Six months ago my experience of community was with people I had a lot in common with.
We spoke the same language, we shared many favourite foods, pastimes and TV shows, we had similar upbringings and home lives. We often shared values, political views and theology. My sense of belonging was tied to my likeness to the people around me. These were my people, the people with whom I was know and felt safe.
Then I moved halfway across the world to a different country with a different culture and language. The people here have different family structures, pop culture, foods and religions. I’m meeting people who had childhoods that couldn’t be more different to mine. I’m instantly recognisable in the street as a foreigner, as somebody with who there is little common ground.
But as the months have passed and I’ve struggled to learn a new language and fumbled along in this new culture, I’ve been extended grace by others time and time again. I frequent the same places throughout the week and the faces and names become familiar. People notice when we’re not there, they ask after my children and about our health. I’m getting to know their families and about what’s going on in their lives. These are now the people I know and by whom I am known. With them I feel increasingly safe, valued and a sense of belonging.
Being the outsider has made me wonder if community should really have little to do with our similarities. Perhaps it’s more about everyone continually showing up, about building trust and about being valued not for what we contribute but for who we are. When people feel real belonging within a community it’s not when they’re welcomed despite their differences in the hope that eventually they’ll fall into uniformity. Rather, the spirit of community is for people to be known, valued and belong complete with everything that makes them different from one another.