I spent this summer living in a house in Berkeley, California with nine other people who were complete strangers. While this living situation seems odd and impractical (I already had an apartment as a Berkeley student), I learned that it is often through the unusual and perhaps inconvenient situations that we can more clearly witness God’s goodness.
Why did I live in this house for the summer? I was participating in the pilot year of Marketplace Bay Area, a 7-week InterVarsity summer program aimed at discovering the meaning of marketplace ministry. The program activities have left me with a lot to think about as I explore my post-college options and how I will follow Jesus in those future spaces.
In addition to the program content, an integral part of this summer experience was the community living. We were not just living under the same roof, but rather we were learning what it meant to live alongside one another, within covenant values. Our first few nights in the program were spent brainstorming, reflecting, and talking about personal values in order to create covenant values. Again, most of us started out as strangers at the beginning of the summer, and yet we gathered to create this list of values to live by that we would all agree on. Given the hearty mix of personalities, ethnicities, and gender, this proved to be a very intriguing conversation. But we did it! After two substantial nights of discussion, we agreed on our shared values.
The process of creating covenant values was definitely new to me, and it also felt slightly odd. It wasn’t the process that was odd, but rather it was the purpose for having this be a part of our living experience. For example, aside from setting chores, my school roommates and I never had such a conversation and did not face any serious conflicts. Were these covenant values truly necessary?
The Blessing of Good Community
In this unusual living situation, I indeed saw many moments of God moving in and through the people in the house, in ways that would only have transpired through living in community. When a housemate developed an unexpected skin ailment, we prayed over him immediately as a community. When another housemate got a parking ticket during her hectic San Francisco commute, we chipped in as we had just gone through an activity about financial budgeting and giving. Towards the end of the program, another housemate shared with us the video project he had been working on editing at his internship and we all celebrated it with him. Throughout the summer there were several of these moments when we took on each other’s hardships and celebrated each other’s victories.
Personally, this dedication to community from each individual made each hardship more bearable and each victory even more joyous. While going through the motions of a nine-to-five work day, I felt tension about finding good community at work and feeling like my work did not fit my idealistic hopes of serving Jesus and making the world a better place. Coming home to this community made it feasible for me to process these feelings and be affirmed by people who cared about me. On the flipside, it was encouraging to see people come alive in their own element, whether that was cooking a fantastic home-style Mexican meal, defeating everyone in Mario Kart, or getting everyone to go to the nearby park late at night to play ultimate Frisbee.
As we experienced the Marketplace Bay Area Urban Project together, we also learned to love each other as Jesus loved us. These people who started out as strangers became beloved friends of mine. Learning to love and share a home with a new community has inherently made me more conscious of how I can love the people around me well in every setting I am in.