My young daughter Ruby and I were going for a long stroll in our neighborhood where we were intentionally practicing missional living as leaders of NieuCommunities church. We did so as my wife, Janny, put in one of her last long days of work before going on maternity leave for the birth of our second daughter, Rosie. Knowing that our time as a family of three was quickly coming to a close, I walked hand in hand with my little gal with a bit more sacredness.
She stopped regularly to smell flowers; she sang songs; and she was convinced it was her mommy’s birthday, so she made sure to pick the perfect bouquet of flowers (most of which were just pretty weeds) to surprise her when we got home.
As we stopped yet again on the sidewalk, stalled by another “distraction”—this time it was the plants growing out of the dirt in the cracks of the concrete—I saw an older woman walking toward us with two shopping carts full of all sorts of useful contents. As she got closer to us I noticed that she had to push one about 20 yards and then walk all the way back to the other and pull it up even with the first. This happened over and over and over. It was her reality. There was nothing strange about it to her, it was just one of life’s necessities.
With Ruby still captivated by these mini-gardens sprouting from the concrete road, I said hello and we shared a smile. Ruby then looked up and said hello as well. Ruby and I were in no rush (clearly!!), so I asked if I could pull one of her carts for her as she slowly made her way to her destination. She didn’t hesitate for a second, smiling as she nodded.
The woman pushed one cart, I pushed the other cart, and Ruby pushed the stroller as we slowly moved down the streets of our shared neighborhood. She didn’t speak English, but quickly asked if I spoke Spanish. I knew enough to tell her that I didn’t know it well, but would love to give it a shot. As we walked, we stumbled through a conversation that ranged from what I do for work to how old her six kids are and where they live. Ruby never seemed to flinch at the surprise interaction and remained focused on her new and important responsibility of pushing her stroller.
Pulling up in front of one our neighborhood coffee shops, I told the woman that Ruby and I were going to head in and I asked if she’d like a drink. Extending a beautiful, almost transcendent smile, she shook her head and we began to part ways. Mustering up my best Spanish skills, I asked her name and formerly introduced myself and Ruby. Her name is Alecia.
Alecia, Ruby and I all share a neighborhood. In many ways, we share life together even if we don’t often realize it. As Ruby and I sat in the coffee shop, I realized the significance of knowing our neighbors’ names. For some, it is an act of being known. For others, it is an act of assigning dignity to one that may otherwise not have much offered to them based on their race or socio-economic reality. It is what it means to see all people through a shared humanity. A humanity illumined by the image of God resting within each one of us.
It is sacred ground. It is Kingdom ground. It is learning the many names of Jesus that we choose to engage or ignore in our everyday coming and going.
I started a note in my phone called “Names to Remember” after our interaction. Because next time Jesus walks up to me with one-too-many carts to push on his own, I want to be able to call him by name and celebrate our time together.
— by Jon Huckins
Huckins is the co-founding director of The Global Immersion Project, Missional Leadership Coach with Thresholds, family man, speaker and author of “Thin Places” and “Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling.” jonhuckins.net