The longer we live in Atlanta, the more I am appreciating what friendships and a sense of belonging meant to me living in the communities that I have been a part of throughout my life. Every where I have been I have been blessed to have others invest in my life. Sure, I had plenty of struggles being a Mennonite as I grew up, but I always knew I belonged and was a part of a community. We are now a part of a totally different culture and community here, and although we are a involved in a ministry that we are excited about and see God at work in, I am seeing things that are missing. Things that I assumed were what everyone wanted, or at least knew about. So, as I have been thinking about this, I wanted to mention several specific things that people have done for us to recognize that what many of us consider as normal is in fact ways that we have been building friendships and community.
Strong family. Although this is seemingly basic and foundational, it is abnormal in many ways here. There is something secure about being a member of a family. We have a place to fill, a role to play. Our family was not perfect, but I grew up knowing I was wanted. I was taught of a greater calling than myself, God’s Kingdom. Our families have continued to invest in us here through acceptance, connection, and support in various ways. There is something reassuring knowing that even though we make mistakes, we are still a part of our families.
Friends. We have had quite a few people stop in to see us or to stay for a bit in the last several months. People taking the time to spend time with us and see our world does so much for us. I keep realizing that we are part of a much larger community than just the ones we have lived in. Connecting with friends from all over and with varied backgrounds keeps us in touch and allows us to be involved in more than just Atlanta. We also feel love through others being a part of our lives.
Giving. I keep being overwhelmed by what people have given us. What is amazing is that giving comes from all types of people and in all kinds of ways. There are way too many things that people have done for us to list, but I will mention some as a general overview.
Tires being paid for on several occasions
People sending notes/letters/church bulletins
Money appearing in our mailbox
Money being sent when someone found out about a specific need
The Abbeville community taking us in when I substituted at CSMS in March by providing a place to stay, money for groceries, meals in various homes, babysitting for us so that Christy and I could have some time together, and other things
Groups bringing groceries, baked goods, and more when they came to visit
A GPS unit showing up right before a trip (this has been a lifesaver in the city!)
This really is just a sample of friends generosity. I wonder at times how so many people with such busy lives and so many good projects/interests themselves can bless us so much. What makes it hard sometimes to fathom is that it doesn’t feel justified to me. I have a problem of living with a reward mentality, so when I look at what we are doing here and what I have done for all those who have so generously given, it feels as if it is very undeserved. We have been given far more than what we have given. I don’t always do well at understanding this, but I do like what one person told me. He said, “Be faithful to what God has called you. Life isn’t about what we perceive to be success or failure, but obedience to what God desires.” I don’t believe we deserve what we have been given, but I am deeply grateful.
I think what helped me realize more than anything the blessings of our strong communities are the work groups that have come down to help on various projects. The last several weeks have been tremendous. There was a group of around 20 men who came down Tuesday a week ago to frame up, sheetrock, and trim walls in Eden III, a women’s shelter and volunteer group room. Several also painted another room used by volunteers. Wednesday there were 11 of us, made up of several who were willing to stay two days and some who came on short notice. Then yesterday Marcus Overholt, Ernest Hochstetler, and Micah Helmuth came down to put up a block retaining wall in front of the garden area. The staff have been extremely impressed by what they have seen. I love the perspective of community this has given both them and the community at large. While I recognize that it is easy to simply appreciate the work ethic of the Mennonite culture, it said a lot more to me and to many of them. We saw a group of men who knew how to work together, had a common goal, and were willing to put in dedicated effort. But more than anything, we saw a reflection of God through the people who chose to come and serve Him.
There are so many other things that I am grateful for in our background. I can easily get frustrated with the lack of strong community here, but as I was talking to Pastor Tony last Wednesday about this we both mentioned that the christian backgrounds we are a part of did not happen overnight. There were years of struggle and trials, lots of mistakes, and dedicated work. I am excited about currently being a part of a new community, as difficult and weak as it may seem, while being immensely grateful for where I come from and what I have been given. Here is a thank-you to all who have played a part in our journey, and a welcome to those who will join in ahead.