I enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day because it presents an opportunity to show love to those I care about … and eat chocolate, too! I will always try to remember my wife, daughters and those closest to me on Valentine’s Day. But what about my neighborhood? If you’re like me, I don’t associate Valentine’s Day with showing love to my neighbors, but shouldn’t I?
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” Matthew 22:37-40.
In the passage above, Jesus was saying, “Don’t stop at just loving me, love those around you, too.”
I have the privilege and responsibility of being a covenant member in a young church whose mission is “to love God, love people and love community.” From the beginning, it has been our goal to show our love for God by serving our community and those in it.
One of the many ways that we loved and served our community early on was to spend afternoons tutoring children in the local elementary school. The elementary school we chose to serve was struggling because very few parents were involved, many of the students were new to the U.S. and learning English as a second language, a majority of its students were on free or reduced lunches and academically they were only in the 14th percentile statewide.
Our willingness to serve and love the children opened doors of trust with the faculty who were curious as to why we cared so much. Our tutoring helped those students who were falling behind to catch up while discovering that someone genuinely cared about them. It provided opportunities for sharing Christ and inviting families to join our community of faith. It encouraged the teachers and faculty who had become so discouraged in their work.
Showing God’s love to the school greatly benefitted them … and us. That school was recognized as the greatest success story in the district. Its growth surpassed 90 percent of the elementary schools in the state, earning it a special distinction as a “High Progressing” school — finishing in the 71st percentile, up from the previous 14th.
Wow, what a difference our involvement and service had made! The principal attributed the amazing turnaround to a team effort and thanked the church’s volunteers for loving the students and showing them the love of God.
Our service through the school allowed me to see first-hand how loving our community opened doors that would have otherwise remained closed.
I saw the smile of a child who finally understood how to complete his homework assignment.
I discovered what it meant to love your neighbor and most importantly, I witnessed people coming to faith in Christ because we loved God, people and our community. Let me challenge you to love your neighborhood this Valentine’s Day … and eat chocolate, too!
Eric Allen is the missions mobilization team leader for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.