What if ‘going home’ was our calling?

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?

Comments (6)

  1. JUnrau

    I’m home now. Have been for a year and a half after doing an MCC stint in China. And man, do I ever hate it. I realize it’d be better to try and connect with the community I grew up in and give something back but I really don’t like it here. I get by thinking of it as some sort of holy penance to be stuck in frigid Winnipeg (and in a way it is since I promised my mom a year of being available), but I can’t wait to leave again.

    I feel bad for that because I get the sense that working in my community is the real work that a person should be doing. My life has been all about being somewhere else though. I’m not going to give up the wider world and serve in a way I can’t stand.

    Of course, MCC doesn’t think I’m qualified to do anything anymore so I’ll be here a while longer.

    So yes, I agree that it’s commendable to Go Home, but not everyone is cut out for it.

  2. Sharon

    “…In the few seconds of the AT&T commercial, I realised that my world had also shrunk, and that my connections were more and more global. I also realised in that instant that I was going to have to choose to live locally. …” On a bit of a different thread, I have also thought about this subject of “going home;” to settle in a community and stay there. Read more in-depth here: http://sharonkniss.blogspot.com/2007/12/living-locally.html

  3. folknotions

    I am currently considering a move from one of the poorest cities in the nation – not to home – but to a rural, conservative Mennonite county that is plagued by high levels of poverty and is about 30 minutes from one of the largest US military bases in the country.

    Working on issues of homelessness in the city has to do a lot with coordinating services so people don’t fall through the cracks and end up stuck in a shelter for months and months; or encouraging those who won’t access services to access them.

    In this rural area where I may move, often addressing homelessness means searching the woods to find out where camps have been pitched. Looking for folks living in abandoned trailers with no potable water. And getting more services than just a shelter.

    “The Mennonite” recently devoted an issue to Mennonites moving into urban areas and how many made the move so they could work in service-related fields. I applaud this, but I don’t think cities have the corner market on opportunities for service.

    This strays a bit from the notion of “moving home” , but I think home for many Menno’s is rural.

    Urban missions do not, in my mind, equal better or more Christ-like missions. I think it doesn’t matter if you are doing missions at home or in the city, so long as God is leading you to live out a life of service.

  4. IndieFaith

    Sorry this is off topic but I tried using the e-mail address in the “About Us” section to get a user name and it got kicked back to me. Can someone respond to me if that is my issue or the way it is presented. Thanks.

    PS I still haven’t quite found my way home but it does stay in the back of my mind.

  5. SteveK

    Years ago I did a six month mission trip to Calcutta and Bangladesh. I didn’t really process what I had learned until I came home on Christmas Day. It was coming home that changed my life, not just going there.

    I thought that I was supposed to return to Bangladesh to work with the poorest of the poor. Instead, God had me stay in the U.S. working with the poor here. I don’t know which one is the better work, all I know is what God has called me to.

    Honestly, I still dream about going to Bangladesh. That is my longing, my true shalom. But I know that my true work is here. Sometimes this society angers me so much that I want to pack up and live in a village in Mexico. But that’s not the work God called me to. So I don’t want to be “home”. I want to run away. But here I am, and here I’ll stay until God frees me to do another work.

    Steve K

  6. Betsy HM

    I am far from youthful but this is a topic that is of great interest to me. I am one who spent most of her life in church-related work in international settings. I had wonderful, faith-expanding experiences and learned much. However, through it all I carried an awareness that, though folks often thought of leaving home and living far away as sacrifice, for me it was was a privilege. I always thought that living an open, growing, faithful, peacemaking, justice bringing lifestyle in one’s home community, among folks who were very like you culturally and traditionally, was the more demanding path to take. No, it’s not easy to be plunked down in a language and culture that are unknown to you, but you can take refuge in your differentness. You have some distance to observe and learn. When you’re home in the midst of everything familiar it is hard to be different. It is hard to keep your perspective open and be truly interested in what can seem so mundane. I send my prayers of encouragement to all you are taking that path. It is a very vital way to live out one’s faith and it is needed.

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