Call me crazy, but I recently started answering my phone every time it rings.
Every. Single. Time.
There's no way I could accurately tell you when I ever stopped doing this but my best guess is it happened 16-18 years ago. So why did I start picking up the phone again? I guess you'd call it a natural - albeit long dormant - desire for human connection in the midst of the self-quarantine.
Two calls came back-to-back on Tuesday evening. Both had 260 prefixes. Oddly enough, neither was a dreaded robo-caller. What are the chances of that ever happening two times in a row?
The second of the two came right after I sat down with a cup of tea in hand and Sara Pennypacker's latest novel, "Here in the Real World," to keep me company. Now, if I were writing this story a week ago, things would have turned out much differently. A week ago, the scene would have played out exactly like this:
Man glances at phone.
Man doesn't recognize number.
Man mutes phone, returns to book.
What can I say? Much has changed in the last week.
Anyhow, while I was definitely enjoying the book and already savoring the hot cup of tea in my hand, I've been trying really hard these days to practice what I preach. Therefore, I picked up the phone and answered it like a good neighbor would have answered a wall-mounted rotary phone back in 1982.
"Hello?" I answered, feeling much like a ball mid-spin on a roulette wheel.
"Hi, this is Susan from The Pointe Church." I didn't need a last name to connect the name to a face. Susan is a greeter at my church, and a memorable one at that. The first time I had ever spoken to Susan, I felt like we had known each other for years. Needless to say, her role as a volunteer greeter at The Pointe is a perfect fit. "I wanted to give you a call to see how you and your family are holding up. Pastor Ray thought it would be a great idea to check in on everyone and see if there's anything we can help with."
"Wow." I set my book down, beaming from ear to ear. I had just written about this very act of neighborly kindness (it was my #1) and was thrilled to be on the receiving end of it on the exact same day. "Thank you so much for calling- it really does mean a lot to us. We're actually doing great at the moment. We have food, and my wife and I work remotely so we're pretty much set for now."
We spoke for a couple more minutes before Susan was kind enough to pray for us. Once she finished, I thanked her and we said goodbye.
I just said that, didn't I? Well, then? double wow.
As soon as I hung up, one emotion bubbled up above all others:
Happiness. Real happiness. So much happiness that I picked up the phone and called her back 24 hours later. Aside from that human connection I'd been craving, I really just wanted to hear what it was like to spend a whole day calling people out of kindness, with no other motivation than love.
What I learned was pretty shocking.
On Tuesday, staff at The Pointe Church called more than 2000 people who call the church their home. Susan accounted for 78 of those calls, with me being one of them. Of those 78 calls, no one hung up on her. When she left a voicemail, many called her right back to express gratitude for the unexpected kindness. Such was their shock that someone from their church would care enough to call and see how they were doing.
Prior to calling Susan back, I also reached out to Ray Harris, the senior pastor and founder of The Pointe Church, to get his take on their mission of neighboring by phone. He told me that although The Pointe can't gather in the same way as normal at this time, the church staff cares deeply for each and every person who's ever walked through their doors. "We are calling families because we want every member to know how much they are loved. And we want them to know that should a need arise, all they need to do is call us." He went on to explain that they have prayed with more than 1000 people this week, as many of them are dealing with anxiety while being stuck at home alone.
Although Ray didn't bring it up, Susan was quick to point out that he had personally called a number of members himself, choosing to focus on those who were alone and/or more at-risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.
In closing, Ray was quick to explain that "we serve a God full of hope and love for us, and we simply want to be a reflection of Him in this pandemic."
While there are many passages that paint beautiful pictures of what it means to be a reflection of God's love, my mind is immediately drawn to Galatians 5:14:
For the entire law is fulfilled in this one command:
'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
I'd say they're on the right track.
So how does this work for you and I? How do we get from our years of ingrained phone distancing to the place where we can pick up the phone and naturally call our own neighbors without hesitation? For Susan, the gift comes naturally. The same cannot be said for me and maybe not even you.
One of the things to remember is that each phone call need not be thirty minutes of forced and awkward small talk. The point of checking in is to see how your neighbor is holding up, offer encouragement, and display empathy. After all, you likely have a good idea of what they're going through and know exactly how they're feeling. For Susan and I, our call was no more than five minutes - long enough to cover all of the bases mentioned above and to say a word of prayer to end it all.
To begin with, start with a close friend or family member. When you say goodbye, pull up your contacts list and give it another shot. While you may not be able to get through 78 names in one day, aim for a reasonable number. Let's say 10 people you're more than acquaintances with. Not everyone will pick up, but if half of them do, you've probably spent about 30-45 minutes on the phone if you follow the method above. The next day, expand your audience to those who may not have ever expected a call from you, even though you've exchanged contact info. The more you call, the more comfortable you'll get. What's more, you'll start to become addicted to the feeling it gives you.
Sound reasonable? Will you give it a shot? If so, I'd love to hear about your experience and follow up with you about the impact it had on your and potentially your neighbor. Reach out to me at email@example.com over the next few days. I firmly believe that picking up the phone will change your entire outlook on neighboring.
Tips On Calling Neighbors Through NeighborLink:
If you're a volunteer, you can login and can find all the New/Needs Coached projects. Each one of these neighbors are actively waiting for help, especially a phone call. That's good news because they're already eager to hear from someone.
Start With What Feels Comfortable: You can search zip code to try and find your close proximity neighbors. You can search by recipient issue that is most important to you, such as disability, elderly, or single parent to name a few. Narrow those 200+ projects down to a more comfortable starting point.
Don't Worry About the Project Type: Focus just on the phone call. We know there are some needs on there that are likely beyond what you can do. This is about making connecting, not about doing at this point. Call anyway.
The Call: Identify yourself and let them know you see they are asking for help (with whatever they're asking for) on NeighborLink's website. They should remember, but sometime they don't as you can imagine with often older individuals who ask for help in many different places, daily. Reassure them that they contact NL and just keep talking. They come around. Let them know the reason for your call is to check in on them, learn more about their project and situation, and that you aren't able to help them with that project (unless you can) but you do want to check in on them. Then, the call will go from there. Remember, the thing you can always do is to ask them if they have anything you can pray for or whether they'd appreciate being check back in on.
How'd It Go?: The reality is that most calls will go great. Some will be short and to the point, some will go long because they need to talk, and some might not go ok. However they go, it's a reflection of how they're doing overall, not a reflection of your efforts. Many of these folks have been vulnerable for much longer than the past few weeks and the COVID-19 just complicates things. That's the point of encouragement.
Update The Project: If you were able to gain some additional information that would be helpful for NeighborLink staff or other volunteers who could see that project at a later date, please update the project description. You can enter that in the description box by hitting the Manage Project button, or you can leave it easily in the Discussion box on the project page. NL staff will be notified any time there is an update and we'll follow up with you or make edits on our side.
Additional Projects: If the neighbor you talk to discloses some additional needs or projects, please create a new project on the website so we can track it and you can have the information. For instance, if they want regular interaction and you're up for doing that, create a Prayer/Encouragement project with their information. Or, if they need Errands Run, create a project for that. This keeps their original need that you may/may not have been able to meet there while creating new opportunities. NL staff is happy to help you with that. Simply write down the project number or the name/info of that person, give us a call or email, and we'll help get a new project created with you.
Remember, there is no obligation to help any neighbor with the project you're using to make connection or any future project they may disclose to you. Point of this exercise is to make connection with neighbors that may not have anyone checking in on them to express care, bring joy, and offer prayer if that's your desire.