Episode 4: How Loving A Neighbor Saved A Family

In episode 4 meet Robin Wood. Robin reminds us, never to give up, as he shares the story of a 14-year relationship with a neighbor, John, who was resistant until a potential divorce caused him to reach out for help. What happened next changed his life for generations to come.

Robin is a lifelong friend of Host, Gary Kendall, Love KC Catalyst. Robin coaches church planters. You can reach Robin via email and, you can check out his book, What are the Odds? on Amazon.


Gary Kendall: Hi. Welcome to the Bless Every Home podcast. My name is Gary Kendall and I’m the host. I direct a ministry in Kansas City called Love KC. In partnership with Chris Cooper, who is the founder of Bless Every Home, we work to see that there would be a person praying for their neighborhood, caring for their neighborhood, and sharing in their neighborhood. We like to say we’re living on mission every day for Jesus.

Our hope is that all 21,000 neighborhoods in Kansas City would have someone living on mission and that there would not be a single person who could wake up in Kansas City that wouldn’t have someone praying for their family by name. Also, reaching out to be the hands and feet of Jesus, sharing their life, sharing their influence, sharing their stories, and eventually sharing the story of Jesus in a very incarnational way.

One of my favorite scriptures is John 1:14. The message version says it like this, “And the Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” I love that because the two Great Commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor, but we need some context for that. So we like to say it’s where you live, study, work, or play.

I’m glad you’re with us today. I want to introduce my good friend, Robin Wood. We’ve been friends for life, since I was 18. How old were you Robin when we met?

Robin Wood: 18 years old.

Gary: We won’t tell how old we are now. We’ve seen a few decades go by. We were planting churches at the same time and formed a friendship. Then, by God’s grace, we started a network of church plants and you’re still doing that today. I’m working primarily to help people adapt their neighborhoods with this prayer, care, share, lifestyle.

Here’s where our paths crossed, because I think it’s essential that if a person wants to reach a city and if they want to plant a church, they need to reach a neighborhood. It’s a component of that. So I asked Robin if he could come in here today and tell us some stories about people that he had reached out to in his neighborhood. Robin, I’d love for you to tell the story you told me and we’ll take it from there. We may even ad lib a little bit on the way, I’m sure. So go ahead.

Robin Wood: Well as you know Gary, you planted a church six months before me in Olathe, Kansas. Then I was called to go to Phoenix Arizona. At the time, it was identified as Chandler, Arizona, which was the second fastest growing city in the United States.

So my family went there. My kids were 7, 3, and 18 months. I still remember that so vividly, two girls on the book ends, a little boy in the middle. We had never been to Phoenix except one time, and that was to visit and interviews to plant this church. We began the church on October 18th, 1987. That will become an important date with this story.

When I went there, a man by the name of Dr. Dave Sebastian had gone to Fuller Seminary and studied church planting. He remembered seeing me in sixth grade. He was my hero. He was a senior in high school, playing for the Middletown Middies basketball team in Middletown Ohio. They won a state championship and he was my hero. He was a point guard. He remembered that on a youth trip to the Grand Canyon, I crawled out on an edge and looking over and he said, “I think I need that guy to start a church because he’ll take a risk.” He tells that story, even today.

He made that phone call to me, asked me to pray about planting a church three years. With out thinking about it, I said yes, only to get a call back in three weeks because he had raised $140,000 for the plant. He asked if I would go down and interview right away, which I did. July 1, 1987, we moved to Phoenix. He was the pastor of the North Hills Church of God and he went on vacation. We didn’t have a house yet, so we moved into his house for two weeks.

We looked for a home and bought a home in the neighborhood called Mountainside, it’s still called that today. This was on the Phoenix side of I-10, but we planted the church in Chandler, which is on the east side of I-10. We started in a school called Prebble Middle School. Our joke was if you can start a church with the initials P-M-S, you know God’s in it.

