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Living in a different culture from our own gives us an opportunity to learn from different lifestyles. It has given us reason to evaluate what we do and why we do it. One of these cultural areas is our western idea of personal space and alone time. In communal jungle living, there just isn’t a lot of privacy compared to what we grew up with in the United States. Our tribal friends are born into a full house. They live their whole lives with everyone knowing what they do and where they go. People know if they worked in the garden, if they walked to the next village, what they ate on the way, and so on. Visitors don’t ever need to knock because the door is already open. There are no secrets and there are few places to hide emotion. Their struggles, their defeats, their victories, and their accomplishments are known by everyone. And when they depart from this life, they depart the same way they entered—in a full house.
This is very different than how our home culture operates. In our Western culture, we feel security because of garages and fences, and we really have no need to talk to our neighbors if we don’t want to. We have schedules, planners, answering machines, and inboxes so we decide how much of our time we want to give away to people. Does our home culture create a life of guarded living? If so, how does that have consequences impacting those around us?
I am somewhat of an introvert, and I hate the thought of imposing on someone’s personal space. However, I have learned to be comfortable in our jungle environment. For us Westerners, forming and maintaining relationships is a choice. We have to choose to invest time in people. We have to choose to go the extra mile for people who may or may not appreciate our efforts. We have to choose to see the good in people. We have to choose to learn from others who may live and do things differently. We have to choose to share that love that was so freely given. I don’t always choose well, but the choice is always there.
I have found several aspects of jungle living to be quite healthy, and some of these are areas that our home culture could learn from. Community living is one example. In order to put this in perspective, think about if every member of your church lived on a cul-de-sac? If you saw each other every day? If you had a literal open-door policy? If you didn’t have a grocery store, hospital, or pharmacy to depend on but had to look to each other for those things? The result of this would be that you would see the needs of people around you, and they would know yours. You would know when they were sick, and they would know when you were having a hard time. You would learn to depend on one another.
This is the context where we find our tribal church learning to apply principles from the New Testament, like we read in Romans 12:9–13:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
For the church, this is great, because if our goal is for the body of Christ to work together for the glory of God, it is done well in this kind of environment. Struggles are apparent, sin is out in the open and can be dealt with, victories are corporately rejoiced, and needs are met as a group with everyone contributing what they can.
Being born and raised in the US with my guarded living mentality, this “jungle lesson” is a tough one for me to embrace fully and may take me a lifetime to learn. But it is a lesson that I want to own. Could this be a lesson that we who are from the West really need? This life isn’t about us trying to do everything well and on our own. It is about being open and dependent on others, working together as the body of Christ for God’s glory and the furtherance of His kingdom.
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