Some Christ-centered communities begin with a missionary and new baptisms. Others form as people join in common cause to dream (and fight for) a better world and discover God acting among them in the process. Still others coalesce as people who came to know Jesus in one place are transplanted into new situations, and there God’s Spirit breathes life into a new community, a new Body in Christ’s name.
This is the beginning of a formation story about a new basic Christian community connected to Abundant Life. This community looks more like the third option just listed. God is doing something new among us and some of our Guatemalan neighbors, and we don’t know where we’ll end up. By sharing something of the beginnings, I hope you can be encouraged to watch for (and be open to) God drawing you to be church in different ways, witnessing in the world with new neighbors.
From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. (Acts 17:26-27)
Connecting to Care Through Pre-existing Friendships
Early on in the pandemic, Abundant Life Ministries was shifting our Tuesday meal and pantry ministry to a home delivery-based affair. Esperanza, a long-time participant in Puerta Abierta (a bilingual house church community I got to help form) texted me. She was concerned about Luz, a woman she’d used to work with. Luz has children, and she and her husband had both been laid off because of the pandemic. They were struggling to eat and hadn’t bought diapers in a while for lack of funds. Could we add this family to our list of deliveries on Tuesdays?
With thanks to God, we said “Yes!” and within a couple weeks we’d received calls from several of Luz’s neighbors who were in the same precarious position. They all live in the same apartment complex, and after a couple weeks of having an outside volunteer make the deliveries, I texted them all and asked, “So, you all live very close to each other, and we have some other families who live in your area. Is there anyone there who is willing and able to come to our church on Tuesday afternoon to bring the boxes of groceries to your neighborhood?”
Surviving Together Means Communal Resource Sharing
From this one text I learned that most of the families don’t have a car, so the couple that do have a vehicle share generously – rides to work, school, the store, and now they take turns coming to pick up the deliveries every week.
A couple cars are a resource that can bless a whole group of families who live below the poverty line, when their owners see them as vehicles for the survival and flourishing of more than just their nuclear families. In the case of these neighbors, a community of mutual support and care had already formed long before connecting with Abundant Life.
After a couple months, as mission developer I came up for air from the craziness of navigating the initial phase of the pandemic. I looked at a map of the 40-odd families we were serving across the city at that point and noticed the cluster of families in this neighborhood.
Taking a Chance to Invite People into ‘More’
I didn’t want to presume or pressure them, but I also didn’t want to miss an opportunity to connect beyond the loving service we were offering. So I texted them as a group and asked, “Hey, so I don’t know if this interests you, but would you like to get together to read the Bible and pray for our families and community and the world?” I had no idea what they would say.
Almost immediately, a couple of them replied with “Yes! We’d love to!” We set a time for a Thursday evening in mid-June, agreeing to meet outdoors and sit in an appropriately distanced circle for safety during the pandemic.
At our first meeting, on an unseasonably mild evening in June in North Carolina, we met for an hour in the grassy common area of their apartments. We started by just introducing our selves, at which point I learned that they were all from the same town in Guatemala. I was the newcomer to this community. They have come here to the States one family at a time, fleeing the gang violence that overtook their region over the past 15 years. As members of different churches “back home,” here in the U.S. they had yet to find a permanent church community, but their faith in God is solid.
God has Never Been Far from Each of Us
God has been so good, they told me, bringing us and our children on the journey here and keeping us safe. And even that we can live together now, God is good! I glimpsed the Spirit of God confirming the holiness that had drawn this little group together in a different land, seen them through good times and hard times, and even now was leading them into a deeper walk with the Lord.
Then we read a portion of the Gospel and talked about what it made us think about, and offered free prayers for what was on our hearts: the demonstrations surrounding George Floyd’s murder, the covid19 pandemic and people dying near and far, and the strain all this has put on their children.
Each mother and auntie there talked about when they pray (almost always throughout the day) and how they pray (in many ways) for the children gathered around to learn about prayer and how God listens to all God’s children who call out.
… But, will we want to do this some more?
I asked them if they liked doing this and if they wanted to do it again. “Oh yes!” Through July and into August we set a date once, twice, three times, and each time a huge thunderstorm commenced about half an hour before our meeting time. Our diocese is still restricting indoor gatherings at this point during the pandemic, so I kept asking that we postpone. I worried they’d think I was flaky or didn’t really think this was important, but I also worried for everyone’s health and so stayed the course with postponing.
In the second week of August we set another date. It rained, but I waited as long as I could before sending out the text about once again postponing. With 10 minutes to go, the rain stopped, the dark clouds began to disperse, and the blue evening sky appeared. And our prayer meeting was on.
Learning as we Go:
- God was already working in each family’s life and had brought them together in different lands and different seasons, and this is to be celebrated. It’s not the church’s job merely to make new Christian disciples; sometimes it’s to encounter and gather together those who know God but have been scattered from being part of committed Christian community. Mature in prayer and faith, here we met God’s people planted in a new place who want to practice new skills for leadership, be lights in their neighborhood to others in need, and grow into a deeper sense of connection with each other and Christ.
- From Abundant Life’s perspective, we don’t want to ever get stuck in simply doing outreach or providing services and not be looking for the Spirit at work in people, inviting us into a missional and spiritual community. We all need to be flexible, willing to meet in times and places where a new Body lives and breathes and has their being, because it’s in these humble neighborhoods that their ministry will thrive and have something to bring to the rest of the churches.
- So often, long-time members of churches with a community service component to their life have a hard time forming mutual and dignifying relationships with those being served. Knowing each other in Christ means at a certain point stepping away from the activity of outreach and slowly building relationships based on fellowship and prayer, and presuming God is already at work in peoples’ lives and that they’ve been groping for God and have a testimony to share.
- For this group, they were already friends, so the question in developing a basic Christian community is: Do we want to practice a spiritual life of prayer and worship together? Do we want to serve others in Christ’s name and be part of God’s mission where we are? And, over time, are we open to connecting with other basic communities in other parts of this city?
Thanks for reading! This is just the beginning of the formation story of just one basic Christian community in Greensboro, NC, and yet God is powerfully at work among a people who are being planted as seeds for the flourishing of life where they are.
I ask your prayers for this new community, that God may lead us ever deeper into a life that makes Christ known and brings healing and grace to our world.