How did Love Thy Neighbor start?
The whole concept began in the late 1990’s as an attempt to find Jesus Christ/God and if they were real. I had been through some difficult times in life and realized I needed to find if there was a God. I had been asked by my best friend Brad Feiman, who is of Jewish descent, to be in a men’s group discussing life and God. Neither of us was certain of our beliefs at the time. We would meet once a week to discuss what was happening in our lives and God always seemed to be the focus. The two other men were strong believers in Jesus Christ (son) and God (Father). Pat Lloyd had a band and still does (One Tree Hill) that played music about the Lord all over the southeast and that was how he made his living. It was outside what I thought of the Lord that simply playing music for the Lord would be enough to support your family. He had been doing it for six years at the time (1999) so I figured it must work. My thoughts about what God could do in a person’s life might be incorrect. David McDaniel was the other individual, and he had an incredible knowledge of God and the Bible. Whenever we had a question he had a place to direct us. We searched out every nook and cranny of the Bible. Anything that was weird in the Bible we went to see in real life if possible. I went to a church in Peachtree Corners (Atlanta, Georgia) where they spoke in tongues to see what it looked like and whether or not it was all just a joke. During the church service one person spoke in tongues and another interpreted just as it says we are to do in the Bible (see 1 Corinthians 14:27 NIV). It did not mean a whole lot to me and was unusual. However, what I found in the church was a welcome and love by the people in the church I had never seen at the church I was attending at the time. My church was all white and if you were different, they were not terribly interested in you. This church had people of all races getting along very well (much like what the Bible says church should be). They were so nice and asked me to come back. That really got my attention. Another time we drove all night to go to a church in Florida where healings reportedly occurred. No healings occurred that night but we came to the conclusion God was everywhere and we did not need to leave Atlanta just to find Him. Ultimately, we spent a great deal of time reading the Bible and searching out the meaning for our lives.
One parable Jesus tells (Luke 16:19 NIV) talks of a rich man who ignored the incredibly poor man sitting at the end of his driveway. The next scene starts, “The rich man also died was buried. In hell, where he was in torment….” After reading that I was so convicted. I had been in downtown for 16 years (in 1999) working and had ignored all of the homeless people sitting on the streets as I walked by. I acted as if they were just objects to be gotten around and not human beings who actually might need help. I decided the only way I would ever find out if Jesus/God were real and the Bible was true was to do what Jesus says no matter how strange. This is the origin of the name of the ministry Love Thy Neighbor (see Mark 12:29 NIV). Initially we just gave away money just like Jesus said to do, but that alone did little to change people’s lives. Then we became an organization to help people. Helping alone also did little to change a life. Finally, after several years some of the people we helped went to Christian recovery centers and would come back to us to thanks us for the help. They would tell us the little help was the beginning of the new direction in their lives. The real big change however came when they began to follow Jesus Christ. Over time it became clear that we were not focusing enough on Jesus Christ and God. We changed the direction of the ministry to point everyone to Jesus Christ/God. Once that happened lives began to change in huge ways. The Lord had been teaching us but we were slow to learn. We also noticed that whenever someone got well often their pride would lead them to put down the Bible, stop praying, stop going to worship and leave Jesus Christ/God in the background. Whenever that happened their lives would just completely fall back apart.
What have we found over the past 8-10 years? As odd as it sounds a spiritual battle is going on for every person’s soul here on earth. The battle ground is in a person’s mind. Whatever you believe will direct your choices every day. The Bible (God’s word) says Satan (the devil) is the father of lies (John 8:44 NIV). His desire is to keep us from Jesus Christ and God by confusing us. He can confuse us in an endless number of ways. The most common for Americans is through the pursuit of success, money, power, sports, shopping (possessions), sex, drugs, alcohol, pornography or whatever else we use to try to fill up that empty hole in our heart. The Father (God) actually put the empty hole in each one of us when he created us. The hole can only be filled by a relationship with Jesus Christ/God. I have found this in my own life and as well as in the lives of the homeless we serve. The world (Satan) has convinced them they have no value. Most homelessness is caused by child abuse (physical, mental or sexual). This starts the process of convincing these individuals they have no worth. Since childhood is so terrible often consisting of foster care without parents in their lives they cannot wait to get free of the place they are being raised. The result is a person with a low view of themselves, no education and little choice. They leave their crazy home environment completely unprepared. The first time they do any drug or drink alcohol, the pain of life is gone and they feel great. This of course does not last the farther down the drug or alcohol path one travels. The drugs and alcohol are simply used as pain killers for their mind when sober. DRUGS & ALCOHOL ARE NOT THE PROBLEM BUT ONLY A SYMPTON. This is true of anyone you know who has a drug or drinking problem. It is the pain in their mind from the life they have been through making them desire the pain killers (drug and drink). However, as they attempt to navigate life with no education and little skills or ability, they are forced into a life of lying, stealing, conning, or selling their bodies to make a living. They feel the shame and guilt of such choices just like you and I would. God made us all the same. In order to do what they think is required to live; they drug and drink even more to kill the guilt/shame of those choices. The spiral continues downward for years. We have helped people who have lived this kind of life since their teens and are now in their fifties or sixties. The introduction of Jesus Christ into a life makes all the difference. The process is the same for every human being. First, accept Jesus Christ death on the cross as the full and final payment for all of your sins past, present and future. Once you do this Jesus then calls each one of us to forgive ourselves. Since the Lord of all creation has forgiven you, you can forgive yourself. This often takes time for a person to consider and accept. For the homeless we serve with drug and alcohol problems, we get them into the existing Christian recovery centers. For those with the worst long term problems we send them to Chicago or Miami to recovery centers. Being in another city frees an individual from the burden of knowing every place where drugs or alcohol are located and the people who like to drink or do drugs with them. Finally, as we are forgiven people we are each called to forgive every person who has ever done anything to us. This is the last and greatest process in the freedom of Jesus Christ. Most of the homeless have many people who have abused them in the past. Forgiving them and themselves gets rid of the pain in their minds and ultimately removes the need for the pain killers of drugs & alcohol.
The path of seeking, finding and accepting Jesus Christ & Father can take extended periods of time. We stay connected to individuals for years if necessary to direct them to Jesus through our loving actions. We do everything a parent would do in service to the homeless individual. The result is they come to believe we actually mean what we say about Jesus Christ and his love through our consistent actions and love to them.
May God bless you
John Chapman Jr.