Newlyweds Paula Salisbury and her husband Michael knew God had something in store for them when they moved into their Lindsay Crescent home in Nawton, Hamilton last year.
Nawton is an area of “crime, homelessness and solo-parent families” says Paula, and they decided to join the active local Neighbourhood Support group. The group, she says, is organised by “a lovely non-Christian woman, who has a great heart for her neighbourhood”.
Paula and Michael started talking with their neighbours about 'doing a bit of a spring clean.' "We felt people didn't really take pride in their place, and that the minority of residents who didn't really respect other peoples' properties were being given the upper hand”.
The group decided to have a street working bee at the end of September 2010 and approached Nic Greene from Habitat for Humanity in Hamilton, who willingly came on-board to supply materials, extra labour and help with organisation. Says Paula, “Residents agree that this brought about a real change, not only in the aesthetics of the street, but in the hearts of our neighbours.”
Twenty-four of the 55 households in the cul-de-sac joined in the working bee. Paula estimates half that number again took part in the Bee unofficially or in recent work around the neighbourhood.
They started on a Friday. “We put the call out,” says Salisbury, and before they knew it, they had a small band of people turn up to prune trees, garden, pick up rubbish and waterblast fences so they could be painted – all in the pouring rain! On the Saturday, approximately 60 people spent the entire day working out on the streets continuing with Friday's tasks and tidying the front of sections. They finished with a BBQ at one neighbour's house.
When asked what people had been saying since the working bee, Paula laughs, saying one thing that struck her at a subsequent Neighbourhood Support meeting was that people mentioned enjoying working with the kids. Neighbourhood kids, says Salisbury, are often given free reign until dinner time and end up roaming around the streets. Up until the working bee, Salisbury felt there had been “some animosity between the very young ones, the school-aged children, and everyone else. But we had those children come and help us and that was really special for them also. Some of them don't have dads, and we were able to buddy them up with men in our street who know a bit more about how to be a man”.
Others made comments about how long they had lived in that street and not once yet met their neighbours, or had only met those on either side of their own home.
Their vision for the future? The neighbourhood has planned a painting day in November for those who are wanting to do more work on their properties. They are also organising a garage sale later this month and a street party for February. Lindsay Crescent residents plan to hold more working bees and other events that allow the neighbourhood to come together.
“Spiritually,” says Paula, “we flushed out a bunch of Christians, who are now praying for their neighbours”. She is very excited about what this could bring. “I think we have a sense that we're building a better future for our place. I'm really proud to live here and I think everyone is feeling like we're building a community, which outside of the Church is so rare”.
For anyone else interested in reaching out and bringing together their own neighbourhood, Paula recommends not limiting yourself to only what your church is willing to do. Her street used the secular organisation Neighbourhood Support, for example.
She suggests finding a couple of people who have lived in your neighbourhood longer than you have, and who are prepared to get in behind the idea. Paula praises Habitat for Humanity and their 'A Brush with Kindness' programme that focuses on restoring and renovating existing homes. “After the success of what's happened in Lindsay Crescent, I think they would be very keen to work with other neighbourhoods who want to do similar things”.
In regards to others integrating this kind of community project along with evangelism, Paula speaks of her own church's passion for using the Word to reach others. She agrees with that, adding, “I think part of God being in control of things is that sometimes He surprises us with how He gets the Word out. We don't need to be afraid of those we don't know, but just reach out to them and let God use us.”
She recounts how at one Neighbourhood Support meeting she was writing notes on the back of some of her misprinted wedding programmes. One of her neighbours turned the sheet over and started reading Philippians 2:1-11, her wedding text. Because women like weddings, her neighbour then passed the sheet around to the other women in the room and everyone got to read the text.
“If we are willing to share,” she says, “then God will give us the right opportunity. It's not something to force, but it's not something to be ashamed of either.”