I first heard of intentional community when reading the book Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne the summer after my freshman year of college. That book completely rocked my world in a number of ways, but this particular concept was what stood out to me the most. I was immediately intrigued by this version of living out my faith, and when I found the link to Shane’s online directory of Christian intentional communities, I knew I had to do some research. Jesus People USA was the community closest to my hometown of Janesville, WI, so the next time I was in Chicago I took the chance to visit.
That first visit told me that I definitely wanted to visit again and possibly spend more time here. But in the next few summers I was offered internships at different organizations, so it wasn’t until this summer that I fulfilled my desire to live here for a bit. I came just a couple weeks after graduating from Indiana Wesleyan University where I had studied International and Community Development. I was so excited to see what living in a Christian intentional community and working at a homeless shelter had to teach me. I was expecting to really enjoy my time here before I started my ‘real job’ in the fall.
But what I experienced was so much beyond what I was expecting in terms of relationships, work experience, and emotional and spiritual growth. Relationally, I have gotten to know so many incredibly diverse people: punk rockers, seminarians, couch surfers, tattoo artists, social workers, street people, and everything in between. And not only have I casually met them and had a conversation or two, but I have lived with and become friends with people from so many different walks of life. We play games, go for walks, attend events, discuss a plethora of topics, and generally enrich each others’ lives.
In terms of work experience, I have been so blessed by getting to work at a homeless shelter serving hundreds of people every day. I’ve been able to learn a bit from the volunteer coordination, case management, and accounting/development perspectives, which are all ways to make a difference in the lives of those experiencing poverty and homelessness. And I also get to work part time at an incredible coffee shop, learning about social entrepreneurship, customer service, and really great coffee.
Not only do I get to do all of these things, but I get to do them in a very loving and safe environment, which has helped me to make a lot of strides in terms of emotional growth. It seems as if many people who have, like me, struggled with mental health issues have found refuge here. They and others have been incredibly supportive to me. Spiritual growth has also been happening here as this is a safe place to ask tough questions about faith and to find fellow pilgrims with whom to journey.
I was able to experience all of this within my first three months of being here during the course of my summer internship. And all of this caused me to reconsider whether or not I should move on to my ‘real job’ at the end of August. I felt as if God had more to teach me here and that I should possibly stay and invest a bit more time. So after a lot of praying and seeking advice, I decided to forgo my job and stay at JPUSA.
Since making that decision, I have been even more blessed by being here, which I wasn’t sure was even possible. Joining a JPUSA family, going on a retreat with Project 12 (JPUSA’s discipleship program), continuing to make connections in Chicago, and becoming close friends with community members has made a lasting mark on me. I will be forever grateful.
People often ask me how long I plan on staying at JPUSA, and my honest answer to that question is that I don’t know. No matter how long my stay is here, however, I know that JPUSA has made a huge impact on me, and it will always remain a place that feels like home.