God opened a door with a man by the name of Norm Whan to do 23,000 phone calls. He did a thing called The Phone’s for You. We made 23,000 thousand phone calls and then we would follow up if people called us back. We sent out mailers at the time. We mailed the 2,300 homes that said they were interested. We did not know the neighborhood strategy that you’re teaching, but we did care for our neighbors. Mr. Bill Hybels, our hero, had trained me and Bill had poured his life into me. He told us we should knock on every door in our neighborhood and do a little survey. So I did that. There were about 5,000 homes in Mountainside.

I met a man by the name of John, who let me know immediately when I met him, that he had no interest because I was a pastor. He had no interest in knowing me at the time, and he told me to promise him that I’d never invite him to church. I remember that conversation as if it were yesterday. He was out in his yard working. I carried a few gifts with me in my car. So he wasn’t warm. I would like to tell you he was a friendly guy that I enjoyed (but that wasn’t the case). I went to my car. My wife had done an album. Now you know how old I am because it was vinyl. I gave that to him.

Over the weeks and months ahead and then for the next 14 years, anytime he was in his yard, I honored one thing — I never invited him to church. I only stopped to say hi. I’d like to tell you that he was warm when I’d stop, but usually he wasn’t very friendly. We kind of enjoyed each other. Over the next 14 years, he asked for four different albums because he wore it out playing it. But he never showed any interest in church.

I would like to say we were super great neighbors but we did talk. He was an engineer. He’s famous because he raised the football field at Arizona State University six inches to make it available for the Arizona Cardinals, the NFL team that came to town. He was a brilliant engineer. He is very well off, of course. I knew his wife even better because she played tennis, and he had 4 children.

Here’s the story: for 14 years, I did care. I can’t say I prayed every day for him, but I cared about him. In 2001, the church had been going 14 years. I went to the U.S. Open. Gary knows my story, but I won’t tell that today. I was there during the 9/11 tragedy. . I stayed over the Monday after the U.S. Open. The next morning, we were actually one block away from where north building fell. We were at Embassy Suites right across from the Goldman Sachs building. It was obviously a tragic event. We walked away from that and came home and of course for four to five weeks, people didn’t travel because airplanes were kind of shut down. So we tripled in attendance. At the time, we were probably at about 1,300 and we grew to 3,000. So that was a big event, and I was there, so I told that story. Three or four Sundays after 9/11, I looked out, and during the time we shake hands, I saw John on the back row. I walked back and I didn’t say, “Great to have you,” I said, “Hey, what are you doing here?” He said, “Annette left me yesterday. She’s going to divorce me.” He had tears in his eyes, and he was a hardcore guy. I asked if I could see him this week. He set five different appointments with me to come to my office and cancelled them because he got nervous. But the day he came in, I shared the gospel with him. I couldn’t fix his marriage. His marriage did end in divorce, but I’ll never forget that day in my office. He listened to the gospel and he gave his life to Christ. At the end of that conversation, I told him I was trained by Dr. Kennedy to do a spiritual birthday card. I hadn’t done this for years. I asked, “what’s the date today?” It was October 18th, 2001, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I said John, 14 years after we started the church; you gave your life to Christ. He had a radical conversion experience and his life radically changed. His kids told me everything changed about their home. They went through that divorce, but he was always in worship.

Fast forward just a few years, and tragically I went through a divorce. Guess who called me the very first day he found out that news? It was John. He called me every day for a year, when I couldn’t function, when I was in almost a clinical depression. People called me that love me, but very few. But John called me every day. He would say, “You were there for me.” I’m going to be there for you pastor. I resigned in May of 2004. He called me every day.

I ended up in Oklahoma City. Five years after being gone, Gary and I had had dreamed of starting what we called Church multiplication association and God had allowed us to plant 74 churches after I recovered from what I went through. God restored me and brought us back together. God gave us a great opportunity for a five to six year run. During that period of time, I was live in Oklahoma City. I got a phone call from a young woman who said, “I’m from Phoenix and my name’s Vanessa. Will you do my wedding?” I asked why she was calling me, and she said, “Well you were my pastor back at Mountain Park. I don’t go there anymore. I had a rule; I wasn’t going to go back a do a wedding at the church I pastored. But she said she was up north in Phoenix and asked if I would do her wedding at a golf course. We were planting six churches out there, so I said absolutely. I made it work.

