I have always craved and attempted to create community, beginning with a small band of fourth grade misfits meeting in the coat closet. A nursing school friend and I pioneered a Christian Nurses Association at our college and I led several small groups at church. As young marrieds we worked with youth and always had people in our home- at one point we were leading three small groups. I couldn’t get enough! There was something so very satisfying about engaging heart to heart, yet I could never get it to the depth and maturity I was yearning for. Several years ago I felt the Lord speak to my heart and encourage me to keep pressing in. As I prayed, these words were imprinted on my heart, “Community will be the foundation to any fruit that comes from your life.”
Community is built upon, revolves around and subsists on relationship. The roots of the word commune is “to make common” and that is what we are doing here- sharing everyday life and living in unity. One of the first questions people ask is,” Who is in your community?” This inquiry also includes how and why we chose these relationships. The answer is twofold.
First, we began with prayer and intentionality. We intentionally sought out mature, Christian people with whom we shared vision. There were several options available when we began seeking out a new home in 2015 and we prayerfully visited each one and discussed as a family which was the best fit. The Coles and a small farm lifestyle felt natural and right.
Having found our key people, together we purchased land and began building homes and farms. The Coles lived here two years before finding land and already had a strong network of friends and a sense of community. We have been blessed to merge into this incredible group of sold out Jesus lovers. Many of those people have engaged with us and visit regularly for dinner and times of worship. Some have pressed in deeper and labored alongside us. The Gromers have been one such family who naturally merged into our community. They recently moved to SC from CA during a long journey to freedom from a cult they were raised in. Hans is a skilled carpenter and gave many evening hours to building the duck house and bookshelves, etc. Shellie is a talented cook who loves to serve in practical ways (such as helping clean out our rental when we moved) and our teenagers enjoy being together. The Kinnuen family gave us a place to land when we were strangers and were the first to invite us into community. The Ahos pioneered YWAM Fascinate schools in the Greenville, SC area and built a home just half a mile away the same time we were building. They have been generous neighbors- Jed wired our pond irrigation pump and many times they have blessed me with words of encouragement along with trees, plants and two heritage turkeys! Melo’s parents live just across the pond and her father is a professional builder- he helped design our home, donated many hours of heavy equipment and dirt work, gave invaluable advice and even blessed me with a little pond of my own:)
So initially we were intentional about connecting with people to build the core, or foundation, of this community. Then there is the unplanned, unexpected element. Just as Jesus answered the question “who is my neighbor?” with an unordinary encounter, we experienced improbable “appointments” on this property before we even moved in! I love how Jesus left the religious teacher to wrestle with the answer. It is so much more convenient and SAFE to control who our neighbor is, but to follow Jesus means to carry His heart of compassion and inclusion, even if it means nursing our enemy back to health as the Samaritan did. There is a place here for every person who knocks on the door, because Jesus did not turn people away. If they managed to stumble their way towards Him, He stopped, acknowledged them and met their need. It may just be a few moments of caring conversation, a meal, prayer, a bread baking lesson or a safe place to stay; if someone appears here then we assume they are meant to be included and loved.
Two months before the house was finished we were busy planting the orchard and began chatting across the fence with a neighbor. He is a kind man in his early 70s who owns horses and is fighting a hard battle with cancer. One day I shared my desire to care for a veteran in our studio apartment and within an hour he brought a friend over to answer some of my questions. Mr M is a disabled veteran who volunteers at the veteran’s society our neighbor belongs too and we enjoyed an hour conversation while looking over the living space. He was very excited about the garden and upcoming animals and vision of our community. The very next day Mr M brought a trailer full of animal supplies he was no longer using, and his three teenagers. His fourteen-year-old son, H, had just returned from forty-five days in juvenile detention after being expelled from three schools this year. I was needing to get back to planting the garden, so after 20 minutes of friendly chatter I returned to work and invited H to join me. He had never planted a seed, so I quickly demonstrated and we spent the next hour planting squash, cantaloupe and watermelon. As often happens with young men, he began to talk as we worked side by side. His dad was in shock, not only because his son was voluntarily helping me, but that he engaged like that. I smiled as I thought about the strange connection we just made- my new neighbor’s friend’s troubled teenage son planting our first Thirsty Goose garden. I prayed that our Father was also planting seeds in this young boy’s heart as we talked.
Because we run a three-month school and internships, our community is in constant change. I enjoy the students and discovering who they are while sharing life for a little while, but I also appreciate the constant “core” relationships. The mix of intentional with the unexpected keeps our days interesting and our hearts open.