Affectionate Communities: Bringing Affection Home

Two months deep in my first full-time job and I’ve read more paperwork than I care to recall. The fall is a season of evaluation at YouthWorks, and we are dutifully processing through mounds of feedback–from site staff, from area directors, from participants, from service partners, housing partners, community friends, and more. If you had a hand in a YouthWorks summer, I’m hearing about it now.

As a new area director, I have a slightly heightened workload as familiarize myself with each of the sites I am responsible for organizing. Of course there is no lack of resources to help me acquaint myself with each community. Part of YouthWorks end-of-summer paperwork barrage are “Community Information Packets,” or CIPs, that pass along all the information YouthWorks summer staff learned and obtained from training to their flight home.

These packets have a mixture of information–some targeted towards office staff, others towards future site staff.

Regarding the latter, one such section of the CIP is a “Letter to Future Staff,” in which staff write whatever they wish towards the individual who will supplant them the following summer.

Some letters are formal and practical, others are casual and conversational. Some use flowery language and vividly depict a YouthWorks summer to someone more naive than they yet realize. Others encourage and edify and promise that all of the checklists and responsibilities are as insurmountable as they seem. Most relay that the feelings of being overwhelmed will subside with time. Many refer back to the quirky community member that took them out to eat or would come to the cookout each week. Some give a description of what they did just that day, which usually contains washing dishes and plunging toilets. Some mention what they should do for the Fourth of July, some recommend the best coffee shops to relax in.

Consistent across roles and sites though is a persistent affection towards their community. It is not uncommon to hear:

“You hands down have the best YouthWorks site.”

“I know everyone says probably says this, but they’re all wrong. This is the best community.”

“You will love this place.”

We place well over 300 staff in over 70 communities–the consistency with which staff romanticize their communities is striking.

The places we send staff are not necessarily reputable or glamorous. Frankly, they are often forgotten and marginalized communities. This isn’t to say that they have any less value or worth, but in the eyes of society generally aren’t high-priority destinations.

Appalachia, Reservations, Urban Neighborhoods.

West Virginia

These are the places that staff affectionately recall. But why?

Based on individual, second-hand descriptions from staff, you’d gather that there must be something awfully special about each of these communities. But taken as a whole, reading across nine different communities ranging from Appalachia to Queens, I’ve come to a different conclusion.

There is nothing special about any of these communities.

In a sense, anyway.

Each has it’s idiosyncracies, it’s peculiar ways that God acts with and for his people, it’s kingdom people displaying love and kindness.

They each are special in their own way. But they are not necessarily any more “special” when compared against one another.

Rather, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not our communities that shape this reality, but that staff are equipped with eyes to see the beauty and worth of each community.

They are forcefully made aware of how God is acting with and for his people in these places. They interact with the individuals who make a community what it is. They serve those in the community who are frequently forgotten.

This ultimately forces a revelation–what if we each were equipped with eyes to see our communities as special places–places where God is acting with and for his people, where we can see the beauty of the community, where we can work collectively as a people of God?

You see, there is nothing more special about a YouthWorks community than our home communities. Though our homes often see lackluster or dull, we can be equipped with eyes to see them as beautiful places. Where we can take pride in them and relay to others, “I know everyone says probably says this, but they’re all wrong. This is the best community.”

Perspective. Eyes equipped to see a communities beauty. Minds ready to equate value and worth to places.

Perhaps when we can look as fondly to our communities and our neighborhoods as we do a mission field, we will be able to see and join God at work at home.


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