I've been thinking about the idea of "community" a lot lately. When I reflect on my life and the various places I've lived and friends that I've had, I can say without a doubt that it wasn't until we moved to East Aurora that I experienced community in more of the way I think God intended. I have so much further to go, but I've gotten a glimpse of what I think God means by "community."
For most of my life, I lived with, worked with, went to school with, and interacted with people who were for the most part just like me---racially, economically, culturally. I certainly spent time with people who were "different," but most often it was in the context of volunteering or serving. But there’s a huge difference between being someone’s volunteer and being someone’s friend . . . being in community with them.
I've been reading the book, "Friendship at the Margins" by Christopher Heuertz and Christine Pohl, and they really confirm what I've been thinking. They say, "Mission or ministry with people who are poor or vulnerable often assumes that "our" task is to meet "their" needs . . .A focus on friendshp rearranges our assumptions. What if the resources they have also meet our needs . . . What if in sharing life together as friends we all move closer to Jesus' heart?"
It's true. Jesus hung out with… ate with… was friends with… and loved the poor. Jesus knew that we must move to a place where we’re not just serving the poor, but where we love them. That’s why He says (John 15:12) “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
As an imitator of Jesus, the Apostle Paul understood this as well. In 1 Corinthians 13 he says, “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
I'm learning that if we are going to be rich in community, we have to not just serve, but actually have real friendships with people who are materially poor and different from us racially and culturally. And I can now say from experience, as some of my closest friends are now people that American society would label "poor" and "Mexican," that I am so much "richer" in community than I ever have been. I am looking forward to a 4th of July celebration that will feature both American BBQ and Mexican rice, beans and tortillas. I have come to love having coffee every week with Maria . . . not at Starbucks, but in our homes. I have learned what a luxury it is to have a washer & dryer in my home, and that it is not essential to have everything spotless in order to have company. And I have been humbled by friends who have quite literally spent their last dollar to help someone in worse shape than they are.
As the leader of a ministry who mobilizes "volunteers," I am grappling with how Jesus would do my job. I don't think He'd mobilize volunteers. I think He would challenge people to relationships and friendships. But, that's a MUCH bigger ask of people. I guess the hope is that people might start as volunteers, but then work towards building friendships. But, how likely are people really to do that? Am I doing a disservice to both the volunteers and the people they are serving by encouraging this type of relationship? What can I do to further challenge and stretch people to move beyond just volunteering? I am so thankful for the new friendships I've built over the past few years, and the richer sense of community that has come from them. And I want that for every Community 4:12 volunteer.