“Community” is quite the buzzword in the American church. Churches strive to reach out to the communities in which they are located, and strain to foster community within the congregation. Small groups, circles, core groups or whatever name you prefer, are all the rage because they help develop a sense community among members. We struggle to create community, because it is such a struggle to find community in a society of personal automobiles, self-serve checkouts, and schedules that are too busy to allow time for family, much less a larger community outside of those few people for whom you care most.
Coming out of the American culture where community is a struggle, when visiting a country like Mozambique, I am always amazed at how organically community is here. Despite—or maybe because of—all of our Western technical expertise, there are certain aspects of life we will never understand as well as our neighbors in other parts of the world. After meeting my neighbor Sulemane for the first time on the Wednesday I arrived in Maxixe (the town in which I’ll be working while I’m here), we became immediate friends. Three days later Sulemane, my colleague Lisa, her Mozambican friend Orlando, and I were taking a day trip to the beach. We joked and laughed, talked about work and life, and shared a meal and snacks together as if we had known one another for several years, not just a few hours. The next day we were at it again, acting like best friends strolling through the streets of Maxixe. A week later Sulemane, Lisa, and I were again exploring the city and taking a short ride to the next town over, just to have something to do as we passed the hours together. All of this stemmed from a brief introduction by the IRD secretary.
The sense of community extends beyond just these new friends. I have only met my neighbors the Massicame family for a few minutes, but they immediately invited me over for dinner. When Mozambicans pass one another on the street, it is common to greet one another by saying “good day” or “good evening,” even if the two passersby don’t know each other. When I pass by people I’ve never seen before, they refer to me as “brother” or stop me to talk. Though I can’t even speak the lingua franca (Portuguese), the women at the market laugh with me and teach me Shitzwa, their local dialect, knowing I won’t remember it the next time we meet, but appreciating the fact that I try.
There is no manufacturing of affection. Instead, there is the basic understanding that we are people whose paths have crossed, and thus we are connected. The pace of life allows us to have time for one another, and we gladly take it, sharing ourselves with each another. We are brother and sister, a genuine acknowledgment of our connection to and concern for one another.