By Jay Francoeur, Missional Living Catalyst, BRN South Jersey
“I don’t know why you treat me the way you do. You don’t have to.”
I heard this statement many times over the course of a year from our friend and neighbor, Jim.
Jim was a 59 year-old, autistic man who lived in a one-bedroom apartment across the street. He lived alone, watched TV alone and ate most of his meals alone. His only living relative, an older sister, lived 5000 miles away in Hawaii.
As God convicted our family that he was leading us to live on mission in our neighborhood, we expected to meet people who looked like us: young families with young kids who had well-paying jobs and showered every day. Jim did not fit the bill.
What never occurred to us is that, on his mission, God was committed to changing us as much as the people we were sent to. This reality began to break in at one of the first events we held in our neighborhood.
It Began on Halloween Night
For Trick-or-Treat we decided to go big serving the kids of on our street. We had the best candy on the block, “do-it-yourself” s’mores, hot cocoa, cookie decorating, and hot dogs for the hungry parents who were rushed out the door by their sugar-craving kids. The goal was to bless our neighbors and foster community.
Jim, intrigued by the utter weirdness of this spectacle, came over to see what was happening. Even after everyone else left, he stayed. Before heading home, he asked us, “So when are we doing something like this again?”
During that year, Jim became family to us. We had dinner with him almost every week. We invited him to birthday parties, barbeques and trips to the zoo. He came over to play with our son and I went to his place to watch movies. Jim loves movies. Anything you would do with family, we did with Jim.
That’s not to say Jim was easy to be around. He was often negative, self-deflating and crude. My wife and I had several complaint sessions after evenings spent with Jim. “We’ve had enough,” we’d say. Each time, we were graciously reminded of Jesus’ love for us. There was nothing lovely in us when God redeemed us. He knew how messy we were, we are. Yet, he never gave up on us. How could we, as his sent ones, give up on Jim, whom he loves too?
It was in those conversations that God steadily and patiently changed us. He gave us his heart.
Jay serves as the Missional Living Catalyst for BRN South Jersey as well as Lead Pastor of Cultivate Church. He and his wife, Mandy, live with their two boys in South Jersey.