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    Nurturing Communities Network

    Why Would You Live Together?

    We asked people who live in intentional Christian communities about their experiences.

    By Coretta Thomson

    November 29, 2023

    Why would you choose to live in the same house with people of different political persuasions or socioeconomic backgrounds? Many Christians today are taking this step as a way of following Jesus 24/7. I asked members of a variety of Christian intentional communities – from cohousing arrangements with a formal commitment and common project to neighbors who simply want to be more involved in each other’s lives – how they manage to live and work so intimately with people who differ from them in fundamental ways. The people featured below live in communities that belong to the Nurturing Communities Network, an informal network of Christian intentional communities.

    Laura Callarman – Eden Community

    For the past fourteen months, my family of five has shared a home with a family of seven. Our home is nicely laid out to allow for both common space and privacy for the two families. We went into the experiment thoughtfully and carefully, knowing it would be challenging but believing it was the right next step for our two families, who had already been part of a small intentional Christian community for nine years. But with four adults, eight kids ages nine and under, and one dog, it’s sometimes quite chaotic!


    Laura Callarman is part of the Eden Center for Regenerative Culture in Abilene, Texas.

    Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This adage is helpful for understanding the blessings and challenges of living in community. There are large and small dilemmas we wrestle with daily as we seek to live alongside people with different personalities and preferences. Our two families are similar in many ways when it comes to foundational values and commitments. Without that basic level of commonality, I think life in such proximity could prove disastrous. Still, we do have different norms we’ve developed over the course of our marriages, plus significant diversity when it comes to extraversion versus introversion, levels of energy, and conflict styles. Since each person is deeply shaped by decades of joy, pain, and growth, even small or subconscious things can become arduous to navigate. Sometimes, then, the iron-sharpening-iron nature of communal life can result in painful, if unintended, cuts from those sharp edges, which then need to be tended to if they are going to heal. All of that is formative. None of it is easy.

    We have also had to discern how much involvement from others is appropriate in caring for our children. While this is not an easy undertaking in the first place, it is even more demanding for us because one of my children has a nervous system disability. We love her deeply and unconditionally, but there is no denying that her struggles have a massive impact on the dynamics of our entire household.  Living with others in the context of a challenging parenting situation requires an immense amount of vulnerability, empathy, and careful discernment about the degree to which cohousing may or may not continue to be a good fit. Our different needs in this regard do not have to divide us, but they do require that we honestly evaluate our capacity to love our families, our community members, and ourselves well. Repeatedly, we need to ground ourselves in God’s compassion and redemptive love.

    Overall, the experience has been incredibly formative, for which I am grateful. Through living intensively alongside another family for over a year now, I have certainly grown in important ways. I have come to see myself and others more clearly: the strengths, weaknesses, similarities, and differences. I have had my ego, false narratives, faults, and sins confronted, a refining process that prompts me to invite God to heal my brokenness. I believe the others in my home would agree. I trust that God is doing something important here, honing and preparing us for lives of greater wholeness and service.


    Dion Smith – Ford Heights

    As I pull into the driveway after a long day’s work, I gaze around in amazement. You see, as a former gang member and native of this decaying, almost entirely Black town, I've been on a journey toward better health, more stability, and growing closer to God. Doing this has brought me dead smack to this driveway in front of a house that I share with eight other people – mostly Black folks from Down Below, but also some White and Latino friends from Up Top. We’re all one big family.


    Dion Smith and his son live in Ford Heights, Illinois, as a part of a large interracial household.

    Still in a daze, I get a knock on my car window from my seven-year-old son, Dakota, welcoming me home with open arms. “Daddy, you got work tomorrow?” he squeaks. “Yes, son,” I reply. He always wants me home. As the two of us make our way to the front stoop, I tumble over sticks of colored sidewalk chalk, random shoes, and miscellaneous toys. Stepping into the house, I'm greeted by the smell of good cooking. In the kitchen, I see Tatiana stirring a tomato sauce concoction for her famous spaghetti. “Welcome home, Dion,” she greets me. I smile back. Me and Tatiana have been family like this for over fifteen years.

