Engaging Your Military Neighborhood As A Busy Mom
By: Rachelle Carter
“God, leave me alone! I just can’t! I can barely take care of my own life!”
I am ashamed of how many times I whisper-yelled the above words in my first couple of years as a mother and a church-planting wife, usually over a sink full of dishes. As all 24 hours of the day were being run by a tiny baby and my head was buried in life, in some rare quiet, alone moments, the Holy Spirit would bring to mind the mothers in the military housing across the street from our condo in beautiful San Diego. They were living a similar life as I was, yet most were without friends and family, a healthy marriage, or a husband they would see regularly. They were living without Jesus.
“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?…” (Romans 10:14) That’s usually when I would say the above words. I had the burden and desire to know my lost neighbors, but I had no idea how to do so and I did not even want to start thinking about taking on more relationships and commitments in addition to all our baby church and baby children needed.
So I went back to frantically washing dishes.
My story of engaging my neighborhood is just beginning. God has taken me from being angry, paralyzed, and overwhelmed to walking in faith He works in my community through His gospel. I believe we all have a role in His kingdom work in our homes and outside. I want to share what He has done and is doing in my life in my small corner of His kingdom.
As the year 2022 came to an end, I started praying that the Lord would use me to be a part of seeing one woman come to know Jesus. One evening, my husband and I were walking in our military neighborhood, and I bumped into an acquaintance that I met in an exercise group in the neighborhood. We started talking, and she shared some bad news she recently received. This opened up a spiritual conversation and I got her number and invited her to church. She did not come for weeks or even months but I kept praying. Finally, she came and I was able to share the gospel with her. We started reading a book that went deeper into the gospel together. We met with the chaos of kids and after they went to bed, late at night. We have developed a real friendship and I have been able to walk by her as she has grasped the gospel and confessed why she can’t believe it. But I know the Lord is not done with her and I see how He is drawing her to Himself.
And I see how He is working in other women in my neighborhood. He is working all around us in people’s lives and wants to use us in the ministry of reconciliation to unbelievers. I wanted to be a part of this, but Jesus needed to work in me first.
Before my friend came to church I started praying for my “one.” As I prayed, He revealed idols in my heart that were greatly hindering my obedience and willingness to be used in evangelism.
I was incredibly crippled by self-reliance. Of course I was mad that I “just can’t” because I just couldn’t. Again, I didn’t know where to start or what to do and I had no more energy or time to give. We are so limited. But what I really should have seen was that I just couldn’t trust God. I needed to learn to depend on Him for energy, opportunities, love, and boldness. He would have to go ahead of me to prepare hearts to hear the gospel. Any fruit in ministry is from His hand. His power is perfected in our weaknesses and that includes being a tired, over-extended mom.
I also saw the ugly truth that I want to build my own kingdom. I want to be seen as successful and admirable in the eyes of others. I want to do all things and be all things to all people. But I am not the Savior. I am just pointing others to Jesus, like John the Baptist (Christine Hoover mentions this in her book How to Thrive as a Pastor’s Wife), and He saves them as they encounter Him. This is so freeing!
Building my own kingdom fleshed itself out in two ways: First, because I wanted to functionally be in the place of God, I would take a posture of shame with some of my unbelieving friends because I felt I could not be all that they wanted me to be as a friend because, again, I am limited. I would even avoid situations with lost people because I didn’t want to let them down in my perceived expectations they had in friendship. Second, I was so paralyzed from doing anything because I could not do it all. I would meet women at parks and instead of being thankful for the connection and conversation and praying for them and seeking to love them, I would be met with anxiety because I could not have relationships with all the women I met. This was true – I can’t have relationships with everyone I meet. But God can and He is not limited by my capacity for relationship. Also, I had to admit I am not the only member of the Body of Christ, although I want to be! I want that glory of being the one who does everything – an attitude that does not honor the Lord and leaves me doing nothing.
Mama, what is keeping you from being engaged with the lost? What lies and idols are deep in your heart that would keep you from obedience and trusting the Lord to use you?
It is easy to say that God is the One who works and we need to wait on Him, but do we actually do that? I want to go back to self-reliance in evangelism and relationships with the lost. Prayer individually and corporately needs to be the foundation and fuel for all we do. Prayerlessness shows we are trusting ourselves or something other than the Holy Spirit leading us and going ahead of us in the lives of those around us. We can be in the work that He is doing when we are sitting at home with sick kids in quarantine.
Does your prayer life and preference and priority given to prayer provide proof that “apart from Me, you can do nothing?” (John 15:5).
As reflected in my prayer and confession, I kept thinking: “It’s one at a time.” I was overwhelmed thinking about the hundreds of hurting women that had needs and did not know Jesus and the thought of trying to reach all of them. This led me to do nothing and to see them as more a ministry or numbers than friends that I love. Isolation is a huge problem in military communities that often leads to other problems. When I am overwhelmed by the need and want to pull away because I can’t possibly meet all the needs, I remind myself that it is one at a time. I can have a relationship with a few, starting with one. The Lord will give me the relationships He wants me to have.
No one wants to be treated as a project or a ministry, and in my community of isolation, women want real relationships with others. Even more, they need to see Jesus through us and trust us to share and know us. They need to see a fellow stressed mom come to the Lord for comfort and strength and purpose. That takes time and heart that we can only give to a few.
And we are not alone! By the time my friend came, God answered a prayer that I had been praying for a long time. While the Lord was showing me my weakness and limitations as a full-time mom, He was also putting on my heart that I am just one part of His Body and I was not the only person He wanted to be involved in personal ministry. I asked for one woman who would also have a burden in our neighborhood and a heart for ministering to unbelieving moms and He gave me a partner in my friend, Natalie. We just started going to parks, with no plan, but to be friendly to other moms. God has grown our hearts together for our neighborhood. She truly is a partner and I could not do this without her. We encourage one another with the spiritual conversations we are having and what God is doing in women around us. Very often, we realize God is putting the same things on our hearts at the same time. Natalie has now started reading the Bible with another woman in our community. We need each other as the Body of Christ and we multiply our work as we work together.
So when my friend came to church, I was not the only person she knew – Natalie was there, along with two other women from our community that we had befriended. We still go to parks and we all sit under biblical teaching together.
Now fast forward a year.
My anxiety-filled burden to engage my neighborhood with the gospel has turned into a faith that the Lord is working here, and I get to be a part of it. More women in my church want to be bold and impact their neighborhoods with the gospel. By God’s grace, there is rarely a time when I walk outside and do not see a neighbor I don’t know and haven’t sought to minister to. I can say I truly have unbelieving friends who are opening their lives to me and giving me the opportunity to share Jesus and how He wants to change their lives.
So, exhausted, overwhelmed mom, remember Jesus’ yoke is easy, and even under that easy yoke, He desires to lead you to those who are weary and burdened and crave that rest that is only found in Him.