Grad mixes neighborly advice with faith formation
Editor’s note: Reprinted from the November 2021 issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version of the magazine, click here. Guiding Light is a new feature highlighting the leadership and community support of GCU alumni. To submit a graduate for consideration, please email [email protected]
Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Ralph Freso
To Josh Miller, loving your neighbor isn’t some cold command. “It’s the reason why we exist,” he said of humanity and of Apartment Life, a nonprofit whose goal is to build community and faith within apartment complexes across the nation. “The hope is they see Jesus through loving your neighbor.”
The Grand Canyon University alumnus is program director for the organization, whose research shows that nearly half of Americans don’t have any meaningful relationships with their neighbors. Apartment Life trains and embeds a team to live in apartment communities and build community through gatherings.
“Yes, our ultimate goal is to know Jesus, but the doorway to Jesus is us loving our neighbors in such a way that it allows them to love one another,” said Miller, a 2018 GCU graduate who was raised in Tempe, Arizona. “It allows them to have a sense of home, wherever they are at.”
Apartment Life formed partnerships with some of the nation’s largest apartment management companies, including Lincoln Property Company, LMC and Greystar Property Management, and placed teams in communities no farther than 15 minutes from churches.
But the goal isn’t to preach. It’s to reach.
“We are not an organization that’s into superficial stuff. ‘Here is a crazy cool event we are going to put on Pinterest.’ It is in our best interest to actually get on the ground and meet people where they are at,” Miller said.
They build relationships during pool parties, fall festivals, cookouts, “yappy hours” with dogs or other shared-space activities, then inject conversations on faith while adhering to Fair Housing Act rules on holding spiritual events.
“It’s all the little moments of getting to know people,” he said. “It’s getting to know Jesus through our actual relationships with them.”
One man moved from California to Phoenix and didn’t know anyone. A team member started to invite him to movies and sports events, and slowly the duo grew to 20 tenants and became the conduit for a unified community, Miller said.
“He was able to go through some incredibly difficult things (because of) Apartment Life,” Miller said. “He said he didn’t know that he would have been able to go through those challenges, specifically COVID.”
It’s an ideal job for Miller, who graduated with a degree in entrepreneurial studies and took his first job as a youth director at Redemption Church in Peoria before joining Apartment Life four months ago.
Much of the Eden Prairie, Minnesota, native’s skills at Apartment Life harken back to GCU, where his wife, Holly, works in Spiritual Life, and his role as a Head Life Leader. “I learned to develop relationships with people that didn’t look like me, talk like me, vote like me, have religious belief like me,” he said. “They really challenged me to make my faith my own.”
It’s what he hopes to instill in community teams. “I love when a light bulb comes on when we brainstorm how to connect with people … to equip people to go in and share the love of Jesus.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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