I was halfway through the rehearsal when she stopped me and she said you don’t know who I am, do you? I didn’t know her last name and I didn’t know her fiancé’s last name you know. By the way, this is funny, it’s always the young woman who always calls the pastor to do the wedding and you know the guy’s too afraid to call. So I hardly knew his name, but I’m in the middle of the rehearsal. I met him that night. We did a kind of counseling. I sent them to a counselor and then did one session over the phone. She said, “You don’t know me.” I asked who she was. She told me she was John’s daughter. She looked at me with tears streaming down her face and I started to cry. She said my dad loved you. You stopped all the time at our house; you gave us that album four different times. She said you are the only one to do my wedding. He will walk me down the aisle tomorrow night and you will see him again. That was an unbelievable reunion after five years of being with you doing church modification association. She told me marvelous things about how their home changed. She said her dad was rough and tough, and he wasn’t a warm dad. When he came to Christ, everything changed. She said they all became Christians, even her mom because they saw the change in his life. Just stopping and knowing a neighbor.

Gary: So here are a couple of things to unpack. One is that you had the courage to get out in your neighborhood. Sometimes when you’re desperate it helps. Not everybody is a church planter, but you survived and you planted seeds. One of the things we tell people all the time is that we’re the sewer. Jesus tells a parable about the sewer. The seed falls on four different kinds of soil. It’s not always our responsibility for the action of the soil, but our responsibility is to throw the seed. Another thing about that is that the seed has gospel power. We forget and sometimes we think it’s all on us. Did I stop enough times? Did I say the right thing? This is the good shepherd who loves every lost sheep who is out there every day. This is not just on us. Jesus loves every single neighbor that we have. When we say we’re going to pray, care, share in our neighborhood, we just make ourselves available. As we give God opportunity, then he begins to use us. Obviously that seed took a while to germinate and might have fallen on hard soil.

Robin: In fact as I listen to you explain that, I didn’t think it fell on good soil forever. I’m learning what you’re doing and I’m so excited about it. I already asked about how to care for my neighborhood in Indiana. I want to learn that. The big thing that I learned in stopping with John was that there were no visible signs that this was working in any way. I prayed much just chalked it up to knowing him.

Gary: That’s the deal. We don’t get to make those choices. Our choice is whether or not we’re going to obey, whether we’re going to love. That person makes the choices that are between them and God, but we’re giving God a chance. So you gave God a chance and God did his work. God has chosen to work through people. We can find all kinds of stories in the in the Bible where cities change, like Jonah and Nineveh. Jonah didn’t really want to go. We don’t always just have this warm feeling about being a good neighbor or think we should go share our faith. Jonah didn’t feel that way, but as Jonah obeyed, God bless his word. So what we’re doing is asking you to be available for God and let him use you. As you pray for your neighbors by name, if you use blesseveryhome.com, you’ll get e-mail with five neighbors. So what I typically do is I pray for each of the five neighbors and I do it a little bit dutifully, but I do it. Then at the bottom of the e-mail it has a scripture and I discipline myself to actually pray for the scripture because if I don’t I’ll pray the same thing every day. I pray through that Scripture for my neighbors and then I go to the map. I click on the map and I see where they live. I make a conscious visual of where they live and then I click done. So I record my prayers. Then I’ll go back to my map and look at it regularly and ask where God is working. I’ve coded some red that I’m praying for, I’ve coded some yellow where I’m caring, I’ve done some green where I’ve shared my faith, and I’ve done some blue, where they’ve accepted Christ. By God’s grace, four of them have accepted Christ, which is awesome. Those are great stories for another day. What I’m doing is I’m farming, in a sense. The seed is the gospel, and I’m the sewer in this case. By the way, you don’t have to know a lot about the Bible or be a scholar, it’s really just being available, be a friend, be a neighbor. This is really the strategy of Jesus. Love God with all your heart soul mind and strength, which is a good sermon on itself. You don’t have something to give away if you’re not receiving love. As you love God, you just let the same kind of love flow over to your neighbors. I’m not putting a timeframe sometimes it’s the first day, sometimes it takes 15 years.