    Heading toward my room, I suddenly hear: “DIOOON! Where my sandwich at?” The loud, obnoxious teenaged voice of my newly adopted sister Terrionna fills the room when she notices that I made it home. Our family welcomed her and her two younger siblings out of the foster system nearly a year ago. “Girl, I ain’t got nothin’ for you,” I reply with a grin.

    “Yeah, Dion, when I gonna start my job?” chimes in thirteen-year-old Tyonna, a long-time neighbor of ours and member of our extended family. I look at her with a confused face. “Girl, I told you to come over here three Fridays ago – you playin’.”

    Heading to the living room, I spot Trent, a White twenty-something who used to march in MAGA rallies, sitting on the couch where he sleeps. “Trent, my boy, what’s the word?” I holler.

    In his feathery voice he replies, “Oh, nothing. Just hanging out eating these delicious bear claw pastries Tatiana scored this morning.”

    “Oh man, I wish I could eat as much as you and not gain any weight,” I say. He and I both laugh – I’m a big dude, Trent is hella skinny.

    As I step out into the yard, scrappy kids from the neighborhood run up to me, asking if I've brought home any sandwiches from work today. I sigh and tell them no. They nod and ask me if I’d be willing to play catch with them. I agree and think of a game we can play with the basketball. In the middle of the game, our sixty-year-old neighbor John, who sleeps in the abandoned house around the corner, walks over with grocery bags filled with bottles of soap and lotion. He asks in his stuttering way if I’d like to do some wheeling and dealing. It’s likely he has pinched the items from the nearest supermarket, but I love a good deal, so I go ahead and buy a few things from him. Grateful that he’s made a few extra dollars, he wanders off.

    Growing a bit thirsty on this hot day, I head over to the nearest corner store. I greet the local drug dealers hanging out in front, all of them fighting to be the first to sell me some weed. I decline their offers but give them a nod – I remember what those days were like. As I walk into this rundown joint, I see Katina, a longtime friend and addict who’s always posted up in this store like it’s her home. I snag my drink, pay at the register, and head out. Katina asks me if I have any change to spare. I reach into my pocket and give her what I have. I’ll see her here again tomorrow.

    Arriving home, I honk my horn as I back into the driveway, friends and neighbors in our front yard making way when they see me. I smile again. You see, living in community with people who are different from you is what God’s heart yearns for. We were not put here to create isolated groups of White people or Black people, rich people or poor people. I highly doubt Jesus would want people Up Top to remain there in their comfort and people Down Below to remain here in their suffering. Maybe we should meet in the middle.


    Andrew Ignacio – Jubilee Partners

    I’m a Filipino American from metropolitan New Jersey who was raised in a Filipino Southern Baptist church. I attended Nyack College and moved to Atlanta for a year before getting married. My wife and I then lived in South Korea for eight years, where our child was born in 2018. We moved to Jubilee Partners in Comer, Georgia, in 2021, where we are currently novices.


    Andrew Ignacio lives at Jubilee Partners in Comer, Georgia, with his wife and daughter. 

    Of all the places I’ve lived, small-town Georgia has been the toughest. In spite of the support I have at Jubilee, I struggle to feel fully understood here, even within the community. It’s not just that I’m the only one who wants to watch sports or listen to hip-hop. When a 2021 mass shooting here in Georgia targeted Asians, people who looked like me, it affected me for weeks and months, long after everyone else had seemingly moved on.

    I’ve found that if I keep silent about my difficulties in the name of “peace,” just agreeing with everyone and the way things are done, I am lying to myself and others. We need to share the fullness of who we are with others so everyone can benefit from the richness of our God-created differences. For example, the library at Jubilee has quite a diverse selection but lacks Asian voices, so I’ve been adding titles.

