Monday, March 16, 2015

'More than Chicken Feed' by Young Adult Volunteer AmyBeth Willis

Originally Published in the January/February 2015 edition of Presbyterians Today in her column 'A Young Adult Volunteer's Journey.' Watch for her next column in the April edition of Presbyterians Today.

Running out the door of our Tucson house, my roommate Heather shouted to me, “Don’t forget to
feed the chickens!” Feeding our four hens was a fact of life as a Young Adult Volunteer in Tucson. The YAVs before us had purchased several hens and built a coop for them in the
DC YAVs on Retreat in the Shenandoah Valley
backyard; the hens were then left to our care. We kept a meticulous chicken schedule and alternated days of who would care for them. This was one aspect of the intentionality by which our community operated. Even though I didn’t want to feed the chickens that day, I did because I felt both responsible for and accountable to my community. The eggs I found under our hen Loquita were an unexpected bonus.

The commitment to a YAV year is threefold: mission service, simple living, and intentional Christian community. I’ve struggled with intentional community the most. We don’t just live together; we share every aspect of our lives. As a participant in a culture enamored of convenience, I’ve found that this kind of intentionality isn’t easy. In fact, it requires hard work.

YAVs make communal patterns of life a priority. We participate in weekly community days; we share meals; we pray together. We fill out chore charts and talk for an hour about who left the glass of milk that curdled in the sink. Sometimes coming home to my community feels as if I’m headed to my second job. We might have a meeting scheduled that I’d rather not attend. Or, my housemates are watching a movie, and I join them out of obligation more than desire. During my year in Tucson, I often complained about feeding the chickens. But I put my desires aside, because this intentionality is what creates the space to experience the bounty of community.

This abundance has filled my soul over the past two years, despite the challenges that come with community. One time last year, we met at 6:00 a.m. because we were too busy to meet at any other time. We quibbled over trivial matters that symbolized different values within our group, like whether to keep bikes in the house. When our individual expectations for community were not met, we felt hurt. But we carried on, because the joy and the sense of family we so often experienced were worth it.

We YAVs in Washington, DC, have just returned from our first retreat in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. There, we lifted our lives up to God as we shared our life stories with one another. It was an incredibly meaningful time of vulnerability that brought us closer. We cried, laughed, hugged, and were
present with one another for four days. We began to love one another in new, profound ways.

We nurture this love—God’s abundant love—in community. It flows through us as we care for those whom we serve. Our work in community is indeed love in action, which has the power to transform our relationships not only with one another but also with the world around us.

So I will keep choosing to love, especially when it’s hard. The chickens need to eat.