The Idea of Community

by Bethanie Freeman

Community is not a word that I often think about. I live in an area on the outskirts of Hanover that isn’t really a neighborhood. We wave to some of the neighbors but know very few names. This isn’t new to us; in fact, it has been the case since we were married. It had never crossed my mind that
community was overly important. I was content to live with my family, a few friends from church, and colleagues that I chat with in the hallway at school. It wasn’t until I went on my first trip to the Dominican Republic that the idea of community started to creep into my mind.

While on the trip, I began to notice things that I had never seen before. On our first day of food distribution, I saw neighbors who truly were looking out for neighbors. They made sure to let us know if someone wasn’t home and why, so that we could leave food for them. It was interesting to me…a glimpse into Philippians 2:3-4, which states, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” They wanted the friends in their community to have a meal for their family. Could they have simply ignored that need? Of course, but they live in such close community with one another that I don’t believe that option would’ve crossed their mind.

During a clothing distribution, I saw people, all of whom were in great need of clothing items. They did not push, grab, or fight to get items. They did not argue. They did not complain at what was available or offered. They simply waited together. They showed items to others and helped choose sizes to meet the needs of each person. Even, when we ran out of items for the teen boys, they did not become disrespectful or belligerent. They simply said thanks for the shirt or the socks, and went out on their way, genuinely pleased that others were able to receive much-needed items. (Don’t worry, when we returned in July, we packed up special bags for these young men filled with items to remind them that they were not forgotten and that God saw their needs). Such a picture of Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

Upon my return home in both March and July, I stayed in daily contact with many of my new friends living in the DR. I could tell you countless stories that I heard, but one of these really stuck out to me. My new friend, whom I met in July, lives in Villa Mella with his parents, sister, and nephew. A horrible work accident has left his father unable to work his regular job, and now this young man is the primary provider for his family. While working with him to create a more stable financial plan for his life, he shared with me that he was unable to pay the rent or purchase food for his family. I was so frustrated, because we had been working on this concept of meeting basic needs. He very calmly explained that his Godmother was extremely ill and needed medical care. I explained that I understood his wish to help her, but that it was more important for him to feed his family of five and not be kicked out of his rented home. Without a second thought, he explained that with God as the center of your life, you place these needs into his hands and in doing so, you are able to care for the needs of others without fear. I can honestly say that never in my life have I chosen to meet the needs of
someone else at the risk of my family missing a meal or missing a mortgage payment. How simply he imitated the words founds in Acts 4:32, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

I have one final example to share from my Haitian brothers and sisters that are serving the Lord so faithfully in community in the Dominican Republic. Another young man shared with me that he wanted to begin working with an organization in the US. This group had decided, on what appeared to be a whim to me, that they wanted to offer some support to the poorest of Haitian communities in the DR. This young man had literally no spare moments to his day, as he typically works a 75-hour week while attending several courses to train as an electrician. The organization had no plan, no money, and no concept of how this was going to work. Their work had primarily been with immigrants within the US. So again, in my “great wisdom,” I advised against joining this new group. I had spoken with the head of the organization, searched their financials, found google reviews and did my due diligence to make an informed decision. I was shocked that he did not agree with my sound logic. Instead, he reminded me that it is the job of those who love God to come alongside people in their community, to walk with them in hard times, provide for their needs, and to encourage them with the Word. He assured me that if he was faithful to this calling, God would prove faithful to him by providing the time and resources, regardless of what my research had shown. Their first outreach was in a community that he described as far worse than any of the areas we are taken to serve in. He gathered a group of 30 friends and people within his community to celebrate the start of a new school year with clothing, school supplies, and haircuts. To this day, I do not know how he stretched the tiny amount of physical donations and money to supply these needs for over 200 children. What I do know is that his faith was strengthened, the faith of his community was strengthened, and my very weak faith was strengthened, as I saw God meet impossible needs in impossible circumstances. It didn’t matter that those serving had little to offer and that they also were living poverty. Instead, they remembered the words of 1 Corinthians 12:26-27, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” They chose to follow the call of decreasing the suffering of others by serving them in the name of Christ Jesus.

So, as we look at community in this new year in our Sunday services, my thoughts go in numerous directions. Can I honor Christ in the way my Haitian family does? Am I willing to sacrifice my comforts to support my communities? I pray that God uses me this year, uses each of you this year, uses CABC this year to build a better community of people that love and obey God and seek to share His salvation with others so they can be in community as well.

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