    One thing I’ve benefited from during my time at Jubilee is learning about the diverse ways people meet and respond to God. I am also exploring the ways others have found to live out their faith. Sometimes, at our Sunday services, everyone present has a chance to share what God has done in their life recently. People have shared songs that have inspired them, times when God has met them, and the fruits of honest self-reflection. I sit there and watch the wonders of God’s work in people’s lives.


    Joel Looper – Hope Fellowship

    Pastor, a Salvadoran campesino of my parents’ generation, was crammed with me and three other people in a small SUV to make the daylong drive from Texas to Georgia for the biennial reunion of Shalom Mission Communities. Pastor was in the United States on a tourist visa specifically to visit our communities. He spoke almost no English, and I spoke almost no Spanish. Everyone else in the vehicle spoke Spanish, so I knew that would be the language of conversation during the twelve-hour drive.


    Joel Looper, an author and educator, has been part of Hope Fellowship in Waco, Texas, for eight years.

    I wanted to connect with Pastor, but language was far from the only barrier. Culture, a massive wealth gap, and the history of American-funded atrocities in his country left me not knowing where to begin.

    Joe Gatlin, Nancy Gatlin, and Joel Scott’s book Compañeros uses the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 to describe the work it is taking to create a “transnational community” between our community and Pastor’s, the tiny town of Valle Nuevo in El Salvador near the Honduras border. Pastor and our friends from Valle Nuevo are likened to Lazarus, and we to the rich man: “Material wealth is concentrated inside the gate on the north side of the border, while in the south privation is a daily reality…. Those from the north can come and go as they please, visiting El Salvador with no special permission, just as the rich man could travel back and forth through the gate. Those from the south are stuck outside the gate with Lazarus.”

    There is indeed a chasm between us. It falls primarily to us northerners to bridge that chasm, building community and friendship with our Salvadoran brothers and sisters. This work has been going on for more than thirty years, ever since the peace accords were signed that ended the civil war in El Salvador. The seeds of our friendship were planted as that community rebuilt their lives. They told us how on March 18, 1981, US-funded death squads slaughtered their friends and family and chased them over the border into Honduras. We watched and worked with them as they organized to fight for land reform, and celebrated with them when they finally received the deeds to their land in 2017.

    When Pastor spoke to our communities, the primary thing he wished to communicate was how much the people of Valle Nuevo value our friendship. “Don’t forget us and our story,” he said.


    Roberto Solís – Iglesia de Cristo

    Before, we were afraid. My church had been on the block for over twenty-five years, but we didn’t even know our neighbors. We belonged to a network of evangelical churches, but didn’t even interact with the sister congregations in our city of Saltillo in northern Mexico. Everything centered on the Sunday service and living by the rules. Our conversations dripped with spirituality, which mainly served to insulate our egos, keeping others from glimpsing our vulnerability.


    Solís Roberto Solis is copastor of the Iglesia de Cristo in the El Salvador neighborhood of Saltillo, Mexico. He and his wife, Danea, have four daughters.

    That was a few years ago. Since then, the Lord has connected us with people we needed to meet. We shared with people who, though they live far from us, have helped us discern our path in Christ. We have cultivated a friendship with our sisters and brothers at the Casa de Esperanza community in Oaxaca, in the south of our country, as well as various US communities in the Nurturing Communities Network. The most important thing we have learned is that Christ’s salvation affects all areas of life, not just the Sunday service.

    God has been good. Our friendships with other intentional communities have taught us new things and allowed us to share ideas with them too. And this new outward focus has led us to re-establish relationships with other congregations in our city. We stand at the beginning of something new which will need careful tending and watering to grow and flourish, but we are certain that it is part of God’s work to reconcile all things in Christ.

    Contributed By CorettaThomson Coretta Thomson

    Coretta Thomson is an editor for Plough and oversees its Spanish-language publications.

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