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Advancing the Kingdom by Loving Your Neighbor

Donna Sturr, 77, has taught within the church since she was 14 years old. Donna has served as an organist, pianist, choir director, youth and young adults S.S. teacher, Bible Quiz coach, youth leader, and young adult leader. Her husband, Phil Sturr, was a CGGC pastor from 1971-2005, serving York First Church, Harmony Bethel Church, Hillcrest Church, and Mt. Pleasant Church, through 35 years of ministry. Phil and Donna have had a lifetime of ministry together. Donna still works fulltime as the Assistant for Leadership Development with the Brethren in Christ Denomination, serving over 500 ministers with their credentialing and education.

In February of 2022, Donna lost her husband, Phil, after 54 years of marriage. It was a life altering loss, but it wasn’t the only large change Donna was hit with. A year later, in June of 2023, Donna was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite her need for an oxygen tank, this diagnosis didn’t slow Donna’s ministry down. She still works full-time, and in fact, new opportunities have opened up. To hear more about it, we asked Donna for an interview to share about her continuing to make disciples.

We heard you’ve recently started a new ministry with your neighbors, what motivated you to do this?

After Phil passed away in February 2022, the Lord laid on my heart a burden for my neighbors and I wanted to share Jesus with them. I knew some of them by name but only a few because of working full-time and not being home a lot. My goal was then to eventually have a Bible Study in my home for those who may want to attend. In November 2022 I prepared half sheets of paper with an invitation for a “meet and greet” at my house on a Sunday afternoon. 14 neighbors attended. It was great for all of us to get to know our neighbors and chat for almost 2 ½ hours. After the meet and greet I recorded all their names (including children) on my daily prayer list and I pray for each of them, by name, most every day.

What opportunities has God made for you to minister to your neighbors?

Since I can’t walk into a store, as I am on oxygen and my levels go too low with any exertion, my neighbors often contact me and say they are going to a store, and they’ll ask if they can bring me anything. I often let them bring me an item or two as they then come into my home and sometimes will sit down and talk. I have learned to listen to my neighbors’ struggles and hurts and offer to pray for them, which they gladly accept. Some of them have noticed and ask me about how I am handling my diagnosis so well. This provides opportunity to share about Jesus.

Since the meet and greet in November 2022, I have had opportunity to sit down in my home with 5 individuals or families from my cul-de-sac and get to know them better as well as them get to know me better. The one neighbor is a very strong Catholic but that seems to be where her focus is – on the Catholic Church more than Jesus. I have had opportunities to share the need for a personal faith in Jesus with her. Another neighbor, who is totally unchurched, is going through testing right now for a possible cancer diagnosis and is struggling. I have had the opportunity to pray with her in my home. Another neighbor in his 80’s takes my trash to the curb every week. I invited him and his wife over for dinner a few weeks ago and we played some games together. At the close of the evening, I had an opportunity to ask about their faith background. Several of the neighbors have brought me leftover food from their meals or they would make extras for me. This gives me the opportunity to engage with them.

Is there something about our relentlessly busy lives that makes us ignore our neighbors? Why do you think we struggle to make connection with people who live next to us?

We are so inward focused, I think, and we come home tired, and all we want to do is rest, get supper for the family, and start the day over again. I needed to create space in my life. When we were in the 35 years of ministry, I would look at my calendar and I would have no free time at all. We were just tied up in our own lives, and our ministry.

We say we know the Lord called us into full time ministry, but what does He want for me today? Each day I get up now, I know I have today, but I don’t know if I have tomorrow. I asked my oncologist what my prognosis was, and he said, “you’re living today, and you may not have tomorrow.” So, that’s what I know, but I guess all of us are living that way. We have today to live for our Lord.

Did you have any fears stepping into this new ministry? How did you address those fears?

Each time I engage with a neighbor, I fear that I will say the wrong words and not be a good ambassador for my Lord. I desire to live the fruit of the Spirit and not be a stumbling block in any way. I have never had a lot of confidence in my oral or written communication, as many times I speak without giving great thought as to what I am saying. I pray daily that the Lord would use me and provide wisdom as I share Jesus one-on-one. I want to make each moment count for my Lord while He has given me reasonable health. My main way of addressing these fears is through prayer and as I sense the Lord leading me to step out in faith and follow that leading.

My first fear was as I walked around my cul-de-sac in early November 2022 passing out the invitations, not knowing many of my neighbors, and handing them the invitation to attend a “meet and greet” at my house. I prayed that day before I left my house. When Phil passed, I prayed for many months to bring me clarity as to how I could best share Jesus with my neighbors. To my knowledge, only 2 of the 11 homes attended mass on a weekly basis.

Do you see a connection between being vulnerable and being faithful?

Yes, I clearly see a connection between being vulnerable and being faithful. I need to come before my Lord with open hands and arms saying, “here I am Lord, use me” and then being willing to join Him in His work and follow Him in faithfulness wherever He leads. He is the one who will do the work through me. I notice it seems to have helped in my relationship with my neighbors as I am willing to be vulnerable about both past joys and accomplishments as well as challenges and failures in my life. I need to be willing to be open about my faith journey and that it is clearly my relationship with the Lord that makes a difference.

How has this new ministry changed your relationship with God?

I am practicing my Lord’s presence more throughout the day realizing that it is nothing I am doing but only what He can do through me as I fully yield to Him. It is a rather sobering thought that perhaps God placed Phil and me at this address after Phil had to stop pastoring so that we could be the light in a dark world to our neighbors. That is quite a responsibility. Since Phil has passed away, I have been much more faithful in my personal devotions even though there are days that have been missed. These times in the morning have become very special for me as I pray for others (including every neighbor by name) and spend time in God’s Word asking what He wants to say to me for that day and then journaling. I desire to keep my eyes focused on Jesus in all I do.

Do you see this ministry as a model that others could follow?

Yes, I do. They may not live on a cul-de-sac as I do but they can use a similar model, whether it is with co-workers, neighbors, a group of new believers from church who they are mentoring, or whatever ministry to which the Lord calls them. I believe God has called us to minister one-on-one and to disciple others and bring them to Jesus by our personal interactions.

 (reprinted from The Global Advocate with permission)

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