My wife, Kelly, served as a medical relief worker in Haiti and Brazil, but some of her best stories came from a year she spent working with farmers in Zambia. She was staying in a rented home with a beautiful guava tree in the garden. As the season changed, her yard blossomed into life and soon fruit was hanging heavily from the branches. One day she noticed that guavas were disappearing from her guava tree. It didn’t take long for her to discover why. A small group of young boys were sneaking into the yard, stealing from her tree and then running off. So one day she waited for the little opportunists to come around and she intercepted them just as they were about to take some more fruit. She called them all over, and with heads hanging down they knew the gig was up.
But my wife was more clever and more gracious than they knew. She said, “Boys, I need your help. Someone has been stealing from my guava tree. Can you believe it?” The little pilferers were speechless. “I’d like to hire all of you to be my guava tree guards,” she went on, “If you guard my guava tree from thieves, I’ll repay you by letting you take as many guavas as you need. What do you think? Do we have a deal?” The boys were shocked, and then elated. They just landed a prestigious security job that paid in delicious guavas! Soon the group of boys organized themselves into shifts to guard the tree around the clock from the ‘yet-to-be-found’ guava thieves. All season long the boys would report that the garden was safe and each boy enjoyed their fill of well earned fruit. It was funny, gracious, and genius.
From thieves to allies, it is amazing what a thoughtful gesture of kindness can do. My wife had the ability to see these young boys beyond their thieving activities to recognize that they had the capacity to do something meaningful. It may have been silly and fun to turn the tables like that, but what she did changed the way those boys related to the world around them. When she made these boys her allies, when she sided with them, she opened the door to relationship. No longer were they slinking around in the dark, they became people she knew by name and welcomed them every day. Instead of living with the fear that their guava-stealing might move to larger crimes, my wife was able to live with a sense of comfort knowing that while she was away a team of boys had a protective eye on her home.
An ally is someone who you look out for and who you trust with your own well-being. We talk about ally nations who partner together for a higher cause or a common purpose, but what would it look like for us to be allies to our neighbours?
A neighbourhood of allies is a rare and powerful thing. Often most people on a street do not know their neighbours, let alone work together with trust and kindness. It is enticing to think of my city as a place where neighbours become allies and where residents become partners. If guava thieves can become dedicated guava security guards because of a moment of kindness, imagine what our neighbourhoods could look like if we saw the people on our street as our own allies, friends, and partners.
A renewed imagination for our neighbourhood re-orients our lives to a whole new way of seeing those around us. As we live with open arms to the possibility that we can connect with others, we will begin to unclench our hold on our security and find the freedom to embrace again.