As a student at Presbyterian College, a professor taught me the phrase, “You cannot be a Christian alone.” Whether this was an original quote or simply borrowed words, the phrase stuck with me after graduation, and as I began my year serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Asheville. I first began to fully grasp its meaning during my first few months here. I was given the task of working in a new worshipping community where I didn’t quite understand some of the viewpoints of the members there, and I began to struggle with what God was calling me to do. It was during a phone conversation with a friend from college that I was reminded that, “We cannot be Christians alone.” She said to me, “What good is faith if it is only lived out among those who look, think, believe, and act like us?” Little did I know, she was setting me up for a life-changing 7 months working for Asheville Youth Mission.
These last several months, serving at our many partner agencies across the Asheville area, these words have become more real for me. While I knew that as Christians we are called to create peace on earth, what I learned is that this task is too monumental for any one person, one group of people, or one organization to accomplish alone. Before working at AYM, I closed myself off to those who didn’t think or believe like I do, calling their theology “bad,” and the work they were doing “wrong.” I was closed off to seeing the goodness in their work and the change they were making in people’s lives every day. At AYM, though, we partner with agencies grounded in theologies that span the spectrum from conservative to liberal and everywhere in between. As I have worked with each of these agencies, I have learned to step outside of my fear of those who believe differently from me, and rather partner with them in love for our neighbors. When we work together, our world is more united, and we see glimpses of the Kingdom of God. When we don’t, we simply create more division in our world, and cracks for the people we serve to fall into. We cannot be Christians alone, and we cannot do Christ’s work alone.
This year I have also learned that this phrase doesn’t just mean working alongside those who are different from us, but also building community with them. As a Young Adult Volunteer, one of our requirements is to live in intentional community with one another. Here, I learned that the community Christ calls us into is not one where we can turn a blind eye to the ugliness of life. We are called to be vulnerable with one another, and to accept one another’s vulnerabilities. I learned to do that with the five Asheville YAVs I served alongside of this year, but it wasn’t until I began my work at AYM that I truly understood that this is not limited to the handful of people we surround ourselves with everyday, but must be extended to even the strangers we pass on the street. Our society often tells us to shy away from things in life that make us uncomfortable, but when we live in community, we are forced to confront the good, the bad, and the ugly. We cannot turn a blind eye to addiction, homelessness, poverty, inequality, or any of the things that make us uncomfortable. When we do, we shut out the voices of those struggling with those things. My most vivid memory of this was just a few days ago as we were setting up a free food market at Kairos West. A lady arrived at 1:30, ready for the market to begin, and was frustrated that we were not running on time. She lashed out at us and the volunteers at Kairos. Our culture would tell us to strike back, tell her to wait her turn, but the community Christ calls us into means confronting the food insecurity she faces that caused her to be upset (I mean, we’ve all been “hangry” at times). “We cannot be Christians alone,” and that means loving the whole person, not just the things that make us feel good or comfortable.
As I transition out of this YAV year and my time at AYM, this is what I will take with me. As long as I am a Christian, I cannot live in a bubble– isolating myself from those I disagree with or the things that make me uncomfortable. I must step out of this fear, and into love for God, the world, and God’s people.