In America, we have the luxury of personal space. Can you imagine living close to, worshiping with, and sharing life with those you work with inside and outside of work? Bob and Andrea Parker are missionary doctors serving at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya. In their latest blog post, they talk about this reality.
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.
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.
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.
To read the rest of the Parkers’ ministry blog, follow this link: Parker blog.
ACT: Christ encourages us to live in community. This week, think of someone who is either a neighbor or someone who you see often but don’t talk to and do something for them—bring them a plate of cookies or offer some type of help or service. Be a light in your community!