Breaking the Cult Image in One Transient Community

by Paco Amador

Biblical hospitality, Christian hospitality, Paco AmadorTalking with my friend, Dwayne, is never a dull moment. He is one of the most creative, insightful, and vibrant evangelists I know.

One of the guys whom he witnessed to, baptized, and discipled is so filled with an overflowing desire to share Jesus with his high school that he stood on top of a table in the cafeteria during lunch time and started proclaiming the message of salvation aloud. That’s the kind of evangelism fire Dwayne ignites in others.

So when I called him to ask about getting over my fear to witness to my neighbors, I was ready for some fiery advice.

“Consider this,” he said. “Do you realize that being an evangelical pastor in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood, many of your neighbors already think that you are a cult leader…”

Wow. I was blown away. Ten years as a pastor in our community living in the same home. No. I had never thought that. Come to think of it… that might explain some of my neighbors reluctant conversations and nervous greetings throughout the years.

Me? A cult leader? I am far from that. Really, I am a nice guy.

What a hurdle to overcome!

“Well, don’t worry”, he said. “The good thing is that you have at your disposal the Church’s greatest tool for breaking this type of obstacle.”

“What is it?” I asked anxiously.

“Hospitality!” Good ol’ love for strangers.

Who knew! Turns out that city dwellers who are experts at building walls to separate and keep unwanted interruptions away cannot resist the power of being loved.

This past summer, driven by a passion to go beyond nice greetings with most neighbors, I walked into our home and made an announcement: “Next week we will have a kids club for all the kids in our block.”

To my surprise, my family of eight overwhelmingly celebrated the idea. Living in a heavily-transient community, I had underestimated my kid’s desire to meet and make more friends.

We deliberately chose the week before the Chicago Public Schools would be back in session. I figured by that time most kids are sick and tired of doing nothing and would be more than willing to attend an organized event. The Sunday before, I casually mentioned this idea to our congregation. After the service, someone asked me, “How many kids are there on your block?” “I don’t know,” I said. Being in such a migrant community, it can be anybody’s guess.

That Wednesday morning, my youngest three boys and I walked up and down our block looking for children. There weren’t too many children out. Nevertheless, we gave out all the flyers that my kids had made.

We walked home nervous, but filled with expectation.

By the afternoon, friends who had heard about our little impromptu adventure showed up with hot dogs, balloons to fill with water, drinks, materials to make piñatas, etc.

It wasn’t long before neighbor kids of all ages started pouring into our yard–over 65 kids in all. It seemed like the entire block had heard about this.

We played. We ate. We sang. We had competitions.

As things settled down we made a huge circle and told our neighbors about Jesus’ love.

To my surprise, all heard with rapt attention. Many willingly raise their hands to pray. Church friends, as well as our family, moved into action.

This was not the kind of evangelism I had been used to. In my own backyard? What an afternoon.

Whatever happened with the “cult leader” stigma? All these years living in the same block without much visible fruit among neighbors. and then one afternoon in our backyard everything changed.

Was Dwayne correct? Could it be that neighbors just cannot resist when in the name of Jesus we open the doors of our homes?

No wonder the Early Church exploded through its hospitality. Much more than entertaining friends, biblical hospitality is our God-given gift to open hearts by loving strangers all the way into our backyard and into the family of God.

Paco-Amador-2Paco Amador (@PacoChi7) pastors the New Life congregation in a Mexican immigrant neighborhood in Chicago. He enjoys running, dancing with his four daughters, wrestling with his three boys, and bike riding through the city. Pastor P and his wife, Sylvia, have been married for 20 years.