I hardly knew what a pecan looked like, let alone how they were harvested or processed, but I was excited to be heading down to Georgia to help the folks at Koinonia bring in their harvest. Over sixty years ago, my grandparents, Howard and Marion Johnson, had joined a small integrated community in the segregated south because they believed the gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount, had to be lived out and not just talked about. They, together with the other members at Koinonia, tried to shape their lives by Jesus’ words. Although my grandparents eventually moved on to another community, they passed on to their children and grandchildren the vision and inspiration that drove Koinonia’s early members. They often told with enthusiasm of those early days with Koinonia’s founder Clarence Jordan; seeking to be a “demonstration plot for God’s Kingdom.” So when my husband and I learned through friends that Koinonia was seeking to rediscover their original vision of community, and shorthanded bringing in the pecan harvest, we got together with some friends, and the ten of us young people left Pennsylvania and hit the road for southwest Georgia.
From the first day on we were completely absorbed into their community and were made to feel at home. They had plenty of work for each of us and we learned pretty soon how much is involved in getting a pecan from the tree to the table. Some of us headed out into the orchard, where a strange-looking machine shook the trees, raining down nuts and branches which had to be cleared out of the way, so the pecans could be swept into windrows before the harvester came to slurp them up. Others of us met the nuts as they were conveyed into the sizing plant, pulling out sticks as well as any that were cracked, unripe, or wormy before a machine sorted them by size. After the pecans were washed, dried, cracked, and separated from their shells, a couple of us joined the busy people in the sorting room, picking out any remaining shells and broken nuts, to the accompaniment of gospel tunes. As fast as the nuts could be processed, they were hustled across to the bakery to be turned into delicious products.
Despite their heavy work load (they often put in extra hours of work after dinner) the Koinonians made it a priority to take time for fellowship. At morning and afternoon break time, they served us fair-trade coffee and samples from the bakery. As the saying goes in Koinonia, “a balanced diet is chocolate in both hands!” I never met anyone there who was too busy to stop and make sure I was having a good day. They could have worked day and night and still not run out of things to do, yet they never hesitated to drop what they were doing and talk with us or show us around. Koinonia’s doors are always open to guests and hardly a day went by that we didn’t meet another visitor.
If you stop by Koinonia, you can expect to be invited in to lunch and introduced to the extended community, which includes members, interns, hired help, homeschool students, neighbors, and anyone else who happens to come by. Besides gathering for lunch, they meet two other times during the day. Every morning we walked to the chapel out in the pecan orchard, where we sang, prayed, and received inner food for the day. Our gatherings in the evenings ranged from hilarious games to searching discussions about how the Sermon on the Mount should apply to our lives today. We also asked each other questions like, “What does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God?” and, “What is the solid foundation Jesus tells us to build on?” None of us had any clear answers, but just sharing our thoughts and reflections together left us mutually encouraged.
Going to Koinonia, I thought I’d just be helping them out in all the work they had to do, but coming home I realized I’d received much more than I gave. I had learned how no work is more important than taking time for the people around you. And how important having joy in each other is. Although I didn’t see eye to eye with all of them on every subject, we found that through “seeking first the Kingdom of God” together, our differences become unimportant.