ate a quick lunch then settled in to watch from our front row seats!

Two hundred people came to the festival rather than the 600-person throng described in the newspaper. The rituals made little sense. Two monks sat in a tent. People would approach, remove their shoes, and bow with their heads touching the ground. Then they would sit and listen as the monks spoke with them. Eventually, they would rise and make their way to another tent.

One tent covered the food tables. Another contained strange looking boxes. My husband and I concluded that these were offering boxes used to collect money. Children would run to the water vat, fill their cups, and then pour the water on the Buddha statues. Others took the tree branches and sprinkle the water on themselves and others.

While we understood that the festival is as much a part of the culture as it is religion, we were amazed to see several Westerners actively participating. One man of about fifty, a young couple with two small children, and an elderly couple bowed before the monks and gave homage to the statues. Sadly, people of all ethnic backgrounds are deceived by this counterfeit religion.

So, what have I learned from neighbors number four? I am still trying to understand! It does seem a bit ironic, however, that our daughter Caroline, who witnessed so well to neighbor number three, is majoring in missions at Gateway Christian College in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with hopes of becoming a career missionary.

She served as a missionary intern for eight weeks last summer in Japan,* working closely with Shannon Little and Josh and Alicia Crowe. Maybe God allowed her to experience just a small taste of the paganism she encountered in Japan, preparing her for the future.


Lessons Learned

Perhaps God will give us an opportunity to connect with our neighbors, although it’s hard to witness to a house rarely occupied…and how does one go about witnessing to Buddhist monks anyway? Yet as I reflect on the experience, I realize that our neighbors over the decades have taught us some unforgettable lessons:

  • As a Christian, I am in a minority.

  • Idolatry can appear in many forms.

  • I have to love my neighbors though I do not love their lifestyle.

  • I have a new appreciation for the culture shock missionaries experience.

  • My neighbors are not here by accident.

  • People are watching me.

  • Praying for my neighbors automatically gives me a burden for their souls.

  • I will give an account to God for how I witness to my neighbors.

  • Building relationships with people is the core of evangelism.

  • God is in control.

Am I doing all I can do to witness to the people in my neighborhood? No. Do I want to do more? Yes. Am I open to creative ways to reach these souls? Yes. Will God give me wisdom as I seek to do His will? Yes.

Colossians 4:5-6 reminds me of the urgency and responsibility to be a good neighbor, to tell those who live near me about the love of Christ. “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”

How can I fulfill that verse with non-existent neighbors next door? The answer is simple. I need to have a 360-degree witness. Across the street, a single father is raising his daughter alone. Beside them, an elderly lady is caught in the deceptive web of a popular cult. On the other side of us lives a retired couple that faithfully practices a works-based religion.

You know those cookies that I wanted to bake for the neighbors when I was sick with the flu? I think it’s time to start the oven. I’m going to be busy!


About the Writer: Martha Anderson teaches English at Ruth’s Chapel Christian School in New Bern, NC. A member of Sherwood Forest FWB Church, Martha is the church pianist and teaches Sunday School.


*Learn more about the College Missions Program (CMP) at



©2010 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists