Today’s Guest Post Wednesday is written by someone very special to me: my big brother! Stephen lives in the far away land of Washington with his wife, young daughter, a few friends, and two dogs. He works at a well-known international engineering and construction company by day and is a superhero by night. (I consider anyone who works in youth and young adult ministry a superhero.) Here he shares a community story and the journey he and his wife took to get there.
A few months ago, I met a young lady at church and invited her to the young adults home group my wife and I host. It turned out that she was a foreign exchange in high school. The home group is geared for those out of high school, but I had already invited her and wasn’t going to rescind the offer. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure she’d come since most of the people I invite never show.
Sure enough she came. She was from Sweden, and she attended a local high school but hated all the high school drama. As a result when she attended church, she struggled to connect to the high school youth ministry.
I was glad she found a connection with us. We learned a lot about her and I think she learned a lot about us, too.
As the school year progressed, we learned that the high school she attended didn’t recognize the foreign exchange students at graduation like all the other schools in our area. She seemed a little upset but she never complained too much. I decided we were going to do something about it.
The weekend after graduation, we had our home group as usual but we bought an ice cream cake and some others bought cards. One other graduate actually brought her cap and gown and diploma holder along for our new friend to wear.
Sure, she knew we planned this, but she seemed surprised by our enthusiasm and encouragement. That day she had ice cream cake from Dairy Queen for the first time, got to wear a cap and gown, and with a few tears said goodbye to the small community she had built in our small group.
This is exactly what my wife and I strive to do with our lives. In our nearly 8 years of marriage, we have slowly moved towards building an environment of intentional hospitality. It isn’t easy, we certainly haven’t “arrived” yet, and I am sure we will make many mistakes along the journey–but it has been fun so far.
We started in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, dreaming of buying a 36,000 square foot abandoned warehouse to turn into community center and housing. Career plans changed and we moved to South Carolina. We bought a nice-sized house with a big yard and got connected with a local church youth ministry.
In South Carolina, I learned that if you want to be a part of a community, you have to make time to be a part of a community. No brainer right. The house we bought and the yard that came with it was too big for me to handle, and I ended up spending all my free time working on my house instead of being a part of my community. Yes, we hosted a small group. Had teenagers over. Met our neighbors. But I wanted more.
After 18 months, we moved 3,000 miles away to eastern Washington state. I was so sick of owning a house we decided to rent an apartment. We found a very nice apartment and again got connected to a local church youth ministry. We started hosting a young adults home group and we loved it. We learned to be okay with small steps. Our group wasn’t huge. At times there were lots of people attending but the core group was only 2-4 people. But over time, the apartment didn’t fit either. When our lease was up, we moved across town.
We rented a small house with backyard for our dog and garage for my motorcycle. We called on this small community of ours to help move. Thankfully they came and helped, since while living at the apartment we had a baby and moving with a 5-month-old wouldn’t have been fun alone. In our new house, one small group grew into three small groups. We were asked to take over the senior high boys and girls small groups. Our small community had grown and things were great. We had people over all the time.
After a year, we started looking for a house to call our own. After a few months of looking and planning and looking and planning, we found one that would work great for us. A nice sized house with 3 bedrooms and 3 baths and a big backyard. Don’t worry I didn’t forget about South Carolina–this big backyard didn’t have much landscaping and already had an established garden space we could start using without much effort.
So what does this space have that the others didn’t? How have we changed and what did we learn along the way?
Briefly, this space worked great for having people over without having people all over each other. Nice open spaces, separate entrances so people could come over without waking up the baby (by the way, we are now expecting baby #2). It also had an extra bedroom, so we could have a roommate. Which turned out to be two roommates and an extra dog.
We have learned that community certainly doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. Community ends up being like a good pair of shoes. In order for them to work they have to fit right. Though we don’t plan on calling Washington home forever, after several years of trying to find a community we finally found a great pair of shoes in this old house with all these young people.