In the past few months I’ve been noticing a startling trend. Some of the most passionate people of my generation are returning to their home communities. After college, after working overseas, a surprising number of my peers are deciding — when they could go almost anywhere — to move back to the places they grew up.
Now, you might say that I’m biased — having just moved to back Elkhart, IN for Mennonite Voluntary Service when I grew up one town away in Goshen. And I am certainly excited about how our unit is flourishing in its first year — serving as a means for a number of us young people to re-commit to an area where we’ve already had ties.
But it’s not just us. A woman raised in central plains 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 decide to travel among the Central States conference for a summer of learning about how people in their home region approach peacemaking.
The trend has surprised me because — growing up with stories of overseas missionaries and foreign service workers — I always assumed that leaving home is the highest calling for those most committed to justice and the church.
But I’m hearing rumblings that not everyone is called to live in places far from where they grew up. Lora wrote, “An acquaintance of mine, who is in college hundreds of miles away from where he grew up, once suggested that perhaps one of the most radical things he could would be go home after he graduated—commit himself to the land and the people and his church and stay there, for better or for worse.”
When I get down to it, the notion of being called to one’s home community doesn’t seem that strange. For most of human history people have worked for justice primarily in the communities where they were raised. And as Anabaptists we have long traditions of calling pastors from with a congregation, a number of Mennonite institutions have provided support for people of color to work in their home communities, and Mennonite Church USA has been talking about living missionally wherever we are.
But perhaps hearing stories about mission at home haven’t made the same sort of impression on me because I’ve always understood serving close to home as a sort consolation prize for those who can’t serve far away. Hearing people with vast opportunities who are deciding to return home helps me realize that this option never was second-best.
Learning to celebrate work rooted in home communities has helped me challenge the implicit hierarchy I once believed in of foreign service over local. So while I treasure connections across the global church and these relationships help shape the way I live, I’m realizing that my primary calling may be to work within fifteen miles of where I grew up.
Since moving to Elkhart six months ago, it hasn’t been simple but I’ve had an undeniable sense of being in the right place. In my work as a community organizer, connecting with my neighbors is much easier given that I already know the local high school football scene. And my history with white Mennonite churches in the area has been a great asset in the organizing for immigration justice in the last few months.
Does anyone else know of folks who’ve ‘moved back’? Considered it yourself?
Why would you go home — or why not?