Finding Community In a New Place
I am an individualist. I prefer things done by my way because I think it's the best solution. You may understand me. Sometimes, I prefer to work alone rather than in a team. But when I look at Jesus, He was not usually alone. He always surrounded himself with apostles and crowds. Maybe He saw a bigger meaning in that. After one year of studying abroad as an international exchange student, I have learned He was right. You simply cannot be alone with your faith or work.
Last September I arrived in Turin, Italy. It was supposed to be my “most amazing year ever.” Despite that, I lost my faith through the year, gained weight and fought with depression over two months. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed Italy and I still recommend it to future candidates, but my year had two views: the Instagram-worthy one and the testimony-worthy one.
When I came to Italy my faith was okay. I grew up in a Christian family and visiting church was the norm. But being a Christian alone in a new city is hard. Many times when I walked into the church nobody welcomed me or even said hello; there were few young people in the congregation, and even those few didn't speak English.
As such, I usually found myself praying with three other grandmas in the chapel during the week. From the beginning, I told myself that I can survive, but as weeks and months passed, I figured out that I did not feel God in any church I attended.
So, I stopped praying and “being a Christian” for a while. My life was still good, I was still happy and everything was fun. But deep inside, I felt like I was drowning.
My dearest, I cannot tell you what you should do, but I can tell you what I would do differently if I had a chance.
First, join a community that seeks Christ first. You need to be surrounded by people who are sharing a passion for Christ. Even if the community is different from what you're used to, stick with them. For example, now that I'm home, I have joined Catholic Society every Monday and Theological Tea Party every Tuesday. I am so grateful for places that gives me hope that I am not the only one who wants to be with Jesus. But, friend, you're going to have to make an effort. Say hello to that friendly looking girl at the market or a neighbor a few doors down. Locate a church or two to visit. Sign up to train to run a local race, volunteer for a non-profit organization or strike up a conversation with someone sitting alone at the coffee shop. Offer to make plans and be vulnerable.
Second, if you're traveling or in a new city, immediately contact your community at home. Maybe you think it's not going to change anything but you never know! They might buy you a plane ticket home or come visit you. Maybe it's as simple as a Facebook message encouraging you to press on. At least they will know that something is not right with you and I am pretty sure they will want to help you. Most importantly, they can carry you in prayer and the church's prayer is a powerful thing indeed.
Third, if you are feeling alone in a different city, say it. Nobody is going to figure it out when you pretend there is nothing wrong. That is the mistake I made in Italy. I was quiet; I was fighting alone against loneliness. But Jesus says in the Bible: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Mt 18:20). Share your heart with others; say it all to somebody and ask for help. If you don't know anyone who you can tell it all to, write to me because I don't want you to be alone anymore.
Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. -Deuteronomy 31:6
Finally, come to Jesus. He is always near, ready to listen, comfort, and encourage you. Close the door to your room, get on your knees and pour your heart out to Jesus (Mt. 6:6). Not only will He bring peace to your heart, but He will send people into your life whom you can build a strong community with. Because where we can't, He can.
When He was alone praying; when He was alone in the mountains; when He was dying alone. “Jesus saw them hungry...” (Mt 9:36) My dearest, Jesus sees us hungry; He sees us alone right where we are. He walked that path before you. He has experienced that loneliness. Who can better understand you than a man who was alone too?