At first, some drivers are annoyed by his seemingly foolish act, but eventually, they start to wave back. It doesn’t take Bill too long to realize how every driver enjoys being acknowledged even though they have no idea who Bill is. So, he shows up the next day on the same spot to do the same thing. Soon, he becomes the talk of the town and even radio talk-show hosts begin to talk about the “Heat-Waver”.
For me, it all started one Saturday in 1998 when Karen and I decided to start a Bible study at our house for unbelievers, pre-Christians, non-Christians, or whatever is politically correct to call those who don’t follow Christ.
After 2 hours of discussion, we realized, as great as our attempt was, we didn’t know too many non-Christians. We worked with Christians, served Christians, went to church with Christians, socialized with Christians, ate and drank with Christians, and, consequently, had very a few non-Christian friends. Like most Christians, we lived under an illusional bubble called “Christendom”— a bubble that separated us from the real world and limited us in fulfilling the Great Commission.
As we were trying to figure out where we could find more unbelievers, one of us (I don’t remember which one) said, “Hey, what about our neighbors?” “Oh, yes! What a novel idea,” I thought to myself. However, the idea was NOT that novel.
After 8 years of living in our neighborhood, aside from the next-door neighbors on either side of our house, we barely knew anyone in our neighborhood. Why? Because we were too busy serving at the church.
So, that very day I went house-to-house on our block to invite neighbors to our home for dinner. That was the start of one of the greatest decisions Karen and I have ever made: loving our neighbors by befriending them.
In 2006 when I lost my job working for a Christian organization, I became a full-time househusband, which helped me get even more involved with the lives of my neighbors, or anyone I ran into in my neighborhood. I started my own “Heat-Wave”. I began to wave and say “hi” to anyone who drove or pass by our house. When I took my dog, Cocoa, for a walk I made sure to greet everyone I met on the street and it didn’t matter if I knew them or not. Everybody deserved to be waved at and greeted.
At first, there were some who didn’t wave back. After all, this is Los Angeles. Within some cultures, to show your teeth as the result of a smile is considered a weakness, but I kept waving and greeting. It didn’t take very long before almost everyone in the neighborhood started to wave back and came to know the man and his Chocolate Lab.
Today when Karen takes Cocoa for a walk, it’s not unusual for strangers to walk up to her and say, “Hi, Cocoa!” and then, immediately look at Karen and say, “Where’s your husband?” But wait, there’s more…
As I got to know my neighbors better, our relationships deepened and I was allowed to ask questions of them. You see, when you show people you care enough to acknowledge them even if it is by a simple wave or a greeting, they will eventually open up to you. It did take a while, but little by little, neighbors began to pull over or stop by to talk to me. Our conversations would go something like this:
Me: “ Hi, my name is Shah. What’s your name?”
Neighbor: “‘Jack’! It’s so kind of you to wave at me every day when I go by your house. Good to finally meet you.”
Me: “What do you do for living, Jack?”
Jack: “I’m an engineer. What do you do?”
Me: “I’m a writer. Here, I have a gift for you.” Going to the garage, I come back with a copy of my book and give it to “Jack” as a gift.
I don’t need to SHARE the Gospel with Jack, whom I just met. My book will eventually do that. For now, I want him to understand how important he is to me. Important enough that every time he runs into me, or drives by my house, he’ll be greeted by a wave and a smile as a significant person.
It’s one of those pleasant June evenings in Los Angeles. Many of our neighbors are out for a walk and I’m playing with Cocoa on the front lawn. She loves to fetch her red ball. As I look up, I see Jasmine approaching me.
“Cocoa,” she screams. I don’t think she remembers my name, but Cocoa she remembers. It must be Cocoa’s color that does it, or maybe her loving demeanor.
“Where’s Victor?” referring to her husband, I ask.
“Didn’t I tell you?”
“Victor was diagnosed with, how do you say? The blood cancer.”
“You mean leukemia?”
“Yes, that’s it. He’s very weak and can’t walk with me.”
“Will you let me pray for him?” I ask as I reach over, grab her hands and begin to pray.
Jasmine walks away with tears in her eyes thanking me.
A few minutes later Kevin pulls up. He’s my neighbor around the block.
“How are you, brother?” He’s been calling me that ever since I got to know him.
“Hey, have you lost any of Vicky’s dogs lately?” I teasingly ask him.
A few weeks earlier as I was walking Cocoa in the hills across the street from our house, Kevin approached me with tears in his eyes.
“Brother, I need your help?”
“As you know, my wife, Vicky trains dogs. Well, a few minutes ago, one of them ran away from our house.” I’ve been walking up and down the block, but can’t find him.
Without asking a word, I put my hand on his shoulder and begin to pray for the dog to come back.
That night my neighbor, Jeff, on the end of the block finds the dog.
As Kevin drives away, I suddenly realized: I may not have a church building, but I’m the block’s official pastor.
PS: This morning Jasmine told me Victor’s doing much better.