How did you overcome distance between brothers?
When we first moved to Indianapolis, about twenty years ago, twelve of us moved from Vermont, which is a fifteen hour drive by car to Indianapolis. We felt as if God wanted us to be in Indianapolis and live this kind of life. We saw it in the Bible. It was clearly in the Bible, but what we were experiencing was a mixture. It was “Ishmael.” It was a good daddy and bad mommy. We were birthing babies; we had a lot of new converts. We had people come from different parts of the United States to see all of our new converts and all the good things, and hear the great sermons that were happening in the mission field of Vermont where we lived. But we knew there was something wrong. We knew it was “Ishmael.” There was too much mixture.
Now, man would say, “Hallelujah! Revival!” And they did say that. But we said, “No!” We could’ve let ourselves be patted on the back and be applauded for it because we were building a “great Ishmael” and no one really recognized it. From the inside we knew there was something really missing. So twelve of us left that behind and went to Indianapolis. After we arrived there, we were trying to answer the very question that you just asked—what do you do about distance? Should we move to different parts of Indianapolis, which is a city that’s bigger than Boston, Washington D.C., and San Francisco? It’s a big city.
Should we spread out, all twelve of us, so we can reach more of the city for Jesus. Or should we live as close together as possible? A verse God showed us has lit the path for us ever since. We talked about it here a while ago… “This is how all men will know you are my disciples, by the love you have one for another” (John 13:35). We decided we wanted to live close to each other, so that “All men could see how we loved one another.” We let God’s love in us broadcast God’s Truth and Good News, His Gospel, to the people around us because they saw how we loved one another.
People saw us “keep no record of wrongs.” They saw us “always hope, always trust.” They saw us “love righteousness and hate wickedness.” They saw us love one another because they were our neighbors. We weren’t off in an isolated place far away. We were right in the middle of a city of over a million. That was why we intentionally decided to live close to one another. Now, since that time, we’ve had people who lived 45 minutes away who moved closer. People who lived half an hour away moved closer. People who lived in another state, hours away, moved closer so that they could see us love one another and be involved in loving us and us loving them.
Distance does matter, and this is something that we’ve discussed, again, all over the world. Everybody lives where they live for a reason. You might say, “We all live far apart.” That’s true in most places, and it does hinder the ability for people to see how you love one another. If you have to travel 25 minutes to see each other, that makes it a little bit harder to have a relationship. It’s not impossible. We have had different distances between us. We had some that lived 45 minutes away for several years, but we still saw them almost every day. It was a lot of hard work to do that, but we did it.
At the end of every day, you have to admit that everybody lives exactly where they live for a reason. Some people live close to their work. Some people live where they live because their biological families are located in a particular area of town. Some people want to live next to a park. Some people want to live in a safe neighborhood instead of a bad neighborhood. Some people want to live in a big house instead of a small house. Everyone lives where they live for a reason. We have choices. There isn’t a government that tells you, “You have to live here and you have to live there.” I don’t even know of that kind of government. Even in communist China they don’t tell you what house you have to live in. We were in Romania right after the Berlin wall came down, and, even in communist Romania, they were never told that they had to live in a certain house. They could live where they wanted to live, and so can all of us.
The point is, if we want to be near each other, we can begin to try to find areas of town where there are some apartments and some houses and some streets, where we can share backyards and share neighborhoods. We can begin to have access to each other when we are walking distance apart instead of a twenty hour automobile ride apart. We can begin to make decisions that allow us to love one another, because Jesus didn’t say, “This is one way all men will know you’re My disciples.” He didn’t say, “This is a good idea.” He said, “This is how all men will know you’re My disciples, by them seeing you loving each other.”
This is what I used to think. I used to think Jesus said, “All men will know you’re My disciples if you love them.” He didn’t say that. He said, “As you love one another, all men will see you loving each other, and they’ll know that I am from Heaven,” says the Heavenly man, Jesus. Our ability to show men Jesus isn’t just in our words. It’s by them seeing our transformed lives and how our lives are “joined and knit together by every supporting ligament.”
People can see we have something that they don’t even have in their biological families. There may be fussing, arguing, and selfishness in their biological family. Their children may run away from home, and the husband may be abusing his wife. They have chaos in their own biological families. When they get together with other relatives there’s backbiting, backstabbing, hypocrisy, and gossip. They know that even their best relationships aren’t a fraction as good as our everyday relationships because our name is Jesus, because we’ve put on Christ. Because we live in the Spirit of Jesus we have something they can never have in their own worlds, no matter how hard they try. We have total strangers who come up and ask if they can move into our neighborhood.