Love Thy Neighbor? Or Just Thyself?

I grew up in Salem and can remember when we were a small city; a town really. Today, with a population over 150,000 and with Keizer (30,000) right next door, our community isn’t small anymore.

As we’ve grown, it’s hard for any one person, group or organization to really “get their arms around Salem” anymore. The geography is just too big, too bulky. Even though there are issues that affect our entire community, most needs and most answers reside in the smaller, cohesive geographies that dot the map of Salem-Keizer.

Let’s take that ‘Big Geography’ and break it down into chunks we can chew: We are one (1) Community. And yet two (2) side-by-side Cities. We have six (6) High-school Feeder Districts. 12 Middle-school Communities. 26 Neighborhood Associations. 45 Elementary-school Neighborhoods.

After that are the smaller neighborhoods marked by a hill, a creek, a builder’s subdivision or a historical figure. These are the “villages” where modern-day people live and move and have our being. These are the areas where we encounter our Neighbor; but do we know how to “love our neighbor as ourselves?” (Luke 10) Especially the “least of these?” (Matthew 25)

Since our founding in 1996, we at the Salem Leadership Foundation (SLF) noticed that the most people do the most good when the work is “in sight, in mind.” People have the most passion for doing good when it’s close by, or involves them (and their families) personally. That all adds up to “Neighborhood.” All of us have one neighborhood; many of us have three.

There’s the neighborhood where we live (that’s #1). Then, the neighborhood where we work. And for many of us, the neighborhood where we worship. These are the places where we spend the most time, where we have the most friends/colleagues, and where we’ve made more than a casual investment. Instead of taking on the whole world, why not go deep in your own neighborhood? There are kids, families, and senior citizens who need you. There are rich, middle-class and low-income folks in every part of town—and they need a good neighbor. There are schools, non-profits and ministries serving those in need—and they would love to have your partnership. Our city’s Neighborhood Associations and Community Progress Teams (CPTs) need us to link arms and do good work together.

To make things even easier, SLF is placing a skilled networker in each one of Salem-Keizer’s six high-school feeder areas. We call these gifted catalysts “Lightning Rods” and you might have met Carrie Maheu, Herm Boes or Wayne Crowder out there doing amazing work. We are furiously raising more money to hire three more Lightning Rods so that all areas of town are fully engaged—especially the churches.

Please don’t resort to that tired old wineskin of “the State hates the Church” or “the secular world doesn’t want us.” Yes, there are spiritual battles above and cultural conflicts around the globe. But here in Salem the Church Community is valued, respected and sought-after. Our secular neighbors and public officials are asking us—pleading with us—to come help hurting kids, families and neighborhoods. God has opened the door. Will we go through? Or complain about past snubs?

Again, you don’t have to take on every need . . . just find one person, close by, and help them. If you are a business, see how you can positively invest in the district around your address. If you’re a church, open up your building (as many have done) or go to the nearest school and ask: “How can we help?”

There are now 40 to 50 churches (out of 180) doing ‘significant servanthood’ in Salem-Keizer. Some are Churches as Neighborhood (CaN) Centers. Others partner with neighborhood schools for reading, after-school and mentoring programs. Some churches host homeless families through the Interfaith Hospitality Network, and others build affordable homes through Habitat for Humanity. More and more are getting involved in Foster Care and helping families with loved ones in prison.

I have a dream. Some say I’m crazy. I believe that one day Salem will be known as the “healthiest community in Oregon.” I believe we will be the City of Shalom; the place of peace and well-being. We can get there if everyone will just serve their neighbors. Especially those who claim to know the Savior, who personally commanded us to “Go and do Likewise.”

What’s Your Neighborhood?


Sam Skillern is the Executive Director of the Salem Leadership Foundation. He lives in the Grant-Highland district of North Salem and, with his wife Jennifer, actively volunteers at Grant and Highland Schools, Salem Alliance Church, and many community partnerships. A Salem native and a Young Lifer in the ‘70s, Skillern graduated from Oregon State University in 1982 with a degree in Journalism.


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