Thursday, August 31, 2017

Community




People often ask us how reality differed from our expectations in moving to Kenya. In many ways, we didn’t know what to expect from life and work at Tenwek, and we tried to approach our new life without too many assumptions. But, there were some things that surprised us. For me, it was living in community.


Our Kenya field missionary colleagues
Photo Credit: Dylan Nugent

I had not anticipated how living in such close proximity to those we serve with would affect me. Or how it would feel to live with the same people we work with and worship with and socialize with and do school with. This was a cost I had not counted.

It’s easy in that situation to begin to resent the community and those in it. I began to miss the compartmentalized and often virtual life that seemed so easy in the United States, where I could choose who I wanted to know and who I wanted to be known by. And I could so easily separate the various parts of my life – work, church, home, family. And in doing so, I could control appearances. But, at Tenwek, there is literally no facet of our lives that is not shared with others in our community.

About a year into our time in Kenya, a seasoned missionary shared with me a profound reflection on living in community – that if we let it be, community is one of the most refining processes we can ever experience. And why is it so refining? Because it forces us to acknowledge and respond to our own impurities.

Community walks into my house uninvited and stays longer than I planned, and it knows my lack of kindness when my schedule or efficiency is disrupted. Community hears me yell at my child in anger through the very thin walls. Community sees me lose patience and snap at a trainee or staff member. Community sees the way I turn a needy person away without gentleness or compassion. Community knows way too many of the times I’m not living a life of love or reflecting Jesus. Community is invasive and frustrating and hard. And community is indeed refining. Much like a marriage, it is that reflective mirror held in front of my face that reveals all the blemishes I want to pretend are not there. But unlike a marriage, I didn’t really choose this community. And sometimes our personalities and beliefs and approaches to life are very different. In all likelihood, most of them wouldn’t choose to marry me, and I might not choose to marry them.


Our residents (and Bob) work together to untangle themselves from a human knot
Photo Credit: Dylan Nugent

At first this all sounds rather unappealing. Who of us really wants to be refined? But when we let it, the difficulty of community gives way to a messy beauty. Sharing life, which means sharing the really bad and sharing the really good. Because for all the irritations and struggles, when people show up ready to know and love one another, it destroys the idea and appeal of self-reliance. I must rely on others because I cannot and will not make it on my own. Community lets me borrow food when I’m out of a necessary ingredient. Community watches my child when I’m up late at the hospital and makes sure she has dinner and companionship. Community remembers my birthday (even when I don’t necessarily want it remembered). Community knows when I’m ill and checks in. Community brings me a plate of the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever had on a day when I don’t think I can make it through.


A part of our community at Madison's baptism
Photo Credit: Rebecca Denning

In April, right before we left Kenya, Madison had the opportunity to be baptized in the Indian Ocean at our organization’s spiritual retreat. On that morning, as I looked around at the group of people who surrounded us, I was struck by the depth of relationship we had. I found myself loving the way community surrounds and celebrates and cares for one another. And I hold that beautiful picture in my mind as a picture of what Jesus wants for His followers.

Community remains hard, for us introverts, especially. Yet, for all of the hard parts, I remain grateful for the experience of community that we have had. I even find myself missing it and wanting to get back. Being here in the States, we have amazing relationships and people who care for us deeply and for whom we care. And we are blessed by that. But, I have noticed that so many people miss the beauty and blessing of community because it is often hard and inconvenient. And we have created a culture where we don’t need one another. And I find that sad. The word community literally means “with unity,” and living together in unity is what Jesus wants for us as His followers and His Church. Again and again, I see that unfold in the beautiful community He’s put us in, that in turn, refines to makes us all more beautiful.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Phil. 2:1-4

3 comments:

  1. Andrea or Bob, you guys are amazing writers. You expressed so eloquently community life at Tenwek. We love and miss you guys!

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  2. Well said, Andrea. Praying for you guys!

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