Community for Change
Good morning again from Reisterstown, Maryland!
Last week I had the pleasure of sharing at Crossroad Community Church’s weekly service for young adults, Pathway. They were in the midst of a series on the importance of community. This morning I would like to share some of the words I shared with them because I truly believe community can make a difference in our lives and in this world. It is also a topic I believe people often appreciate conceptually, but many times, fail to incorporate in their lives in reality due to busyness. As I shared with the group last week, I have learned through my time in Nicaragua, and before that choosing not to be in real community is a mistake. Today I want to take a look at one reason it is easy to fail to engage in community and three places I have seen it make a significant difference.
There are many impediments to community, but in my estimation a lack of intention, both by people who are not in community and by the people who could invite them into it, is the greatest. The only way to have community with others is to seek it and to invite others to become a part of it. I believe a lack of energy to take these steps tends to keep people from doing life together. In the end, this lack of energy may come from a limited perspective of its importance in our lives and the world. In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he wrote, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:3-5, NIV 1984) In his words to the church in Rome, and to us, Paul is saying we need to stop believing we can do it on our own and start working together to take advantage of each person’s gifts. This can only truly be done when we know each other and each other’s gifts. That can only happen if we are spending time together in community. I have personally seen the truth of these words in my one life, especially in three specific areas.
As I started trying to have an impact in communities in Nicaragua it became very apparent to me that I would not be very effective as a one man show. What also became very clear is that I needed to truly know the people with whom I would be working and the people who I would be trying to impact. Over the next six months or so I made my primary focus building community with the people in each local area. Now a year into my time in Nicaragua, I can tell you this has made a huge difference because we actually know each other and how we can best work together for a better future. Whether it is in El Canyon, the farm in Veracruz, or any other location where we are trying to have an impact locally, it has enhanced our effectiveness and allowed us to use the Gifts God has given us to take steps forward. When trying to have an impact in a local area, community allows us to use our resources more effectively and more clearly understand the direction in which God is leading us. Additionally, it provides a great picture of oneness and God’s ability to impact a local area as a whole through His community of people.
In an international sense, I have also seen community make a significant difference. When Crossroads Community Church began doing international missions, it decided to take a different approach. Instead of going to many locations and countries once, Crossroads decided to pick one location and to go many times. Over the eight years Crossroads has been working in El Canyon, Nicaragua, true community has formed with the orphanage, the church and the people who live in the community of El Canyon. This has allowed trust to build and has given Crossroads, Maria Jose, Pastor Josue and the other people involved in ministry in El Canyon a better idea of how we can partner together to change the community. It has also helped Crossroads address the actual needs in El Canyon as opposed to just bring things or doing activities that Crossroads believes are necessities. It has also set the stage for a number of mission trips that will happen over four weeks this summer that are focused on specific areas of need in El Canyon such as medical attention, educational improvement, and construction. By taking a community approach to international outreach, churches and other people and organizations can better use their resources and have a greater and more long lasting impact. In fact, I believe we might even be able to change the world.
I have also seen the difference community can make personally. This has been true in many ways, but especially true when it comes to my decision to move to Nicaragua. As I began to feel led to make this life changing decision, I began discussing it with people with whom I was in community, both in the United States and Nicaragua. As I was going through my discernment process, I believe God, through His Spirit, spoke into my life through the people I trust most. In fact, I would go as far to say that I never would have moved to Nicaragua if I was not in community with people who could encourage me to take that step of faith. In our personal lives, God can use community to help us understand our purpose and how we can make the greatest impact. That’s not to say it cannot happen outside of community, but I do think the chances are much lower. At times when we feel “stuck” in life, we isolate ourselves, which could very well be a part of the reason we are stuck. If we can begin to engage in community and allow others to speak truth into our lives, we may just start to understand and see the next step God has planned for our lives. This has been true in my life and may very well be true in yours.
Whether locally, internationally, personally, or any other area, community can make a huge difference. However, the reality is that community will not happen without action. We must choose to be in community. The choice is yours.
– James Belt