Phoebe Hamel

Finding the Value of Temporary Community

Phoebe Hamel
Finding the Value of Temporary Community

In early adulthood, when goals and plans are ever-developing, most people are still taking steps toward what they want their lives to look like in the decades ahead. This doesn’t end neatly at any certain time; there is no magic age by which our lives are completely figured out or lined up. Important events such as career changes, marriage, going back to school, moving or having a child can happen at various times. However, the years soon after college are often especially dynamic in these areas. This may be particularly true of young adults of the current, millennial generation, who often favor novel experiences over staying put, who cross the country for internships or employment, and sometimes only to do it again a year later. These choices are likely fueled in part by technology, which makes it all easier to plan while also enabling fast and frequent communication with loved ones far away.

I am a part of this generation. Personally, I have found myself moving almost every year since I first left my parents’ home. My husband and I currently life in Barcelona, Spain, where we work as English teachers and study Spanish. We came without knowing exactly how long we would stay, and have been here about six months. We have dreams and visions for a future where we live somewhere longer than a year or two, whether abroad or in the US. But - and by our own choice - this has not yet been our reality. I know others who have also transitioned multiple times, whether across town or across the globe for various reasons. This can make it hard to establish and maintain a sense of Christian, or any, community. But if, like me, you feel you’ve been uprooting more than you’ve been planting recently, I will say that I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. I have also found that, along the way, I don’t have to forego a sense of and dedication to community entirely.

Challenging Transitions

It is true that not staying in one place can limit both our impact on and the benefits we receive from more deeply-rooted involvement in a community, church or secular. This kind of longer-term, consistent, local community will hopefully characterize our later lives if it does not now; for me, I think perhaps especially when raising children. I look forward to a time of growing roots, being stable members of a community. And what an important thing to do as a believer. Churches, cities, neighborhoods, all need people who put in years of getting to know and ministering to each other on a regular basis, in real-time and face-to-face. In college, I lived for five years in the same city (though not house or neighborhood) with many of the same friends. There is nothing quite like the give-and-receive of daily life with a familiar, beloved, committed group of people. Any time we have this kind of situation, we should be grateful and faithful in it.

But pursuing goals and gathering experiences that could require a move can be just as valuable as remaining in one place. All of our experiences, including of different local communities, help to enrich and prepare us for those in the future. Having studied a language, diversified work or ministry experience, built a network of friends or colleagues in various locations, or simply gained a broader perspective can be priceless components in what makes a person useful in any context or community.

Meanwhile, mobility does not mean we can disregard the call to community altogether when in a temporary situation. In all phases of life, our greatest goal should be obeying the two greatest commandments of Jesus, to love God and love our neighbor above ourselves. It seems that when we focus primarily on these highest of goods, secondary goods, such as the institutions of family and community, should necessarily take form. It may not take the form we imagine, and it may not function as smoothly or feel as fulfilling or effective as we would like. But the essence, the heart, of what is meant by valuing community will flourish to the extent that we carry out these commands of Jesus wherever we are, for both our own benefit and that of others around us. In pondering this, I’ve come to think that in each stage and situation no matter how temporary, we as believers should be actively doing three things.

1. Find a Local Church

The first is to find a local church and commit to attending regularly, taking part there in both the local and universal body of Christ. The Communion service at our church here in Barcelona includes these words spoken together: “We break this bread to share in the body of Christ. Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.” We do not have to be somewhere long to find fellowship with Christians, be spiritually fed, and show a dedication to the faith by going to church. As much as we can we ought also to be involved in the life of our local church. We can volunteer, go to Bible studies, and spend time with other congregants. Each local church and its members have unique characteristics and gifts.  Each seem to highlight different aspects of faith, Christianity, and God that we can learn from and take with us if and when we go.

2. Sharing Love and Truth

The second is to be vocal and demonstrative in sharing truth and love with those around us, believers and unbelievers. As Christians it is vital that we show hospitality, kindness, generosity and the light of the gospel. Sometimes it’s evident the difference this can make even in the short term; other times we may never know the impact we had by being a person who emulated and testified to Christ. By doing this we are able not only to contribute to the local and global community of believers, but also to carry forward the great commission of extending that community of God into the world. Consider God’s call to Abraham to leave his homeland, or to John the Baptist to go into the wilderness. Look at the transient life of the Apostle Paul - yet who is more responsible than Paul for establishing the local church as a committed body of brothers and sisters in the Lord?

3. Don’t Let Friendships Fade Away

Thirdly, it is important to remain faithful to the significant relationships we’ve formed in the past. Even when we move, or they move, we should not neglect the friends and family who have helped shape us and with whom we’ve shared meaningful parts of our lives and selves. We can stay a part of each other’s lives, pray for each other regularly over time, continue to encourage and challenge each other and find joy in one another, and be consistent in each other’s lives. Thanks to technology we can do it with relative ease despite the miles, states, and oceans that separate us.

Finding community can be a challenge anywhere, especially in a temporary setting. But the effort is worth it. Intentionally loving the people around me, being involved as well as an absorber in a local church, and staying faithful to relationships from the past - I’ve found that all these have helped me to reap and sow many of the benefits of community across the locations of my life so far. And of course, we remember with anticipation that all of this here on earth is just a beginning, a taste of the eternal community that we as believers have to look forward to.

Phoebe Hamel graduated from Moody Bible Institute - Spokane in 2016 with a B.A. in Intercultural Studies. Phoebe enjoys reading, writing, and doing volunteer work with Somali adult literacy training.