Who Is My Neighbor?

Emilie Vinson
Photographs by Ted Wilcox


Petra is at her daughters’ elementary school when she hears the news. Refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East — thousands of them — will arrive in Croatia within a matter of days traveling with only what they can carry.

Petra and her husband, Hrvoje, are staff members with Fokus (as Cru is known in Croatia) and have developed a lifestyle of loving their neighbors — even if that means driving to a nearby border.

On the way, they stop at their church, loading their car with boxes of food, water and clothes. Their young daughters carry some of their own stuffed animals to give to children they meet.

Pray for Opportunities

When it comes to their own home, Petra prayed over her family’s apartment building for years, asking God to bring her to people whom she could show His love. 

“I have this desire to meet them,” Petra says about her neighbors. “In my mind, the more doors there are, the more people there are. It’s like a picture of heaven, where everybody will be in community, being there for each other.”

“I have this desire to meet them. In my mind, the more doors there are, the more people there are. It’s like a picture of heaven, where everybody will be in community, being there for each other.”

Petra met one of her neighbors, Martina, while they were walking their dogs. Martina was eager to talk about life but hesitant to discuss faith, telling Petra she was investigating energy-related spirituality.

Then there came a time when Petra didn’t see Martina for awhile. She learned that Martina had injured her back.

As Martina recovered, Petra visited and loaned her books about God. Martina started reading the Bible and listened as Petra shared how God was present in her life and how He desired to have a personal relationship with her.

Now, Martina studies the Bible on her own and is trusting God. When Petra’s washing machine broke in the middle of a hectic week, Martina took half of Petra’s laundry home so she could wash, dry and fold it.

“This is the thing I always dreamed of,” Petra says. “Not to have a broken washing machine, but that I would be part of the community in such a way that we could rely on each other.”

Be Available Where You Are

The school Petra’s daughters attend creates another natural way for Petra to be intentional in her community. When her daughter Mia’s first grade class needed a parent representative, Petra volunteered. Perhaps it will be a good way to meet other families in our neighborhood, she thought.

That Christmas, she invited 10 of Mia’s classmates to her home to make gingerbread houses. Once decorated, they were sold at the school’s annual Christmas fair. The money raised helped children in the school who came from families in need.

Over the next couple of years, Petra’s involvement at the school increased — to the extent that she was voted president of the parent council. The new position opened many doors. She worked on projects that greatly benefited the school, and she built relationships with other parents who live in her neighborhood.

Go Deeper

Eventually, women from both the neighborhood and the school joined to form a couple of small groups. Petra leads their time together and helps the women develop deep relationships with each other and consider God as their life foundation.

For Petra, loving her neighbors can look different each day. Understanding the importance of prayer, intentionality, and availability means that she’s ready for whatever opportunity God brings. 

One day, it may be inviting women into her home for a slice of Nutella pie and to talk about life. Another day, it may be delivering supplies to refugees who landed 15 minutes from her family’s doorstep.

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