Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Where are we now?

Well, I guess it goes without saying that Change doesn’t come easy. I suppose that’s why most of us go so far to avoid making significant changes to the comfortable routines of life. About this time last year, we decided to make some profound Changes to our familiar routines. So far, our change in lifestyle has resulted in one of the most difficult and stressful periods of our lives. Fortunately, we are finally beginning to experience some of the benefits we had been hoping for.

Sorry for the long delay in the blog. We hope to keep you posted on our adventures.

So long from Sunny South Georgia!

Just another day at Koinonia

Continued Sept 30.

Well - once again the writing was interrupted. Community life can be very busy and full of life. That can make it difficult to take the time to focus and write. I had taken the laptop to Clarence Jordan’s writing shack - a place of refuge out in the middle of the pecan orchards that Clarence built so he had a place to get-away from all the activity of Community life. This is the place where he worked on his Cotton Patch New Testament translations - which accurately brought Jesus and his story to 1950s Georgia - and his other famous writings.

While I was typing away the door flew open and an elderly gentleman walked in. Turns out that he is a professor of New Testament at Mercer college, specializing in the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables of Jesus. He had heard Clarence speak at the college back when he was a young undergraduate in the 1960s. Clarence made quite an impression on him, and to this day he uses Clarence’s book on the Sermon on the mount, the Cotton Patch Translation together with the works of Deitrich Bonnhoffer to clarify the Gospel message for his students. I stopped typing and took him to Picnic Hill where we could visit Clarence and Florence’s resting place and contemplate what God had done through the efforts of these amazing people.

and That was just another typical day at Koinonia.

It's been 3 Months

Sunday, September 28

This is a bit of an anniversary for us. Three months ago, we were just wrapping up our nearly 10 year careers at Hamspon-Russell Software. Two months ago, on July 28, the moving vans arrived at our executive acreage property about 30 miles North of Calgary. This marked the end of several months of strenuous work that prepared our exit from a life-time of familiar routines. After the vans loaded up and left at the end of a very long day, it still took 2 more days of incredible effort before we could actually leave that property behind. August 28 we had just moved our 5th wheel from a campground near Waterloo Ontario to a campground near Findlay Ohio where we could rest and recover over the labour day long weekend. It also marks the beginning of our 4th week at Koinonia Farm near Americus Georgia.

So much has happened since we arrived here on Sept 3. We hoped to spend the first few days recovering from a long and unbelievably stressful trip. Unfortunately, we came during a stressful time of office moves and looming plans for a garage sale that had been designed to benefit our African American neighbors. We launched into gathering goods for the sale and setting them out in the yard. Then early on Saturday Sept. 6, the sale started. It was an amazing experience as carload after carload of neighbors and friends came from the Koinonia villages and surrounding Sumpter county. It was truly overwhelming experience to visit with these joyful people - many of them telling stories about the role that Koinonia played in their lives or the life of their family. Then on Sunday, Sept 7, we went to Maranatha Baptist church in nearby Plains Georgia and listened to President Jimmy Carter teach a Sunday School lesson on Christian Community.

The next week, Jan, Kailee and I were able to informally explore some of the work possibilities at Koinonia. Jan found a wonderful niche working in the bakery which uses pecans, fair-trade imports, and other products from Koinonia Farm to make wonderful delicacies like chocolate pecan bark, date nut loaves, organic granola, etc for the mail-order business that is the life-blood of Koinonia. Kailee really took to working in the organic garden where she shared weeding duties and pest control with a friendly group of wandering ducks. Krista started her internet-based home school program and struggled to find time for her rigorous physical fitness routine. As for me, I had lots of opportunity to practice my mechanical skills - helping to replace a starter motor on one truck, brakes and wheel bearings on another, started brake lines on a third and then found a way to start the engine of a long-dormant, gas-powered portable saw mill.

In addition to the new surroundings and environment, the weather was a real challenge for the first couple of weeks. Temperatures were frequently in the 100 degree fahrenheit range with humidity close to 100%. Nights were not much cooler, and this made sleep a big challenge.

Two weeks ago, on September 15, we formally started the intern program. For the first week we got a chance to sample the various activities and missions that are a part of Koinonia. Monday we had a tour of the various parts of the 600+ acre site, along with an introduction to the history of the farm. Tuesday morning we learned about site maintenance and for practical experience we started demolition of a small storage shack is now being converted to a new green house. Added excitement came in the form of cock roaches and in the unbelievable number of variety of spiders that had used the shed for their long-time residence. One of those displaced spiders found it’s new home on Jan’s neck - and yes - it really was THAT BIG!!!

