For several weeks, a couple of formerly unhoused ladies have worked to prepare a variety of apple concoctions. Apple sauce, apple pie, apple butter–you get it. Now that they have homes and kitchens, the recipes of their mothers and grandmothers have taken root in their own lives, and they seek to be a blessing to others.

The joy they have found turning literal fruit into gifts for friends and neighbors has gotten me thinking about the lifecycle of loving neighbor. We give love expecting nothing in return, or we receive it knowing we might never have means for repayment. When God is involved, return on investment is not always visible to the naked eye; but that does not leave the effort absent of miracles.

Who actually knows, for instance, how the battered man rescued by the Good Samaritan made use of his second chance at life? The story was never about the outcome; it was the action–the mercy–that mattered. When mercy leads, it isn’t just the man in the ditch that finds healing. Everyone is transformed.

Fredericksburg’s downtown churches began their journey toward the vision for Micah Ecumenical Ministries almost 18 years ago. We’ve now been at this as many years as there are miles to the treacherous Jericho Road of the Good Samaritan story. Along the way, encounters with our neighbors’ suffering have taught us much about the home God envisions for humanity, and how we are called to take part.

It is love of neighbor that calls us, again and again, to show up with mercy, to pursue a just response, and to create spaces where God can bring that kingdom vision to fruition right here in our own community. One life at a time. One ministry at a time. And it takes a LONG time for the small and simple ways of God to reveal the bigger picture.

Sometimes the result is as monumental as the chronically homeless couple who went from five years in a tent, to an apartment, to owning their own home. Sometimes it is as meaningful as the man who overcame a decade in prison to one day work in the same cold weather shelter where he once slept. Sometimes it is as special as the army veteran who lived 27 years on the street finally agreeing to move back indoors. Sometimes it is as profound as knowing the terminally ill woman, who lived out of a shopping cart most of her life, got to spend her final days in a home with a community who loved her.

Most times, it is as simple as a jar of apple butter made in the kitchen of a newly-housed neighbor, presented as a gift to others, a symbol of hope, and evidence of belonging that had previously seemed unattainable.

Be it 18 miles on the Jericho Road or 18 years of ministry with unhoused neighbors, we have 18 reasons to thank you, our travel companions, for making the journey possible. The path ahead looks promising, and it is better with you by our side. Keep your boots dusty! And consider the ways your love of neighbor might accompany us in the coming year.

Might our work together lead to fewer people in ditches, and a better road–a better community–for all of us.