Saturday, May 31, 2014

Change and Rootedness

A few days ago one of the leaders of the community group I attend called to discuss some changes that are going to happen in the fall.  While I have only been a part of this group for a few months, they have been meeting consistently for three years. In the middle of the conversation, I was again reminded that change has become my norm.  I'm used to the pattern of diving in deep with people for a season fully expecting that the community dynamics will change soon.  Don't get me wrong, I long for stability, but since I first got on a plane to S. Sudan in early 2009, I have lived with a revolving door in my primary community.  Plus I'm an ATCK.  I'm used to change.

At Northside Church's annual retreat a few weeks ago, the speaker, Tim Rice, spoke on the topic of rootedness.  He described some problems that can arise when there is significant transience and instability in community and ministry.

A lack of rootedness:

  • Makes it difficult to get traction on deep systemic problems
  • Undercuts trust and relational ministry
  • Leads to a focus on programs not people

Tim boldly said that "given the need of the hour, our generation needs to be rooted unless God makes it very clear he is calling us somewhere else." You can make long-term plans if you are rooted, even plans that span across generations in a community, and that is what is needed to seek the shalom of a community.

I was encouraged to hear Tim talk about rootedness in the U.S. context, particularly after studying the benefits of stability in international development ministries.  I agreed with so much of what Tim shared, but it was also hard to hear in this season of life for me.

*teak tree in S. Sudan with new shoots emerging from old roots*

After leaving S. Sudan in November, I pursued rootedness.  I had no idea where God would lead me, but I did know I wanted to make a long-term commitment to a community for many of the reasons Tim outlined at the retreat.  After exploring MANY different paths, God brought me back to Richmond, VA, and in particular, to Northside Church, a church plant that seems to be collecting returned missionaries.

Northside is about intentional community.  Having experienced the kind of really hard but really good community forged by missionaries living cross-culturally, I knew I wanted more of it.  Of course, community life will look different in the Northside of Richmond since we aren't all living together in the 100+ degree South Sudanese heat with no AC.  Let me assure you that the sinning against one another increases with the heat.  But even in Richmond, a group of people can live in close and intentional community in such a way that they are sinning against one another but also repenting and forgiving one another, growing in grace and Christ-likeness.

It is worth repeating.  Community life is hard, but oh so good!

What makes the idea of rootedness hard in this season is that God provided a job in water and wastewater engineering that is a great fit for my skills, but it involves significant travel.  I am used to travel, but it means that I am writing this post now from a hotel room 300 miles away from the place where I long to be rooted.

I am thankful that God brought me from the missions field to a group of people in the Northside of Richmond that are pursing rootedness and intentional community.  Even if in this season I cannot be rooted in the way that I had hoped, I am thankful that this group of people considers me theirs and prays for me even when it has been weeks since I was able to attend community group.

Ultimately, the stability I have longed for as I crossed oceans repeatedly and said goodbye A LOT can only truly be found in God, eternal and unchanging.  I am His and He is with me no matter where on this plant I happen to be calling "home" at the moment.   That is good news for everyone, but especially for this global nomad, returned missionary, ATCK that can't write the word "home" without using quotes.

And for now the fact that I hung my tapestry with notes from my Fall 2011 WHM S. Sudan teammates on a wall opposite my world map means that the Northside of Richmond is "home".

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