The Joys and Hardships of Living in Community

afm11This week, we will celebrate our one-year anniversary of being on the m/v Africa Mercy After five weeks of training in Texas followed by our three-week field service in Ghana last year, we joined the ship on August 2, 2012.

This vacation we just took over this past summer to go back home was our first return trip as a family since we left back on June 8, 2012.  Being our first trip home, we encountered lots of amazing love and support and welcome…  Lots of smiles and hugs…

And lots and lots of questions!  (Which is good — we like questions! — we’d rather respond to what people really want to know than just guess and talk and bore everyone!).

One of the top questions we received was, “What is the hardest part about life on the ship?”  Our answer to that question: living in community.  We just didn’t anticipate how much of a challenge it was going to be to live in community.

Community life is hard.  Our church building back home is roughly the size of the ship, and to give our friends and family a perspective, we told them, “Imagine you lived at the church, with about 450 other church members, and you spend all of your time with them, sharing every life activity with them, all within the physical confines of the church building itself.”

communityIn community, you do everything together:

  • you live together,
  • work together,
  • eat, worship, play, sleep, socialize.
  • You serve together.
  • You get hot together when the A/C is out.
  • You stink together when water reserves are low, and the ship has to restrict laundry and showers.
  • You get sick together when a flu goes around.
  • You all long for chocolate and Coca-Cola together when the ship’s stores are running low.
  • You all experience all of your lives — together!

Life was much easier back home, where I would drive to work — spend time with those people — then drive home.  Then drive to church — spend time with those people — then drive home.  Then drive to an event with friends — spend time with them — then drive home.  Life is less complicated when you don’t muddle it all up with community.

On the ship, though, you don’t have a peaceful, solitary drive home at the end of a busy, hectic, stressful day.

And one thing about being the HR Manager is that people generally don’t come visit my office to tell me how great their job is and how wonderful their lives are onboard!  Many of my office visitors tend to be mad or upset or hurt or disappointed — and usually about something that will have a serious impact on their whole lives.  (HR issues here do not just impact one’s professional careers, but also their home, where they live, their community, their relationships, their holistic calling to the ship — it’s all tied up in their actual employment onboard…)

In my work, I get to have a lot of hard conversations with people — quite regularly.  And it would be one thing if at the end of the day, I could lock up my office, walk out to the parking lot, and head home in the refreshing privacy of my car.  But on the ship, when I lock my office door at the end of the day, I walk down the hallway to the dining room, where I will now eat dinner with all those people I had to have hard conversations with.

Then I’ll go upstairs and share in a worship service with all those same people.

Then we’ll all go up to the top deck and hang out with our kids and enjoy watching the sunset together.

Every corridor, every staircase, every gathering and function and event — all filled with people I’ve gotten to interact with in my job.  Many times with positive outcomes, but many other times with very difficult and uncomfortable outcomes.  And it’s hard.

And it’s the same for all of us onboard!

  • Our Crew Physician lives with all his patients!
  • The Academy teachers live among all of their students!
  • Our Chaplains live together with all those they pastor and counsel!

We all share in the hardships and difficulties of our common community life, together.

So that first popular question from friends back home — “What is the hardest part about life on the ship?” and it’s answer: living in community — almost always leads into this follow-up question: “So what is the best part about life on the ship?”

My answer: living in community.

Yes, it’s both the hardest part AND THE BEST PART! — all at the same time!

Why the best?  …Well, I’ll tell you in my next blog post…  Boom!  Cliffhanger!  :-)

6 responses to “The Joys and Hardships of Living in Community

  1. Reblogged this on Found: and commented:
    I know I’m sharing a lot of posts I’m my friends lately. It’s only because they are good and true. This post is from my friend Nick Cash. He says so clearly what living in community is about. I don’t think I could say it as well. So I say thank you Nick! Thank you for your willingness to share. Thank you and your beautiful family for being my friends. I love you guys! I can’t wait to see you again! Enjoy this post :).
    His… Michelle
    Philippians 1:20

  2. It is different when you were ousted, shunned and even persecuted by church, then ended up living for over four years in a home shared with six other families, none of which are Christian. This is our mission field, to be set upon drug addicts and drug traders, prostitutes, sometimes violent people, sometimes people who are seeking. The others come and go; we are the only permanent ones here. People come here, seeking an escape from a harsh life on the streets. One thing is common: all need Jesus but few, if any, are prepared to part ways with sin and accept the better way, His way.

    There are nobody to worship with, no other Christians to care & share, just us bearing a little torch in a haven of darkness. A lighthouse keeper seeing one shipwreck after the other because people won’t deviate from their collision course with Fate. Even so, there are those who have observed our consistency and who are impressed by it. I think that we are witnesses for Him when we least know it.

