How close are you to the people you interact with day in and day out? Is your dentist your friend or the parent of one of your students? Do you see your child’s Principal at social gatherings? Do you shop at the same grocery store and worship at the same church?
For those of you who have grown up in or lived in a very small town, the answer to many of these questions might be yes and, for us, living here in Ukarumpa, the answer is most definitely yes.
If there are six degrees of separation amongst most people and in most communities, there are zero degrees of separation here in Ukarumpa.
We see our child’s third grade teacher while venturing out to Trick or treat and, on Sunday nights, she and Ben’s former 4th grade teacher are just Ms. Hannah and Ms. Abby at our house for family dinner. Dinners with friends also sometimes include the students we teach. Our dentist also happens to be an opera singer who serenades us at community concerts. Our good friend is also the Vice Principal of our kids primary school. The wonderful friend driving our kids to school is also Elliott’s first grade teacher. The list goes on.
What is it like to have so many connections and interconnections in life? I would say that, sometimes the connections are a bit overwhelming. It can be hard to feel like you have any anonymity or space in a small community where you live, eat, shop, worship, work and play. However, lately, I have been realizing some of the gifts of small community and I think one can find great joy in acknowledging both the difficult and the beautiful aspects of a close multi-national community.
These are just some of the beautiful parts of our small community:
- Groups of people close at hand to help if you have to leave the country unexpectedly. Our dear friend had to travel home to the US earlier this year to be with her family and the community rallied to make sure her family was fed each night while she was gone. Close community can be hard but knowing that, if plans change (and they so often do), that the people living around you will go to your house, feed your family and help in any way they can is a huge relief and blessing in this somewhat unpredictable life.
- People who love your kids and cheer them on. Ben recently played the double bass in a Primary Campus Christmas chapel and I had multiple close friends call or make the effort to specifically tell him what a great job he did. In Canada, he would have grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and close friends supporting him and we do our best to send the videos and make sure they get the same opportunity to see our kids shine and succeed but the immediate people around us are friends who have become like family and knowing that they would take the moment to build up our kids when their God-given talents are shining through is an immense blessing.
- Multicultural, multigenerational Bible study groups in which you can study God’s word and lift each other up in prayer. Because our lives are so intertwined, sometimes it can be hard to share openly at Bible study about difficulties or struggles. It can feel, at times, like there is nowhere you can really go to share about what is happening in your life and the challenges you are facing. It can feel complicated and isolating. However, lately, I have realized that, woven into the fabric of our complicated, interwoven lives are opportunities to focus, instead, on matters of the heart and what God is teaching you through day to day circumstances, rather than focusing on the situations themselves and to do so with people around you praying fervently for you and with you.
- Teachers who care on multiple levels. Ben has had a very tough semester. There have been struggles academically, socially and emotionally but there has been one teacher, in particular, who has gone above and beyond to care for, pray for and support Ben and remind him of how deeply he is loved by God. We run into one another at school and at church and at the store and knowing that she knows my son, loves him, sees him and is thinking of him beyond the four walls of the classroom is a most welcome interconnection within our small community.
- Friends who hold you accountable and can help you with perspective when times are tough. Life on the mission field – just like life anywhere – isn’t always easy. There is very real spiritual attack. There are very real challenges. You are far away from your family, your friends and your regular support network and solutions to every day problems are harder to acquire at times due to your remote location and inability to access additional resources. Having friends here who know you, who can see you in all aspects of your life and who love you, pray for you, hold you accountable and support you can be a huge blessing. There is nowhere to hide and sometimes that’s a good thing when the people around you who care about you want nothing more than to walk this journey with you and point you to Christ’s perfect and unending love.
Close community can be challenging. Being away from family is difficult. Living overseas is hard but the zero degrees of separation have also provided beautiful opportunities to experience the heart of God through the people He has sent here to Papua New Guinea to serve Him in various capacities. As they serve God, they’ve also, so often, served us and He has used this unique life to remind us that He is a God of relationship, a God of connections and that He will use anything and everything to point us back to Him and His never-ending love for us as He continues to pursue our hearts and the hearts of our kids. That is a beautiful thing and a beautiful gift and a treasure for which I always surrender my anonymity and independence.
18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.
1 Corinthians 12:18.27