Guest Post: From Africa to Communal Living… and the Lessons Learned In-Between

I met Sam and Amanda during my first year at Bowling Green State University. We were a part of the same ministry- CRU- and bonded over our mutual love of travel and missions to the Nations. When Sam and Amanda moved to Kenya shortly after their wedding, I didn’t really think we would see them again. However, things changed, and the couple decided to move back to the States after one year. They moved into some mutual friends’ basement where they quickly started paying off some debt, got up close and personal with communal living, and also had a life-altering encounter with the the foster-care system. Oh, and Amanda is the one who offered to let me borrow her wedding dress (we are both 5″0′ and PROUD of it!). If you are interested in more of Amanda’s musings about the foster-care system, she blogs over at Forget Regret. Here is a little bit of her story…

Once upon a time…

Three years ago my husband and I were newly married and having the adventure of our lives living in a Nairobi, Kenya. That’s right- newlyweds in Africa and LOVING it! After a year, it was time to decide whether or not we should commit several more years to missions work there. After what felt like millions of conversations about it and tons of prayer, we decided were ready to GO for it.

Then our world turned upside down.

My mom was diagnosed with cancer. And if your family has ever been touched with cancer, you know that for many people one of the most wrenching aspects of the disease is its unknowns.

With the unknowns before us, we felt God leading us to leave Kenya behind us. Once the dust settled, and my mother made a truly miraculous recovery, we were left wondering what God had for us next.

We had our whole lives in front of us….and $52,000 of student loan debt on our backs.

Looking back, we now see how God protected us from making the financially disastrous decision of going on the mission’s field with a mountain of debt and just a tiny missionary salary. But at the time, we were crushed by the feeling that one measly college diploma’s worth of debt was literally enslaving us. It certainly wasn’t bringing glory and honor to God’s name; it was just stealing our dreams and our future.

Honestly, I believe student loan debt (and other debt as well) seems to be one of the biggest modern obstacles to young adults fulfilling the great commission (Matthew 28:19). It also forces young couples to think twice before they decide “to be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). As a generation, we need to stand by each other and encourage one to serve God with our lives AND our finances.

So, what did WE decide to do about our soul-crushing debt?

We got to work. We made a plan. And… we moved into our best friends’ basement for 13 months! And guess what? By the end, they were STILL our best friends! I am sure most people can think of a million and one reasons NOT to move in with friends or family, and I’m sure many of those reasons are quite valid. But, there are huge benefits and blessings to living with dear Christian friends. Here are some of the ones I experienced:

  1. Learning from an older couple. The couple we lived with is a few years further along in their married life journey, and they let us see the good, the bad and the ugly. It was FANTASTIC- just like FREE marriage counseling!
  2. Becoming more involved with our church family. This couple is deeply involved with our church, so we automatically got drawn into getting to know our church family better and finding ways to get involve and serve (although I freely admit, I still dislike teaching Sunday School).
  3. Free baby-sitting for them. Free parenting classes for us.
  4. Laughter. Memories. Cinnamon rolls and beer at midnight.
  5. A new perspective. Our friends’ showed us their heart for the orphans in our community. Right before we moved in, they started fostering two toddlers (and then a few months later had their own baby). I literally would NEVER have bothered to learn or think about foster care if it hadn’t been for LIVING it for 13 months.
  6. Sharing. This was mostly them; milk, shampoo, even their car at times!
  7. Humility. This was mostly us; owning only enough to fit in a bedroom and one storage room feels a little awkward and humbling at times. Especially when the family you’re living with has a big screen tv and a hot tub (which was of course also enjoyed immensely).

And finally, what was the financial benefit of our year of communal living

We only paid about two hundred bucks a month, mostly to help cover utilities and just to show respect and appreciation to our hosts (they would have probably let us stay for free). Because of this, in that 13 months we paid off $17,000 worth of debt AND put $22,000 down on our first home! I know, I know, you are wondering what the deal is with buying a house before we are out of debt (Dave Ramsey would totally scold us)

Which brings me to this final little piece of advice:

When making and living out financial plans, keep in mind what your goals are and WHY you made them.

Our goal is definitely to be debt free. We are getting closer and closer each month. But, we don’t want to be debt free just to be debt free. We want to be debt free so we can be free to do whatever Christ has for us and go wherever he calls us. There were several reasons we bought a home when we moved, but the one reason I didn’t anticipate was that God moved us to open our home to TWO foster kiddos (which is, as you can imagine, a whole other story)! Without that year in our dear friends’ basement we could never have provided a home for these two children.

Bottom line: Wise financial decisions set us free to live out whatever life Christ is calling us to! Whether that life is working and shining a light in corporate America, bringing up babes in your home, or preaching the gospel and doing works of mercy in a foreign land; they are all good works that God has prepared for us. So, let’s encourage one another and build each other toward faithful stewardship of ALL the resources He has given us.

Read more thoughts on Community Living here!


7 thoughts on “Guest Post: From Africa to Communal Living… and the Lessons Learned In-Between

  1. We are on the other side of the coin here. A friend of ours has been living with us for the last 11 months so that she could pay off debt. A few years before that, we had another couple live with us for a year when they were struggling.

    It has been an amazing experience. A hard, amazing experience. Just like having children, you give up your desires for others. No more walking around in your underware! 🙂 Some days are hard and other days are amazing. But living in community really helps you to love someone for all that they are.

    Thanks for your story! I think that others should consider this option when getting out of debt.

  2. I see now that paying off my college loan soon before I graduated was the best thing I could have done for my walk with the Lord… I said, “no” to my debt and soon after could say “yes” to a year-long opportunity as a volunteer missionary in Monterrey, México (without worrying about loan payments bogging me down as I was trying to raise support!). The Lord used that year to transform my life.

    Recently, an opportunity opened up for me to be a paid mission leader with college students. Paid, that is, but with what my new bosses affectionately call a “sacrificial salary.” It’ll be a tight budget, but I could say “yes” to this opportunity with all of my heart because I don’t have debts and know now that I can live on less that what I might think I need.

    You put it so well, Amanda: “I don’t want to be debt free just to be debt free. I want to be debt free so I can be free to do whatever Christ has for me and go wherever he calls me.” Amen! I’m so encouraged to hear from you and Kate. Keep writing!

  3. Pingback: The Truth About Money: He’s After Your Heart « The Debt Free Family

  4. Pingback: Getting out of debt UNTO something else « Spiritual Stuff

  5. Pingback: The Truth About Money (and Community Living): Social Experiments & What We’re Made For | A Rich Household

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s