Close to home and loving itBy Jason Shenk
In the past few months I’ve noticed a startling trend. Among people who grew up in rural areas and smaller cities, some of the most passionate people of my generation are returning home.
After college, after working overseas, a surprising number of these peers are deciding — when they could go almost anywhere — to move back to an area where they grew up.
Now, you might say I’m biased — having just moved to Elkhart, Ind., for Mennonite Voluntary Service, when I grew up one town away in Goshen. I am excited about how our unit is flourishing in its first year — serving as a means for a number of us young people to recommit to this area where we’ve already had ties.
But it’s not just us. A woman raised in Kansas has returned to commit herself to finding ways to live sustainably. After two years with the World Council of Churches in Geneva, a seminarian returns to intern at a congregation of farmers and businessfolk. A group of recent graduates from Goshen College decides to travel within Central Plains Mennonite Conference for a summer of learning about how people in their home region approach peacemaking.
The trend has surprised me because I’ve grown up with stories of overseas missionaries and foreign service workers. I always assumed going overseas — or at least to a big city — was the highest calling for those most committed to justice and the church.
But these stories show how returning to our roots may also be a calling.
“In some cases, it might be more stretching to return home,” notes Sheldon Good, a Goshen College student from Telford, Pa. Good suggests the prospect of integrating new perspectives into a familiar context presents a challenge that might draw some to return.
“Going home can be an exciting opportunity to share and learn together with those who have nurtured us over the years — an opportunity to collectively benefit from and empower each other,” Good said.
Being called to a familiar community isn’t anything new. For most of history people have worked for justice primarily in the communities where they were raised. As Anabaptists we have long tradi- tions of calling pastors from within a congregation, and some Mennonite institutions have provided support for people of color to work in their home communities.
But perhaps hearing stories about working locally hasn’t made the same sort of impression on me because I’d always understood serving close to home as a consolation prize for those who couldn’t serve in a flashy city or far away. Hearing how people with vast opportunities are deciding to live close to their roots makes clear that this option never was second best.
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