By Henry Neufeld, Point Grey Inter-Mennonite Church
It started like most Sundays at Point Grey Inter-Mennonite; prayers, hymns, scripture readings, and visitor introductions. Then Janice Kreider said there would be no sermon; instead there would be an interactive discussion involving three Koreans and two “questioners” from PGIMF. No pulpit, just five chairs. The students living at the Menno Simons Centre attended to hear about a variation of Christian community living.
After two families plus two teenagers from Korea began attending PGIMF in late 2016, curiosity about their intentional communal living increased. They live in one home in Vancouver; their ages range from 11 to middle age. They share meals, household tasks, money, (one adult handles the finances) and all major decisions. They operate several home-based businesses, mostly of a high tech nature, and also book publishing.
Sue Kim and her college age sons, Chan and Caleb, were asked about their communal life. Sue said that as biblical Anabaptists they seek to follow the directions in the Book of Acts about living communally. Implementing Jesus’ command to love one another by meeting once a week was not enough, she said.
“It needs to be practiced every day,” she said, “Being responsible for each other is important.”
It started over 20 years ago in Korea when the two couples spent time working with Youth With a Mission (YWAM). Here they learned to live together and to regularly confess their sins to each other. Later, living together gradually emerged as a biblical and practical way of life. They left Korea in 2000 and lived in Pennsylvania, Ontario and Manitoba.
They returned to Korea in 2011 and after a few years decided to resettle in Vancouver. They were concerned about the influence of the “prosperity gospel” in Korean churches. The decision to leave Korea was accelerated by the South Korean government removing the alternative service option, meaning that Chan and Caleb would be required to perform military service or face jail time. “We believe in pacifism,” said Chan.
Caleb said having a home-based business was important since it provided an opportunity to serve each other, and to work for the same goals. Chan said most people work in 9 – 5 jobs and are isolated from family, “We think it’s better to work and live together,” he said. He cited a study pointing out that in the 2008 economic slowdown 90% of new businesses closed, while 95% of Amish businesses survived.
“Community based businesses have something to fall back on… there’s risk minimization in communal work.” With the prediction that 80% of current jobs will be replaced by technology by 2025, “It’s important for young people to band together to live and work together,” he said.
“Community is the easiest way to live the Christian life,” said Sue, “you have to forgive and be forgiven every day.” When asked about the core value of their community, the answer was simple and profound: “relationships… Jesus said we should love…. it’s important to understand the other person… we need to take time to listen and try to understand each other,” she said. They feel churches generally are too individualistic.
Sue pointed out that both Korean and American cultures affect the nature of faith communities. The Korean culture is communal and blends well with communal living, but a negative aspect is excessive reliance on one leader. This is seen in Korean churches. American culture is individualistic, an advantage in that every individual has a relationship with God, but American churches can be too individualistic. Sue’s goal for their community is to build a culture that fuses the good of both.
When asked about communal decision making, for instance if teenager wants a motorcycle Caleb said, “We all come together and decide whether it’s helpful (to the community) or not, if not the teenager has to live with it.”
What if one of the young people marries someone not accustomed to communal living? “It’s my personal choice to stay (in community) and my future wife would have to agree to the communal life,” Chan, aged 22, said.
Their vision is to eventually provide a re-entry service for returning missionaries and their children. “When missionaries return there’s often a gap in their life, we want to help mend that gap,” Sue said.
Although Janice Kreider said there would be no sermon, we were blessed, challenged and stimulated by our Korean friends who gave us several profound sermons.