    After more than 28 years with Christ, through wealth and poverty, all kinds of situations, few things upon earth can surprise us. Having sat with heads of state, cabinet ministers, global corporate directors, street people, prostitutes and dysfunctional people of all sorts, one thing is clear to me: we will only start having power when we truly realize who Jesus is and that He is more than just the son of God. When we trade in the limp, broken and powerless flesh nailed to a piece of wood, was raised blessed beyond recognition, completely healed, completely restored and more…………when we realize Who the Prince of Peace truly is, our comfort zone will remind us of a boring place that had kept us from tasting Life in ways most will never experience it.

    After this all, after having lived in open communities at other places, one thing remains acutely obvious: man is lost and needs Salvation. It is your job and mine to be Mr Delivery to those. Our comfortable ride is never guaranteed, yet out credibility and integrity should remain unshaken.

    Easier said than done.

    • Thank you for sharing this unique perspective, Pieter. I appreciate your input, and I thank you for your life devoted to helping the Kingdom come by living among the ‘least of these’ in a loving, gracious, and Christ-honoring way. I am praying Galatians 6:9 and 1 Corinthians 15:58 for you, brother!

      • Thanks, Nick! One thing I cannot accuse Jesus of, is giving me a mundane life; instead, never a dull moment!

        My family and I were made poor and then sent in amongst the flock, as in Jer 6:27 – and we were rejected by all proclaiming Christ. Our main sin was being poor, so we did not fit in with the well-heeled.

        They come from their houses on the high hills of suburbia to reach out to the “business ladies” on the street. They come dressed in team T-shirts, work in groups of three so that they can always feel safe, etc. Their approach is “hit & run” as they only come for a few hours and then do not follow up for weeks.

        They tell the street ladies to stop what they are doing and to accept Jesus. In a country where 40% live below the UN’s breadline and where unemployment is upward of 25%, can they tell these ladies who will pay the rent and feed the kids? One such a girl, a beautiful young blonde, has a degree in hospitality law and has employment for Christmas and Easter seasons. Otherwise, its is roughing it outside.

        I must be the only guy in town whose varnish was stripped off and who will put a frangipani flower in a street lady’s hair, tell her that He loves her, give her a hug and then go home to tell his wife about it. :D And then to see a wife’s heart swell with pride!

        The Lord had blessed me with the best darlingmost wificle gracing this planet.

        Amongst my family are respected and reputable business folks, lawyers, accountants, engineers, a pastor or two – yet they have completely rejected us because they think that I am “too lazy to work.”

        The stereotyping and hypocrisy even amongst the few regarding themselves as the “remnant” is worrying me, as we have found that it were Muslims who reached out to us when we were in material need, not Christians. I have been verbally abused and accused of being a racist because I am white and Afrikaans. The accuser is a white American proclaiming to be an elect Christian.

        Last time I had the courage to attend church was in Q3, 2006. Just as I thought that the past was forgotten, as we were persecuted, assaulted, in ways akin to the Soviet KGB in the USSR but by the C H U R C H in a free democracy……this man verbally assaulted me right here on WordPress. Not as much as an apology from his side. When I approach church leaders in situations like this, I get shunned. What does Matthew 18:15> and 1 Cor 5:9-12 mean to the Christian? Who was it given to and why is it in the Bible if nobody lives by it?

        Our previous address was at a “hotel” operated by a Nazi-like German who abuses guests and staff alike. There we had to endure a certain race from Europe who do not know how toilets work and never flushed, leaving used waste material outside…..

        Suffering for Christ can sound very romantic but, like the desert trek, it is a place full of dangers and discomfort. Perhaps my biggest concern is that many will never accept Christ because they either experience this themselves or see it happen to others.

        Our faith is worthless if it lacks integrity. Reputation is what all care about, the leg called character sometimes never grow or can be amputated without anyone even noticing.

        Lack of character. I am worried about the general church as, in my experience, few prioritize this.

        Up to 1999, when we had the resources, my family and I were involved from a distance with the Logos, Logos II and Doulos vessels. We did some projects on Doulos here in Cape Town to convert her generators from DC to AC, very long ago. One of my school mates was on the Logos when she foundered and he saved lives there. Sadly, it seems that he was murdered on a farm many years later, if my information is correct.

        I have always had a soft spot for all of these marine missions; I know from experience how unpleasant a painted steel vessel can be on a sweaty summer’s day. Paint, steel and the fragrance of the sea don’t bond well. Living in cramped conditions on ships old enough to have dinosaur droppings in them, may sound romantic to some but the reality is different.

        I honour those prepared to sacrifice comfort and to take His Love to faraway places beyond the horizon.

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