Sunday, September 18, 2005

Challenge of Community

Tonight, Emily and I had our neighbors Anna and Franklin over for dinner. This was my first time to spend any quality time with them, and it is an experience I will never forget...

Franklin is from Cameroon. For those of you who are geographically challenged like I am, Cameroon is basically in the armpit of Africa. I'll be honest that I knew very little about Cameroon before meeting Franklin beyond that it was a French providence at one time. I still know very little, but Lord willing I will learn more as the journey with our new friends and neighbors progresses.

Anna met Franklin while she was in the Peace Corp. He lived next door to her and began watching out for her. Franklin moved to the States about three years ago, and they were married six months later. They are incredible people, and a great joy to be around. Something wonderful just flows out of their mannerisms. Something very genuine and appealing.

It was amazing to listen to Franklin talk of Cameroon and his experiences of life--from playing world class soccer to walking to school. His experiences in life are so different from mine. This is an athlete who literally had no shoes to play in until his team was sponsored when they went to a major tournament. He and his teammates literally slept with those shoes because they were so precious to them. Franklin and Anna talked a lot about the schools in Cameroon--mud brick buildings with 60-70 students crammed into one class. Two or three textbooks to share between all of them. Anna told of a grant she had received in order to by textbooks for one of her classes. The school sold over half of the thirty texts (one per two students) in order to make money for other necessities. Franklin joked about the t-shirts they wore for jerseys, so faded and worn that you could see straight through them. These shirts were passed back in forth between the various athletic teams at their school--soccer, girls volleyball, handball, etc.

The stories and conversation we shared tonight were wonderful, but what amazed me the most tonight was Franklin's attitude toward the lot that life has handed him. As I listened to him, I found myself thinking of us spoiled, selfish Americans caught up in our greed and materialism when $10 could send a child to school in Cameroon for a full year. But Franklin only saw the different burdens that we suffer from. He said that he never felt impoverished growing up because that was just life--you don't realize it until you step out of it for a minute. He recognized that Cameroon is physically impoverished, but America's poverty is a poverty of community and relationship. We aren't in each others lives and homes the way Franklin's culture is. As he described it, in Cameroon everyday is Friday. On Friday we look forward to the weekend ahead and are excited that the work week is ending. In Cameroon, every day has that feeling.

I couldn't help feeling as I was listening to Franklin describe the community of Cameroon that this non-Christian man was describing what Jesus meant for the church to be. A body of people who were deep in each others lives, just walking into peoples homes without knocking, stopping to talk with someone because that someone was more important than whatever task they were working on. That what is most important is always the people. It's enjoying life. It's knowing Jesus, and making disciples.

I wish I had the courage in our individual and independent prioritized culture to just walk into my neighbors home. I wish I had the courage to just walk into my neighbors life. I wish I had the courage to live in community the way that Jesus called us to.

Lord, give me the courage!

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