Aeroplanes and Communities

“The saddest thing about life in the UK is that for most people, if they want an egg or some milk they’ll go to the shops.” When someone said that the other day I didn’t quite get why that was sad – until i thought back to when I was little and I’d go an knock on our neighbour’s door if I was making a cake and ran out of ingredients. I don’t do that anymore…because I can solve the problem myself by going to the shops. I don’t need my neighbours.

It seems we’ve managed to convince ourselves that to live independently of others is an achievement and to be self-sufficient is somehow admirable. He was right – that is sad. What happened to community?

One of my favourite things is staring out the window of an aeroplane – especially when you’re flying low – watching the landscape below. There’s something in that birds-eye-view that reminds me how small I am in the grand scheme of things. Usually it’s one of the awe-inspiring moments when I realise that God is so much bigger than I give him credit for. Flying from Ethiopia to Rwanda a few days ago I had one of those moments.  There are SO many people in this world and I spend most of my life worrying about just one of them.

So, yesterday we were visiting a pineapple growing association in Gitarama, Rwanada. Why? Because a while back – shortly after the genocide – a few people in a church in a rural village decided that it wasn’t good that their community had no jobs and little food. So the church saved money and bought some land and started growing pineapples. They started making money. The association that had formed then bought the land from the church so that the church could then invest in something else. As the business grew others soon wanted to join in, but rather than seizing the opportunity to expand their own business (or personal wealth) they instead helped these people build their own associations and buy their own land. Why? Because they wanted their community to develop and not just themselves. They use the money they make to pay school fees for orphaned children and build churches and set up support groups – not to line their own pockets. Another organisation then set up a pineapple processing factory and trained workers to make some of the yummiest jam and juice you’ve ever tasted! Great work.

I could understand it better if the people who set up the association had enough money for themselves when they started looking out for others. But they didn’t. They gave out of their lack. They made community their focus and not themselves. We told them how impressed we were, and grateful as they were for our comments there was a look on this one guys face that read “It’s really no big deal. Who wouldn’t have done the same?”. Ah, there lies the problem.

I feel like I really need to stop myself when I’m writing things like this. I can get quite carried away and turn it into some holier-than-thou type reflection. That’s really not where this is coming from. I know that I’m so far from where I’d like to be. I see the church in action and it inspires me, I see selfless people living their everyday lives in service for others and making a real difference. They live dependently on each other and I wish I’d do the same. But I like my independence. I don’t like help from others. I hate to admit that I JUST CAN’T DO THIS ON MY OWN ANYMORE. But it’s true. And it should be true. Because we were made to live in community with others and share in each others joy and pain. That’s just life. That’s community.

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