“As a southern African American man, I knew nothing about this place. However, when you find out about Koinonia, you are like, ‘Why weren’t we learning about this? It seems like a historical secret of some sort that we haven’t been exposed to … My family for generations have lived in the south, unaware of Koinonia as a place that was bringing racial equality before civil rights took off, in the 1940s.” – Mario, Koinonia camp counselor
Koinonia Community is a farm and community on 573 acres in southern Georgia, modeling racial reconciliation and justice with camps and community involvement. The KKK could not bring it down in the 1960s, with shotguns, firebombs, and boycotts. Its partnership housing ministry birthed Habitat for Humanity in the 1970s.
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In 2003, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s family had barely moved in when he made a bold offer to a pastor in the Walltown neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina.
“We’d like to start a hospitality house in the neighborhood,” Jonathan said.
“Hold on,” Rev. Hayes said. “You’re saying you want people who don’t live with you to come live in your house?”
“Yeah. That’s right,” said Jonathan.
“When you gonna start this?” she wondered,
“Well, we already have the house. We just need to meet some people.”
“Like today?” she asked.
Their meeting migrated across the street, where Rev. Hayes introduced Jonathan to a man who had just gotten evicted.
To this day, Rutba House delights in sharing meals and hospitality with immigrants, inmates, and people of all classes from their two homes in Walltown.
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“This is a good place to see long stories. I love being a part of that … Even when life here is hard, it’s not boring and it’s not meaningless … I never say, ‘Why are we beating ourselves up?’ It always feels like we’re trying to do something that matters. We may be struggling or failing at that, but we’re trying to live lives that are giving to God in the best way that we can imagine … That just really makes life rich to me. It’s meaningful. Yeah. It’s rich.” – Zoe, COS member
Church of the Sojourners is a vibrant community that makes its home in the Mission District of San Francisco, California.
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Finding Intentional Community is finally here! Thanks to all the wonderful people who taught me so much, who shared their stories of living in community.
Wipf and Stock Publishing
We found a darling little bed and breakfast on a mini-farm at the edge of Greensboro, NC. It had two donkeys, a fat goat, and three horse-sized dogs that casually peered down upon the dinner table and attempted to sit in Joan’s lap. We even paddled kayaks around a big pond.
Greensboro has an intriguing Bog Garden and board walk that we explored, as we were chased by swamp monsters and dangerous gases. Then we stumbled upon Old Salem, a terrific miniature Williamsburg right here in our home state. Come to learn that their Moravian history is smack-dab in the center of my research into community. Check it out sometime – they have quite a story.
We’ve only been here four days, but it’s still difficult saying goodbye to new friends. Yesterday evening, I had a lot of work to catch up on in the camper, but the magnetic attraction of community drew me to the playground area where both kids and adults were gathered. A handful of ninth-graders who had come to Koinonia to attend a peace and justice camp were kicking a ball around.
Joan and I sat at a picnic table chatting with Marilyn, enjoying the cooler evening. She told us about the “gnat line” that stretches across Georgia, above which gnats are not a problem. Unfortunately, Koinonia is below the gnat line. Everyone we meet here is easy to talk with.
Earlier in the day, I was in the same area when one of the parents came by with a mildly urgent tone to his voice, wondering if we’d seen his energetic toddler Judah. Nobody had, but a few people helped him take up the hunt. This is a pretty safe place for kids, apart from the highway, and that’s where Dad headed next. Not one minute later, Marilyn came sauntering up from the opposite direction with Judah in tow.
A young women here told me that one of the things she liked best at Koinonia were the children. She doesn’t have any of her own, but she can get one anytime she likes. That’s a beautiful part of community that Joan and I experienced with four kids overseas with Youth With a Mission; the beautiful interaction between kids from like-minded families, as they flowed seamlessly from home to home. Parents at Koinonia have the assurance that they are surrounded by a tribe of adults who will defend the children as fiercely as their natural parents will. Plus it’s a whole lot of fun for non-parents.
Koinonia was erasing racial barriers long before the civil rights movement started. Since the community’s founding in 1942, founder Clarence Jordan treated all people fairly, insisting that blacks and whites live, work, eat and worship together. That didn’t sit well with the Klan, who bombed their farm stands, fired shotguns into their homes and organized a massive boycott that nearly ended their existence. With support from the north, Koinonia was able to survive the boycott by building up a mail order pecan business. “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia,” was Clarence’s slogan.
Koinonia’s ministry building houses for impoverished neighbors grew into the international non-profit known as Habitat for Humanity. Today, Koinonia is guided by a dedicated core of eight members, with the support of many longterm friends, neighbors, interns, staff and volunteers. They host many visitors with generous hospitality.
Joan and I were glad recipients of their hospitality. We feel very much at home, having more than enough private space and time. We are comfortable going on walks and enjoying the beautiful land and pecan orchards.
While taking photos near the common kitchen and eating area, I was approached by an older man named Nash. He had lived in the community for about seven years and now helped out whenever he could. He convinced me to postpone the work I had intended to do and instead ride in his van for a tour to Picnic Hill. There we walked to a mind of earth that he said was the gravesite of Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat. Nash said that Clarence Jordan’s grave and the graves of both their spouses we’re just beyond in the woods, all unmarked as they had requested.
Nash told me about the events of Millard’s death, and how Nash and a friend had sweated buckets while hand-digging his grave. Under every stone I discover another story here.
What an epic day in the Deep South! We awoke early in the Wal-Mart parking lot at Americas, Georgia (after a 6-hour drive and 5-hour sleep), boiled some instant oatmeal in our groovy Turtle van, and were thundering down the road to Plains by 6:30.
Why such an early departure? To meet with our 39th president of the United States—Jimmy Carter—who has been teaching Sunday morning Bible classes at Maranatha Baptist Church since the 1980s. I still cannot find words for my astonishment over a world leader who would teach the Bible to barely 250 people in a tiny church at a speck on the map in the middle of nowhere. No cell phone service here! But plenty of peanuts. I barely remember him serving a term in the White House, and news images of him hammering shingles on Habitat homes.
I was deeply impressed by Mr. Carter’s earnest preamble which was more political than religious, being a heartfelt cry for peace. This is something he has always valued highly. At the Jimmy Carter museum and boyhood home, we learned much about the many ways he has brought health and peace to the oppressed people of the world.
Next, we landed at Koinonia Farm, the first intentional community on our visitation list. They survived KKK bombings and boycotts back in the day when southerners didn’t take kindly to whites and blacks living, working and praying together. Hospitality has always been a high value at Koinonia, which was evident in the lack of awkward moments. We were quickly oriented and given our space to move freely. Potluck dinner and worship was perfect. Over dinner, Bren simply expressed the high value they place on connecting over food, reconnecting with God, and conveying the benefits we receive to the world in words and actions of peace and reconciliation.
Now we are looking forward to a restful sleep in our comfy camper. They have provided us with the perfect spot at the edge of wide open fields and pecan orchards. It’s been a full day, and I’m looking forward to a tour and conducting interviews tomorrow.