If you want to go fast, go alone
If you want to go far, go together.
Needless to say, I don't claim to be a dog lover. In fact, when we moved to Africa and everyone told us we should get a dog, I wasn't thrilled. I didn't yield quickly to a puppy search. But, when Snickers showed up in our yard, a tiny, terrified little thing, I caved. I may not love dogs, but I do have a thing for underdogs and at that time, Snickers certainly was pitiful enough to win me over. It was no time before he and I were good friends.
That dog really, really loved us. Maybe I am naive, but I feel like he had an overwhelming sense of gratitude and loyalty because he had known loneliness and hunger. I feel like he appreciated every feeding and every stroking and every play time in the back yard. Sometimes, when he would look at me, I sensed that he just wanted me to know how thankful he was to be one of us. It was like he just could not take our family, HIS family, for granted. I know all of you non-dog people out there think I'm crazy, but I am being real here. Leaving him behind was really, really hard.
I feel a little like that dog. You see, when Ryan and I served on church staff, we did lots of reading about the importance of building community in your church and your ministry. We developed an understanding that people are created for community and we tried to live our lives and develop our ministry programming with that in mind. Even with 500+ kids in our program, we wanted each of them to have adults at church who knew their names, prayed for them, and cared if they didn't show up for several weeks in a row. We encouraged the adults in our ministry to develop a real community in their small groups and we made an effort to live in community ourselves. We fully recognized that Jesus modeled community during his time on earth. His circle of 12 went on to change history.
Then, we moved to Africa. Our first term was, without a doubt, the hardest 3 years of our lives. Our circumstances were difficult, our daily demands were often overwhelming, and our grief became an almost constant companion. I firmly believe that all of it was magnified and compounded by the fact that we were nearly community-less, especially after our evacuation from Nigeria. During our time in Ghana, I literally felt like I was dying on the vine. There were a variety of things that compounded the problem. Our mission family was small and the layout of our city and country meant that our time together was limited, the urban-ness of our city and the direction of our work made it difficult for us to build relationships and the traffic made it nearly impossible to cultivate friendships with other missionaries, Ryan's work had him out of the country too much, and we found it nearly impossible to find a church the worked for us. We were really, really alone.
By God's grace, we recognized that it was not a good or sustainable way to live, especially with the ages of our children. We prayed and explored options, believing that it could be possible for us to continue in our call, while still meeting the needs of our family and having a healthy community. The Lord led us to our new home. Ryan still does the same type of work, but with far less travel, in a city where we have many, many options for relationships. We haven't even been here for a year, but we are so much healthier and happier. We truly believe that we could live here for many years, should the Lord allow that.
Kinda like dishwashers, air conditioning, fast food drive-thrus, and butter in pre-measured sticks, I do not think I will ever take community for granted again. Seriously y'all, it hits me and I become a crying mess at the most ordinary times these days. Things like birthday party invitations, having my kitchen full of other people's kids, or seeing my children sing or play or serve alongside other children is sure to produce a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes because I am so, so aware of the gift that we have been given. My gratitude for the gift of friendship is real and sometimes I feel a bit like Snickers, just full of thankfulness that we get to experience this season of togetherness.
Doing life with other people can be messy. It yields plenty of opportunities to be inconvenienced or annoyed or frustrated. But it also yields many lovely fruits like accountability, encouragement, help, and companionship. For as long as we find ourselves in this season of abundant community, I desire to be filled with gratitude for the gift of friendship and prayerful for my co-laborers who find themselves in lonely places or seasons. God was faithful to meet me and sustain me there and I know that our season of loneliness was not without purpose and I know that I may find myself there again. But for today, and for as many tomorrows as He allows, I hope to appreciate the perks of doing life alongside others.