Generosity in Community

“But what do you guys get out of this?” A paradigm shift was about to take place in my mind.

Sitting at a table in Kauai in downtown Stellenbosch during late 2013, Gabe Smith (East Mountain Director) was explaining to me what the residency program they are planning to introduce at East Mountain might look like, while inviting me to consider becoming one of the inaugural residents. Staying in community with Christians from other denominations and backgrounds while completing my theological studies; being assisted in covering my living costs while asked to commit myself to intentional engagement with my community. “Ok, what is the catch?”, I wondered. “But what do you guys get out of this?”, I asked Gabe. “Well, we invest in your life during this year and wherever you go from here and whatever you achieve is what we get out of it.”

I understood from the beginning that generosity is one of East Mountain’s core values. In time, I would learn that generosity in community goes beyond that which is material. It is equally a generosity of space, time and essentially one’s person. The fact that East Mountain is an ‘intersection’ where the world meets, concluding that it is possible to encounter and impact the world simply by opening the door to one’s living room.

I would like to quote my grandmother as I consider generosity in terms of time and the self.

“The longest journey for every single person on earth is the journey from his own heart to the heart of his fellow men, or the heart of just one fellow man. That is a journey that lasts a whole lifetime, it can never be completed. Perhaps the answer lies to some extent in a statement a modern psychologist made recently: “We realise now,” he said, “that a person is a process rather than a set of habits”. In a process there is ongoing interchange. In the journey to the heart of another person your starting point and junctions have to change on an ongoing basis as well, because you have to adapt to continual growth and change. Therefore, it requires a whole lifetime…

…We live in an age of technological and scientific development as never before, an age of dramatic change, so dramatic that we could say it is a time of technological and scientific miracles. And yet, one thing remains true, has remained true through all ages of man: all great inventions made by man, great and seemingly immortal works of art, all great deeds done by man, all these can be destroyed, only one thing remains indestructible: the true goodness man has given and invested in his relations with other people. This is handed down from one generation to the other; this has a validity which never diminishes, a spiritual power which never fails, no matter how technology and science change the world. That, I know and believe is the love that St Paul describes as the greatest of all things in the world… …The economic constraints unique to the age we live in, makes people not only more frugal with their livelihood, but also with their time. When I give someone of my time, I give him of the most precious things I have; all I want to own or achieve, I need to buy with my time. Another unique aspect to this age is of course the ‘idiom of violence’, and it makes us all the more cautious and suspicious of one another. The result being that in our dealings with others we often have too little time for and too many prejudices towards one another…

…Establishing proper starting points among a people, a multi-racial country, a miserable world, lies to a large extent in the hands (of those) of us willing to do it because we are open to undertaking the longest journey, from heart to heart, person to person.”

East Mountain was not simply an intersection, a destination through which others entered my world, but also a starting point from which I began some of these ‘longest journeys’ and were shaped as an establisher of proper starting points.

I can easily look back at the journeys I set off on, to the hearts of those I got to share a house with; people very different from me, not only culturally but also different in terms of personality, gender and age. I also began experiencing South Africa in a very new way, as I was ‘tasked’ with the ‘job’ of showing visitors around the Cape Peninsula and Winelands, and in so doing really got to see the place for myself. Traveling with tourists could be a bit like journeying with small children. Not only because you have to make sure you don’t lose them along the way – which most certainly was part of the deal as well – but also because they question what I deem ordinary, considering it to be fascinating and not all that usual: in reality, extraordinary.

“One of my favourite things is talking to my grandchildren, even if they are still small. In this way one discovers a whole new world you did not know about.” – Alba Bouwer

Becoming more open to embark on these journeys, however, was because I found myself among people open to undertake that journey to my heart. A generous people; willing to give of themselves, their time and at times their possessions. People inviting me to take the journey to their hearts, knowing that ultimately our journeys properly walked together are not merely leading to our own hearts but is the process of being known by and knowing God in a vulnerable manner as His own people whom He calls to Himself.

I have begun to understand that, to a large extent, the journey itself is what we get out of it. The East Mountain community got ‘me’ out of investing in me, and I got each of them and the opportunity to invest in them out of allowing them to invest in me. We get to experience the living God among us as we are being His people.

And because it is at least a life long journey I greet you with, “Totsiens!”* *directly translated would be ‘till seeing (again)’, which is Afrikaans for ‘good bye’.

“Consider friendship. Friends are valued for their own sake; and the benefits of friendship are not what we value, but by- products of the thing that we value, obtainable only by the person who does not pursue them. In the scope of human life, purposeless things like friendship are supremely useful: they are ends, not means, the places of fulfillment and homecoming, the goal of every pilgrimage. Without them our purposes are null and void.” –Roger Scruton

By: Servaas, Served as an East Mountain Resident Advisor and is currently in England pursuing further studies and serving in various communities.