Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community

Despite its imperfections and challenges, Jay and I have always valued authentic community.  In the last three months we have been to 9 countries to examine effective ways to prevent sex trafficking, and we keep hearing words like this:

Lonely.  Abused.  Disconnected. Vulnerable.  Enticed.  Desperate.  

Ironically, these words can often describe both trafficking victims as well as their abusers. Everyone is longing for a sense of belonging, a “tribe,” a home.  And for this reason, being part of healthy community in itself can prevent trafficking.

Enter Chris Heuertz.  He was mentored in India for three years by Mother Teresa and has been to over 70 countries to serve and love the poor and exploited.  He has recently written a book called Unexpected Gifts: Discovering a Way of Community.  I had a chance to interview Chris this week, and here’s what he had to say.

In a nutshell, what is Unexpected Gifts about? 

“Unexpected Gifts” is my 3rd book, and easily my most vulnerable and confessional. In the 11 chapters of the book I introduce the messy bits of community that make it hard to stay, but why it’s important to stay. If you stay in a friendship, relationship or community long enough you will face inevitable challenges–things like failure, restlessness, betrayal, entitlement–things that are legitimate reasons to leave a community. But sometimes the very reasons we leave are in fact invitations to stay. And, if stay, especially after things get tough, these inevitable challenges can become unexpected gifts.

Why is it so hard to find (and stay) in community?

I think it’s hard to stay in community because so many of us are enamored with a sense of the enthralling, however, most of “real life” is mundane and undramatic. And I think staying in community is also marked by very ordinary and routine rhythms. Until we can find our centered self, and until we can learn to gratitude in the mundane, I think it’s going to be hard for most folks to stay rooted in community.

In addition, I think a lot of us idealize what we mean by community. We show up in communities with “scripts” for the roles we need everyone else to play, while maintaining ourselves as the central figure in the communities we participate in. When we realize that we’re not the center of community it’s an important assault on our egos and for many of us we can’t bear to have our egos exposed.

Finally, though we shouldn’t be, most of us are surprised when our humanity collides with the humanity of those we’re in community with.  Somehow we imagine this cosmetic version of community that only highlights and celebrates the best of us, while in true communities the worst of ourselves inevitably emerges–offering our community and ourselves a chance to learn to love and accept.  Sadly, most of us can’t accept the worst of ourselves and so we can’t accept the worst of those in our communities and so there’s usually a bad transition.

What’s the importance of being in community?

Fundamentally I believe the divine imprint in all humanity carries with it an existential yearning towards one another, we need each other and we were created for one another. Being in relationships and friendships and community is essentially human–beautifully human.

You can purchase Unexpected Gifts here, and read more about the fantastic work Chris and his wife Phileena are doing around the world.




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