There was nothing on our island that said “community” like a good old-fashioned lice-picking party.
The women chattered endlessly as they combed through each other’s hair, diligently searching for those elusive nits. As you have heard the idiom stated, it was not for the faint of heart. Those tiny little eggs were so hard to see, and hours of work could be undone by one missed bug.
I even joined in on occasions. I would sit on a hard wooden bench as the woman above me searched through my hair. I was pretty confident they wouldn’t find anything, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t really about the lice (or hopefully lack thereof!). I was there for the fellowship, the laughter, the relationship.
The days of awkward shyness between the women of the village and myself had long passed. The people gathered around me had become my friends. Many years had passed since I had first stepped on their sandy beaches. I had been a total stranger to them at that point, but now our lives had become joined. These moments together were a chance for us friends to gather and share our stories. We would laugh until our sides ached, and when the tears began to flow, we would offer words of encouragement. Our experiences had intertwined from years of living side by side. Our hearts had joined into oneness; we had all found our center in Christ. It wasn’t an easy start. It had taken work, but it had become beautiful. We had formed our community.
As overseas workers, many of us live our lives in a state of constant transition. The only thing that seems certain is change. We leave our comforts, our places of belonging, and we venture off into the world of the unfamiliar. Our circle of friends and influence diminish as we cross the oceans, and our communities around us grow small. Our souls long for a place to connect with others. Our minds need stirring, and our hearts desire to share. We were created to live in a community, starting way back with the introduction of fig skirts in the garden. Yet, the tension of our calling is always present. We must go, we want to go, and in doing so we are pulled away from the places we are known. How do we purposefully pursue meaning in our community when we are always on the move?
I believe our trans-continental hearts can find encouragement as we look into the life of the Apostle Paul. A man of excellent character with a fiery passion, he too was a traveler of the long roads. Called by God to serve beyond his birthplace, he didn’t let his earthly roots grow deep. Yet, he always found community wherever he went. Scripture records his great love for others and how he grieved over sorrowful goodbyes. His letters often spoke of how he longed for the times when they would fellowship again. I wonder if the answer to how he achieved his coterie was much more straightforward than we want to believe. He found his community in unity.
In his charge to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul encouraged those in Christ to find comfort by being of one mind. He repeatedly exhorted believers in Scripture to be part of the Oneness of Christ. One body, one mind, one Spirit. I would imagine he took the same advice. He found those of like-mindedness and one Spirit, and He let God be the center. He put the needs of others first and invested in the interests and relationships of others. Paul stood fast in his beliefs but shared openly. Whether he was with his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ or whether he was absent from them in another place, he strove to be of one mind and one heart in the Gospel of Christ. His community was rooted in the unity of being in Christ.
Our unity in Christ is the place where our community can begin. A meeting of our minds, a place where our hearts can gather. It is a surrendering of ourselves for the benefit of others. The depth and beauty of this word is like a well-written piece of poetry. A symphony of souls creating a masterpiece of music. The individuality of each person meeting together and complementing each other through the unity and fellowship of the Spirit.
Our communities all have a beginning: a starting point where the connections take place and the bond starts to grow. Simple as it may seem, maybe the first steps are just to show up. We turn on our computers, join an online group and challenge our thoughts and minds. We knock on our neighbor’s door and invite them into our lives. We step off the plane on foreign soil, and we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We seek to find those who are like-minded and faithful. We search for the common and let Christ be our center. Slowly at first, and then cemented more strongly with each interaction, the relationships begin to bloom. The friendships deepen, and our world expands. Our place of belonging blossoms, we find our unity, and we now belong to a community.
How do you balance the tension of God’s calling and trying to build community? What have you done to find purpose and meaning in our ever-changing communities?