These periods of life can be extremely stressful and disheartening, but there is something unique about this situation when it falls upon a believer. Something that does not take away the fear in our gut immediately, but propels us on a journey of discovery; widening our scope of vision.
I had one such time when I was a freshman in high school (that's American for grade nine), my family moved to the country of Ukraine for a year. As most kids moving from middle school to high school, I was a clumsy, socially awkward fourteen year old, lacking any semblance of confidence; whose world view was about to be broadened by thousands of miles.
Naturally, I was terrified. High school is a strange enough place for a kid to get adjusted to. Now I had to conquer this age in a completely different land. Although my parents did home school me then, I still had to figure out how to operate in the social world of teenagers at church, without much language ability. What I stumbled upon did not impact me much then, but as time has passed I have discovered a deeper movement happening.
With little to no effort I discovered unity in Christ-- I discovered "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace " (Ephesians 4 verse 3). Like most things, until I ran into it time and time again, I did not come to know the reality of such a bond, but that year I found inclusion and warmth through the name of Christ.
Unity and its consequences
Unity always seems to be a struggle for church congregations. Whether its church vision or peripheral doctrines that bring discord, it can really be a nightmare for any pastor or member involved. The interesting fact that I have come to discover, although, is unity may be something entirely different than simple agreement-a deeper perplexing spiritual and extensively practical.
Unity smashed me in the face again this summer,when two friends and I had great aspirations to embark on a fruit picking journey on the mainland. We grabbed a ride up from Tassie, got to Queensland, bought a van (which doubled as our home) and hit the road to various farms and hostels.
Within weeks we found ourselves crushed by the slim opportunities. We found ourselves next to broke, living near beaches and eating out of the Aldi dumpster; definitely the end of the rope. Like never before, we became desperate, spending what was left of our money on petrol back to Tassie.
One sunny (and hot) Brisbane Sunday morning, we stopped at a church for a service. We slipped in, but not unnoticed. The church was not atypically welcoming, but we had a few good conversations and left. We decided to take a bit of a break in the area, but at this point, we were living on an average of 1.5 meals a day and needed something to give. Once again we stumbled upon the unity of the spirit.
It was a typical (hot) Brisbane week, full of long sunny days (way too much for a weak Chicago native to handle), so we we would go to the mall to soak in the beautiful a/c. On one such day my friend bumped into a man from the church gathering we had been to, who, without being told of our situation, gave us money, enabling us to buy food again. Propelled by the spirit of God, the church once again expressed a unity in such a practical way.
Positive colliding imagery
My experiences with unity has taught me that unity is not a mechanical three step process to be achieved, in fact the striving for unity can often result simply in a power struggle, with one person exerting force upon another, or one person passively submitting without a show of force.
Rather, being the symbol of hope to the world, it is where the Spirit in one believer collides with the same Spirit in another believer resulting in an explosion of Christian fellowship - an expression of one organic body caring for itself among many members. This is an inclusion that thinks not of itself before the other (Philippians 2 verse 3): a spiritual unity allows us to enjoy the perichoresis the Father and the Son enjoy (John 17 verse 22).
It's been said that the unity of the church is not something to be created, but rather an existent factor that needs to be recognized by believers. Once this happens, a bursting forth of the Spirit can occur and the Church begins operating as a healthy organic body, with one sole aim: extending the message of God's grace to the end of the world.
This is what God IS doing with his church every day. This is how we can show ourselves as Christ in the world.
Dan Peterson (21) is from Chicago, Illinois USA, currently living in St. Leonards, Tasmania, studying cross-cultural ministry (his second of three years). Dan is a musician and personal fitness trainer, who loves exploring the Australian bush.
Dan Peterson previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/dan-peterson.html