Recently on a Monday night, one of regular friends at Next Door, Renee, invited someone to join us for dinner. Renee, who has experienced profound pain in her life, had met this other woman the day before, when she found her distraught outside the local McDonald’s. Renee approached this stranger, told her she looked like she needed a hug, and then hugged her and listed to her painful story. She then followed up with her the next day and brought her to dinner.
The woman came to dinner, albeit with trepidation, not knowing what to expect. What she received was a warm welcome, people to listen, people to pray, and assurance that she will not travel her long lonely path alone. While her story is painful, I came away from the night encouraged. Encouraged that this woman came to us despite the awkwardness she felt, but more, encouraged that Renee, who has come to us at Next Door for support and encouragement in her own life, showed the capacity to love someone in need. While so many others would have, and did, ignore her, Renee took the time to be with her. Not only did Renee make herself present to this woman, she showed enough confidence in us at Next Door that she handed this woman over to our care.
I recently came across the metaphor “faithful presence” to describe the position of the church in secular culture. On a smaller scale, this metaphor describes Renee and her response to this stranger. To be faithfully present one must be in proximity to the other, and both sacrificial and loving. While it would be easy for Renee to act in the way of a self absorbed victim with nothing to give (after all, her own struggles are not behind her), she chose instead to be present to this woman, sacrificing her own time and extending love. She gave her a hug, an ear and a drive home. It was a missionary moment.
I have a new and deeper appreciation for Renee. I am also thankful to know that the work and spirit of Next Door extends beyond our official hours and beyond our official volunteers. Rather, people like Renee, mobilized by the love she has experienced at Next Door, carry the missionary work forward, being faithfully present in the lonely places that surround us. Like our local McDonald’s.
 Not her real name