Today, I am again taking part in the Blog Carnival hosted by my sweet friend, Bridget Chumbley. You can find the Blog Carnival at her website. Our topic this week is “Community” and because I was raised in the South and in the country, I thought I’d give y’all another lesson that I learned in the boondocks…
Growing up in the country was an excellent way to learn the meaning of community. I grew up in a small farming community that was little more than a four-way stop. We had the post office on one corner, the general store on the second, the volunteer fire & rescue on the third, and after we’d been there a few years, a gas station came to rest on the fourth. And if that doesn’t convince you how small our town was, the Jr/Sr High School was 7th-12th grades and only had about 500 students.
With my Dad pastoring and helping out the sports teams and my Mom teaching at the school, it was pretty unrealistic that there was anybody in that school that I didn’t know. And the scary part about that was that I couldn’t get away with anything because somebody was always going to be right there to run to Mama or Daddy about whatever they had seen or heard that I’d done or said.
We lived in a small neighborhood across the street from the Jr/Sr High School. It was the kind of small neighborhood that all of us kids played together in the yards, the streets, and the woods and at suppertimes, we would all hear our Mamas step out their back doors to holler us kids home. And just in case I didn’t hear my Mama, it wasn’t strange to hear somebody else’s Mama holler, “Sarah, your Mama’s calling you home!”
The summer of 1987, the Bishop appointed my Dad to another church fifteen miles away, on the other end of the county, in a town about twice the size of the one we had been living in. My brother was ten and I was nine. And in some ways, moving felt like the end of the world. And in some strange catastrophic coincidence, on the day we were getting in the truck to leave our old home to go to our new home, my brother was the victim of an accidental shooting. (To read the details of that day, you can visit my blog post “The Moving Day.”) In one moment, my parents had a dying child on the way into emergency surgery, a traumatized nine-year-old, and a truck packed with all of their belongings. And they had to decide how to handle it all at once.
And that’s when the two churches—the one we were leaving and the one we were going to—stepped in and took over. One family took me in. And a whole group of people mobilized to take the truck to the new house and unpack it. While my brother went through surgery, four days of ICU, more than two weeks in the hospital, and weeks of healing, my family was never alone, we never lacked for beds to stay in or meals to eat. The two churches came together as one community of faith and healing to minister to our family through that time.
I learned something from that experience. Actually, I learned a lot of somethings through that experience. One thing I learned was that when people are dealing with an extreme crisis, often, the only thing that you can really do to help them is to meet their practical, physical needs. While they’re in the crisis, they can’t really process most of the emotional and mental issues. But if you’re taking care of them physically while the crisis is occuring, it builds a sanctuary for them so that when the physical crisis is over, they have somewhere to find their emotional and mental healing.
I guess the country way to put it is that we feed those that we love. We make them chicken casseroles and collards and cornbread and banana puddin’ to get them through the crisis. Then, when the crisis is over, we give them a dishtowel and a strong shoulder to cry on.
The greatest example of this was the couple that really mobilized the community on our behalf. Bless her heart, Mrs. Eva went home to be with Jesus back in ’97, but Mr. Jack is still living on the same farm he lived on back in those days when he took care of us. When my brother got shot, Mr. Jack was literally the first person there (besides our family) and he was there throughout the whole thing. He isn’t a financially rich man, but he made it his personal mission to see that our family had everything we needed until the crisis was past.
In 1993, the Bishop sent us out of that county and back to the coast (where my parents are from). We were a couple of hours away from Mr. Jack and Mrs. Eva, but they have never stopped being family to us. A few months after we moved, our phone rang in the middle of the night. Mr. Jack’s barns were on fire. My parents got up in the middle of the night and drove the hours to be there with Mr. Jack and Mrs. Eva while they put out the fire and figured out how to rebuild their lives.
Why? Because that’s how family works. That’s how community works. Community isn’t about how close we are physically. It’s about how close our hearts are, even when our bodies are far away. I’ve heard it said that there’s no distance in the Spirit. And there are no distance in prayers. So, even as I learn how to be part of the larger community of faith—the one that spans the entire world and encompasses those that I love in Mexico, Honduras, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, DR Congo, and the rest of the world—I challenge you to be part of that community with me.