Why Proximity Matters
I still remember the day that we were given our own mailbox at the school. The secretary came and found me and said, “Lisa everyone is looking for you when you’re not here and need a place to leave notes for you. So, I’ve made you a mailbox.” She took me down the hall to the teacher’s workroom. You remember this room when you were in elementary school. The one with the big loud laminating and copy machines, the paper cutter that will take your arm off and those glorious large rolls of colored paper. I was always enamored by this room as a child and just sure I would immediately be struck by lightning if I ever dared to step a foot inside the door.
We had become a significant part of the school, a member of the team
I followed behind, as we turned the corner I could see all of the labeled staff mailboxes. Mr. Smith, Mrs. Garcia, Mrs. White and right there with them… SHINE. It might sound completely ridiculous, but at that very moment my heart jumped out of my chest. We had become a significant part of the school, a member of the team, so much so that we needed our own mailbox. I thanked her. I was so grateful that she had taken the initiative to do this for us. Very shortly after that they gave me an office in the school.
We just kept showing up
Unprecedented. A local church with an office in a local school. A year later we had a Shine portable where we held an after-school mentor program. People from other churches kept asking us “How did you do this? How did you make this happen?” The answer is very simple. We just kept showing up. And we kept showing up saying, “You are the expert, how can we help?” It took quite a bit of time to get here. We had to prove that our agenda was simply to support their goals and their school. They were hesitant and they told us this was not what they were used to. But no matter what they needed we just kept showing up.
We had to prove that our agenda was simply to support their goals and their school
Over the course of my first year in that school I made some life-long friends. The family liaison and I spent a lot of time working together. We became great friends and not because that school or the staff was my project, but because when you spend your time in close proximity to people something happens. You start to share your stories. We got to know each other and our kids and husbands and things about our past lives.
You start to share your stories
The fourth-grade teacher was a hoot. She was always so appreciative and kind and I loved her style with the kids in her class. It was magical. And the kids LOVED her. The redirector was a spiritual giant and I often found myself in her office with the door closed praying with her. She counseled me at times and I needed her wisdom in my life. She also had a special bond with the kids. As a student, you didn’t want to find yourself in her office. That probably meant you were in trouble. But she had the precise recipe of loving firmness that the kids soaked up like a sponge.
It is in moments of crisis that those in proximity recognize where they can find hope
The custodian sat in a chair in the atrium one morning before school and had a heart attack. My friends at the school texted me that morning and the coroner’s office was at the school when I arrived. So were the buses of children. I’ll never forget that day either. He had been at the school 20-some years and was a beloved friend of many. The cafeteria manager performed CPR but nothing could be done. The secretaries taped black paper on the windows so that the children could not see in. My office was across the hall from the room where they had the district counselors assemble to offer support to the staff if they felt they needed to talk. I never saw one teacher walk in that room. But several stopped to visit mine. Later they asked our church to help put together a memorial service for him at the school. It is in moments of crisis that those in proximity recognize where they can find hope.
he has been and will be working to restore what is broken
Somehow we get the notion that WE’RE going to take Jesus into the school or the neighborhood, or whatever we see as our mission field. The funny thing is that when we get there, we realize HE’S ALREADY THERE. He was working in this school long before we came in. Schools, like other places, are only full of individuals created in His image, that He loves more than we understand. And he has been and will be working to restore what is broken. It is such a relief to know that all I need to do is just show up and join what he has already started.
it’s the just showing up to share our lives with others while we provide support that puts us in proximity and offers us the opportunity to become love.
Some show up with tracts and an agenda to push along with their supplies and food boxes. Schools have grown weary of this approach. Sometimes we think just cutting paper or assembling crafts is meaningless and we want to do something that really matters. What we must realize is that it’s the just showing up to share our lives with others while we provide support that puts us in proximity and offers us the opportunity to become love.
People are not projects.
When presence precedes proclamation, we become part of the community of people we wish to serve. People are not projects. We don’t do anything TO them, we share our lives WITH them and we serve alongside of them in the restoration that Jesus has already started.