April 2011 - Vol. 49
By James Munk
Recently, our community invited one of our newer members to share his testimony at a prayer meeting. After the gathering, I was invited over to a community home for dinner. Initially, we talked about the testimony; his account of coming into community was very inspiring. The brother came from a nominally Catholic family, and – through a series of uncanny events and decisions to say “yes” to the Lord – found himself far from home, far from his intended career, and radically engaged in the mission of the Sword of the Spirit.
It’s helpful to hear that type of testimony. It’s sharp. It clearly divides life before, and after, and describes the good effects of an encounter with the Lord and his people. Seeing this distinction illustrated in the life of a brother or sister helps us to appreciate what we have together, especially its power to help others find God. These stories encourage, build up, and inspire – and tend to make people who grew up in community – “community kids” a little self-conscious.
It seems that the testimonies people are most drawn to are accounts of multiple bad choices remedied by a single good one – and the worse the previous choices, the better! Being part of a biker gang, having a drug addiction, living promiscuously, only to be saved in the eleventh hour by a personal encounter with the Lord – now that’s exciting! We can assume dodging bullets provide a similar type of exhilaration. Great testimonies have it, and other peoples stories, my own for instance, can sometimes seem inadequate. For this reason, I was initially uncomfortable when someone at the table asked me, “Do you every wish you had a more exciting testimony?”
I come for a well adjusted family – two parents, even. I got good grades at school, stayed out of trouble, and well away from motorcycles and their gangs. I was a good member of our community’s youth group, part of our university outreach, did a GAP year of Christian service in foreign parts, and am now part of our community: a fairly standard story for a community kid. But is it exciting?
Admittedly, it is not sharp. There is not obvious leap from darkness to light. There was never a singularly defining moment when I chose for the Lord over and against a lifestyle that utterly rejected him. And if we define an exciting story as narrowly escaping prison, then no; my testimony is not exciting.
But for its dullness, I cannot claim full responsibility. After all, my story does not start with me.
My parents must bear the brunt of this accusation. Using the above definition of excitement, their testimonies are more thrilling then mine; though I’ll leave it to them to tell you the extent. Nonetheless, in the early 1970’s, both became involved with a prayer group in Lansing, Michigan. This group changed their lives; reordered them from the inside out. As a result, they became some of the first members to make a formal commitment to the prayer group when it decided to become a community. They married, had children, and chose to raise them in this community.
The blame for the state of my story does not end there. I am surrounded by older brothers and sisters who lived the early days in overcrowded households, under radical pastoral accountability, and engaged in ubiquitous service, and in radical “high friction” community. They survived civil wars, natural disasters, and massive internal community struggles, all as part of building and being a Christian community in its early years… and a community of communities.
These are the same people and communities that made me the way I am. My story is a continuation of theirs. In the least, it is the second chapter in my parents’ testimony; but it is also the net effect of brothers and sisters in Lansing, the wider United States, and around the word encountering the Lord, being transformed by him, and deciding to live their lives in a radically different way than the rest of the world.
Above exciting, this testimony is sublime.
If we compare testimonies to weapons, it seems we often favor the knife for its edge – but reject the battleship for its vastness. To begin a testimony with the phrase, “I’m a community kid, so my story’s not very exciting,” betrays the power and magnitude of our inheritance. If our story lacks “excitement,” it is likely that we are unwilling to tell it in its entirety. After all, it is very large.
And this is my testimony: that I am the product of and heir to a way of life that stands against the spirit of this age. My story is that of thousands of lives given over to the Lord: lives transformed and dedicated to radical zeal, resolute commitment, and brotherly love. Community kids are the stewards of this account – the Lord’s work in and through the Sword of the Spirit. Its testimony is ours. Its story is mine.
This custody mandates a challenge to us all. Our future must befit our past. We must continue to live righteously and radically. If we flag in zeal, or shy away from mission, we call in call into question the foundations of all our testimonies. What is reliable about a powerful past if its effect is not evident today?
And this challenge is especially important for those who are, who raise, or who work with community kids. Our lives – the lives of community kids – must be the obvious and upward continuation of our parents’ stories. We must even outdo our forerunners – exceeding them in zeal, love, and mission.
This challenge is excitement enough – I don’t wish for another story to which I could attach my life. Rather, I desire a life worthy of my testimony.
[James Munk graduated from
the University of Michigan School of Architectural Design in May, 2007.
He is a mission director for Kairos
North America and a member of the Work
of Christ Community in Lansing, Michigan.]
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