I have just spent 6 months in a remarkable community. Poatina used to belong to the Tasmanian Hydroelectric company. About 15 years ago the village went up for sale and Fusion Australia made the purchase. This despite Fusion not having any where near the necessary capital and all the good business advice to the contrary. But there was a dream held by a core group at the heart of the Fusion movement at that time. It was a dream to see an intentional Christian community established for the purpose of caring for disenfranchised Australian youth – young people who had come to the end of the road as far as family and society’s systems and expectations, and were now to be hung out to dry. The dream was borne of the call to see godly justice, mercy and compassion expressed in Australian society, particularly amongst the youth. To make the purchase a handful of families in Fusion’s leadership sold their homes and used the proceeds for the down-payment.
When the keys were handed over those families and others made the trip from the main-land and the task of turning the ghost town into a center of life, warmth and hospitality began. Hearing the stories from these early days as everyone banded together to make things work is incredibly inspiring. Imagine families walking through the village, checking out the different houses and choosing which one would be theirs for life. Apparently there was a bucket of keys all unlabelled, that had to matched to every front and back door and every lockable cupboard – what a job!
B y the time I first visited Poatina 6 years after Fusion moved in, it was a thriving community providing hospitality to the public, home to a bunch of vulnerable teenagers and families seeking help and healing. It was also home to a bunch of trained Fusion staff and their families providing training and support and managing the affairs of the village and its many enterprises. At that time Fusion was expanding beyond the shores of Australia and Poatina was the central hub providing support, training and the ingathering of the movement – I wrote a blog recently about our International Conferences and what they were all about. During my 3 and a half years in the village I was part of the staff running the growing K-12 school attended by kids and young people from across the region and providing the opportunity for those on the youth program to achieve a certificate of high school education through specialized programs.
I have recently read Jean Vaniere’s book ‘Community and Growth’ in which he shares his own journey in establishing and leading intentional Christian communities at L’Arch and the continued learnings as brother and sister communities spring up across the globe. Anyone who wants to take seriously what it means to be in intentional Christian community needs to read any of his books! It has given me a new appreciation and respect for what a small group of committed individuals and families achieved in Poatina. I love what we stand for, I love the dream that brought that place to birth, I love that it was all by God’s grace and power and not the work of any one person.
The last two years have tested Poatina, the dream and our trust in a God who is the same yesterday, today and forever. At times like these many of us well meaning types can be ready to fix things with new strategies and slogans of change, quick to identify the past as the source of difficulty, all in an effort to ease the discomfort and prevent more storms from coming. But there are no fixes – quick or otherwise – in Christian community, only the daily call to lay down ones life for the sake of the others, to take up one’s cross and follow the one who has purchased our redemption utterly; to lay down ones rights in grace and forgiveness of both oneself and others… all this for the sake of the poor who we have been called to serve. Living in Christian community goes against our natural drive towards self preservation, we will never escape the storms that rage from the epicenter of that reality… narrow is the way and few enter by it.
As I leave Poatina, I carry in my heart and prayers those who still have the dream burning within them, those who, though weary from the journey, still take up their cross each day and live to see the weak and vulnerable cared for, who are willing to manage their own ‘stuff’ in order to be a safe place for others. Our God is the same yesterday, today and forever – when you tell us the stories of the early years, of the dream and the work of Jesus amongst us, you help us to recognize God’s work today and remind us of what it means to live into his tomorrow. Thank you for putting your lives on the line and stepping out on faith and a prayer.