Robin: We don’t always know the impact we’re making. It’s wasn’t really this warm relationship, but I did care about him. When he came to church that morning, I asked what he was doing there, and he said his wife had left him. He said, “You’re the only guy I know that knows God. So don’t ever underestimate what they see in your life.

Gary: You had this care. You said you weren’t praying for him everyday, but you were consistently caring.

Robing. I never saw him in the yard and didn’t stop. So hundreds of times, I stopped.

Gary: What I often see is that within 30 days, a person’s spiritual life will go up dramatically. I believe it’s because they may have been teaching in class at church or maybe they’re a greeter or they do any one of a number of good things, but it’s an occasional kind of offer to God to serve. But when you do this, you’re doing it daily. You start to think about where you live, work, study, or play like a mission field. You start to think about yourself as a missionary. Now it’s every day. When you go out your door you’re consciously asking God to use you. You’re thinking it at work because you’re conscious of the fact that if you get an opportunity, you want to handle it well. So you’re memorizing scripture, you’re praying more earnestly for the people around. When you hear a need, now you’re heightened to it and instead of just ignoring it, you actually tell them you’re there if they want to talk about it. Let them know you’re praying and you’re available to talked. Many times, they won’t take you up the first time because they don’t want a salesman. But they do want friend. So sometimes, they’ll let a week go by and stop by and talk to you, and then all of a sudden a conversation springs up. A friend of mine says that we’ve got to learn how to witness in 30-second bursts. We’re throwing a line in the water and we let them respond. We listen to the person and we listen to the spirit and then we see if we have something to work with or not. Of course the spirit could say go ahead even if they seem to be closed, but many times He actually says, “Just love them.” So then on their own time, in their own way, when they’re interested, they start conversations that they initiate and care about and those are the best conversations that actually lead someone to Christ. We see this over and over. So Robin thanks for being our guest today. Thank you for what you’re doing.

Robin: Thank you for reminding me. At Mountainside, I got 10 neighbors that I got to interact with during that 18 years that I pastored that I made a difference with. I’d see someone and go over to a garage and I’d stop to talk. You have moved me today. We haven’t been together in a while. You showed me what this is all about and I already want to tell my church in Indiana about it. I want to go get my neighborhood and I want to start paying attention. It’s interesting that we deeply care inside, but without this vision, I see that I haven’t been caring about my neighbor. I’m sorry to say that I’ve been living there four years, and now I want to go back.

Gary: God put you there. That’s your mission field. Think about Abraham with Sodom and Gomorrah. God is going to Abraham asking how many people can you find. Whether that city made it or didn’t make it was really based on whether Abraham was able to lead other people to a God consciousness. Now unfortunately there weren’t enough. We think too often that it’s the pastor or it’s the church. We don’t always thing that if the strategy of God is love your neighbor, then you’re the missionary in your neighborhood. He put you there. There may not be another one; it’s you.

Robin: Let me remind you of one thing. We had one dear mentor that went to be on with Jesus. Gerald Marvel, do you remember his famous line? When God does something great, God always uses a person. That just came to my mind. That guy mentored you and me, and God always uses a person. When people argued with him, he’d say, “He sent Jesus.” He always used a person.

Gary: I really believe that this is God’s divine strategy and how he’s working today. Being in America, whether the church does great or it doesn’t, whether great leaders fail, fall, or succeed, the person they do care about is their neighbor, their coworker, their friend. People will open up and share their heart when they see that they can say no and you’ll still be there. As they do, that gives Jesus an opportunity to step into that. Thanks for being our guest today Robin. This was so fun. To those of you who are listening, we always say this as we begin and as we end. We want to join Jesus where he’s already at work, where we live, study, work, and play. When we do that, then we can see life change in our neighborhood and in our city. Thanks for listening and keep the conversation going.