Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Grace is found in the middle of...

Being part of a mission team over the past 10+ years has been one of the best and hardest things I’ve ever done.  But, most things worth doing are hard and the fact that we’ve had challenges can’t be traced back to our specific personalities (though, my teammates may disagree!). Those difficulties existed simply because doing life in community, any real community, is just plain hard.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how our mission team here in Montepuez has somehow survived a lot of change.  Over the first few years this little community experienced both additions (new baby boys and girls!) and subtractions (half of the families moved on to other places).  Then in more recent years, we’ve experienced different changes: more foreigners settled in the area and certain relationships with Mozambicans blossomed into deep friendships.  It was as if our little community was a tree that survived a season of pruning and vertical growth and was now spreading wide its branches to provide shade for and include more and more people.

Communities are always in a state of change.

The book Wicked offers this provocative assessment of communities:

“Perhaps every accidental cluster of people has a short period of grace, in between the initial shyness and prejudice on the one hand and eventual repugnance and betrayal on the other.” (pg. 146)

While the above quote expresses a pretty cynical view of the world, truth can be mined in its unflinching analysis: There is a sweet spot in the life of community, one marked by grace.  But, it will not last.  All communities, like the people who found them, experience life cycles – they form together, they function for a time, and then they fail or fade out. 

So, trying to do life in community over the long haul means pushing back against the natural forces of entropy.  It means not giving in to the tendencies of decline and death.  And ultimately it comes down to intentionally choosing to inject life and grace into a given group.

But, what does grace like this look like? How can we offer grace to those who live in community with us and cultivate an endurance that will help that group make it over the long haul? 

The other day I stood nearby, eavesdropping on a group of foreigners (new expats living in Mozambique) attempting to converse with a woman with limited English.  They pointed at something the children were doing and struggled to find the Portuguese word for ‘funny.’  The right word popped into my mind, ‘engraçado,’ and for the first time I realized that stuck square in the middle of the word for funny or humorous is the word graça (or grace). So, in Portuguese, grace is literally found in what is funny.

Humor can be defined by grace and can be a means for injecting grace and life into a community.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I must mention Rachel’s assessment that I have a vested interest in proving this hypothesis.  So, I confess that I'm biased and its possible that I’m using word games to lend credibility to my conviction that irony is a sign of God at work. But, seeing humor as an agent of grace jives with my observations that some of the funniest people I know have been the most gracious.

I find hope and courage in the belief that grace is often found in the middle of what makes us laugh.

So, if I had to share one piece of advice about how communities can beat the cycle, go against the flow, and thrive over the long haul, it would be this:  Be intentional about the deadly serious work of not taking yourself too seriously and laugh freely with each other.  

May our communities have long lives - lives full of joy and grace.

Grace and Peace,


(thanks to Ashley Reeves taking the team photos - especially the funny one!)

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