J’aime Mon Voisin Is Gaining in Popularity
Over the last few years, Québec has been taken by storm by an initiative of love.
In 2011, a group of Christians decided to publicly display their desire to love their neighbour. To date, more than a dozen Québec churches have already experimented with this approach to reach their own local missionary field.
Those who undertake the initiative J'aime mon voisin (JMV) have access to a toolkit of resources to help them organize their community service activities. Many Churches take advantage of this because...
- JMV is a resource for those who want to reach out to their community but don’t know where to start.
- JMV is a short-term, one-time, and accessible experience.
- JMV provides an opportunity to connect with city leaders and local organizations.
- JMV is a starting point to develop relationships with those around you.
- JMV confronts us with the needs of our community.
- JMV creates a good context to initiate and teach youth (and the whole Church).
- JMV energizes the Church and its global vision of evangelism.
- JMV is the result of Church leadership that supports and inspires.
- JMV’s experience makes you want to do it again and is contagious.
1. JMV is a resource for those who want to reach out to their community but don't know where to start.
“I want to do it, but help me!”
This is what many church members and several church boards say, as they want to serve their community, but do not know what to do or where to start. When a Christian discovers Jesus’ love for people, it does not mean that he knows how to reach out, start conversations, or relate to others. Or, if someone is new to the neighbourhood, they may be unsure of how to initiate a relationship with their new neighbours. But usually in either case, there’s no shortage of willingness.
JMV helps Churches make a difference in their community by proposing a model of community service that allows people to engage in social action. The turnkey project provides Churches with all the necessary material to support the project: online platforms, publicity material, t-shirts, training, testimonials from real-life experiences, etc.
JMV offers a tangible solution to put generosity into action just as the Gospel calls us to.
2. JMV is a short-term, punctual and accessible experience.
During the one or two-week period of JMV, some people will participate for only one day while others will sign up for a whole week. The flexible yet focused nature of the activity gives people freedom in terms of their level of participation and encourages them to set aside time for it. In our busy society, it is easier for some people to participate in a community service activity on an ad hoc basis over a short period of time rather than make a long-term commitment to a regular activity.
Beyond the availability issue, we also realize that evangelism, as many typically see it, isn’t popular. Because JMV is not a formal evangelistic activity, it opens the door to more accessible and natural interactions for those who do not feel evangelistic or comfortable with words. It is good if opportunities to talk about Jesus arise and can be seized, but if the first obstacle (getting out) can be overcome, then that’s already a step in the right direction.
JMV is also an accessible initiative in terms of activities, regardless of the participant’s age or physical limitations. Each person can contribute in many different ways, and a festive and family-like atmosphere often develops during these activities.
3. JMV provides an opportunity to connect with city leaders and local organizations.
Our ultimate goal is to reach out to individuals in our neighbourhood, city or village. However, this process often begins with communication to local administrative bodies (requesting permission, exploring collaboration opportunities, etc.). These groups, we should recall, are made up of individuals as well. Although they share the same desire to address people’s needs, in some cases we unfortunately encounter the hostility of a post-Christian society. In other cases, especially in large cities, it seems almost impossible to make the Church known to the people in charge of public activities.
Yet, there are also positive outcomes from the Church’s interactions in their environment. Without being a miraculous cure, the implementation of JMV has often helped remove obstacles and overcome the reluctance towards the Church. Sometimes JMV even allows for the Church to build a good reputation, creating or maintaining good ties with the city authorities and local organizations.
4. JMV is a starting point to develop relationships with those around you.
In the image of His own trinitarian Person, God has placed in the human being a vital need for interaction, harmony, and mutual help. And yet we all fight a tendency towards individualism. Many Christians report having little or no relationship with the people in their neighborhood.
On the one hand, JMV allows a special contact with the people being helped, often more than if volunteering in a large-scale event. On the other hand, some beneficiaries are so surprised, even shocked, to receive free help that they want to pay for the work done. They find it hard to believe that someone could offer their time and help for free, refusing to be paid. Sentences such as: “We don’t see mutual aid like that anymore”, “We need this” and “It’s good to see that” reflect people’s appreciation for a collective effort of love that benefits the community. Indeed, something resonates in our hearts when we witness real mutual aid. Moreover, it is wonderful to see the “ripple effect” as many people who have been helped become helpers themselves.
5. JMV confronts us with the needs of our community.
Only a few walls separate us, but it’s so easy to disassociate ourselves from the sufferings and challenges of the people living near us, and to keep a distance between us and those whose standard of living is different from ours. It is also easy to forget man and woman’s greatest need: to know their Creator and Saviour.
JMV initiatives have allowed many people to see and live experiences of mutual help that, although sometimes uncomfortable, have made real differences in the lives of people with real needs. Moreover, focusing on the felt needs of people often provides an opportunity, without being forceful, to respond to their need for reconciliation with God. The service to them speaks for itself, but also opens the door to conversations, to relationships, and ultimately to the witness of the Gospel. How will they believe if they have not heard? And how will they hear if they are not cared for — in both body and soul?
The action of local Churches that have chosen to expose themselves intentionally to the needs of their neighbours helps to develop a burden for the salvation of these souls and allows the body of the Messiah to be active in its local context.
Editor's note: Since this is an edited version of several testimonies, some elements may differ with respect to the approach or experience of one Church or another. This article was made possible by interviews conducted by Jonathan Clermont. Special thanks to the churches of Saint-Liboire, Pierrefonds, Gatineau and Longueuil, who shared their past experiences and subsequent reflections. Many thanks also to the other congregations who did the same in more informal contexts. You are helping to grow a movement of love for our neighbours.