In the afternoon, we visited the Koinonia Community Outreach Center (KCOC) which houses the home school program, pre-school, after-school programs and programs for the elderly residents of the largely African American Koinonia villages. Then we returned to Koinonia Campus to learn about the kitchen, hospitality and housekeeping operations. Wednesday morning we worked in the organic garden and learned about plans for expanding organics and permaculture programs. Wednesday afternoon we worked in the pecan orchards, mostly picking up dropped limbs and branches that have to be cleared before the harvest season starts. were introduced to the bakery and shipping operations. Thursday found us working in administration and helping with a mail-out that will go to approximately 10,000 addresses on the Koinonia mailing list. Friday morning we learned about shipping and products - the area that sustains the community so that donations can be used to assist the neighbors. Finally, to round out the week, we worked in the Koinonia bakery. For someone who likes chocolate as much as me - it was certainly the high point of the week.

Last Sunday we attended the Americus Mennonite fellowship. On Monday we received our work assignments. Jan will continue to work with her new friends in the bakery, where she enjoys listening to Gospel music - and maybe will learn to dance. In the busy product season - during pecan harvest and the Christmas shopping season - she will also spend some time in the shipping department. Kailee continues to work in the organic garden and helps with child care for two or three afternoons a week. Keith will continue to work on the maintenance team and help with the farm operation. Krista continues her studies through distance learning - but also will spend more time with the other community kids in the home school program. In addition to the business of work - and of living in community with approximately 30 wonderful neighbors - we started our intern study program on Tuesday night. This includes a detailed review of the history of Clarence and Florence Jordan and Koinonia Farm..............

In the Beginning

We had wonderful careers in the oil and gas industry, a very nice - and way too big - house, family, friends and a supportive church community. In spite of all of this, we felt something lacking. Increasingly we felt that our lifestyle wasn’t authentic. As Jan put it, “we didn’t believe what we were living and we wanted to live what we believed”. In addition to this, we felt a creeping uneasiness that this comfortable lifestyle was not sustainable in light of peak oil predictions and it could quickly come to an end - perhaps on a much bigger scale than for just our family.

We were caught between a yearning for a new, richer life and a profound fear of the impending consequences of a collision between our materialistic, consumer culture and the earth’s limited natural resources. So we decided to try a radical experiment. We sold our house and property, quit our jobs and have committed a year to experience life in intentional communities that focus on a simpler, more sustainable and spiritual life.


It seemed like a very reasonable proposal. We have 3 children. Our oldest, Trevor, is independently pursuing his masters degree at UBC in Vancouver. Kailee just graduated High School and was willing to take a “gap-year” before starting university next year. Krista is just beginning high school, but she agreed to enroll in a distance learning program where she would complete grade 10 over the internet. We were very fortunate that the property market in the Calgary area has been very good over the past few years. We just had to sell our house and farm properties to provide the funds for our journey. This is where the problems started.

To put things in context, we have felt the calling toward alternative, sustainable and spiritually centered community for almost 20 years. However, it always seemed that careers and every day life always got in the way. Until April, 2007 when we were at the World Conference for the Community of Christ to receive the Words of Counsel that are now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants Section 163. These words had a profound effect as they linked environmental degradation and world conflict to humanity’s refusal to accept Christ’s radical call to the Kingdom. It also contained a call to support Signal Communities that act to demonstrate the potential of the Kingdom of God on earth. We made the commitment to act and began researching communities.

In September 2007 we were back in Missouri at the Community of Christ Peace Colloquy. We attended a workshop on Signal Communities and we were introduced to Koinonia Farm through community member Sanders Thornburg. This community was founded in 1942 by Clarence Jordan, the Georgian prophet in blue jeans, his wife Florence and their friends Martin and Mabel England as a radical experiment in pacifism, communal Christianity and racial integration. Incredibly, In spite of KKK attacks, gunshots, boycotts and even dynamite, the community has survived. The more we learned about the farm, its history and its current directions, the more we felt that we should apply for a 3 month intern assignment.

Soon after we made the decision to come to Koinonia, things began to happen in our lives. Jan had been very active in the Peace and Justice community and her efforts helped to re-form the Canadian Friends of Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam. November 11 saw the Community of Christ host the second annual Prayers for Peace which brought together the local Jewish, Ismali Muslim and Christian communities for a night of inspired thoughts and words. Then in late November, Jan's mother suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. From November until January we helped to move things from Jan’s Mums apartment and out of storage in our house to distribute them to her family.

In addition to all of this, we also faced a constant pressure to prevent a small investment company - that had no drilling experience - from drilling a potentially catastrophic sour gas well near our community. This struggle intensified until February when their application was finally withdrawn.

Then we began work to put our house on the market. Living in a huge house on a large acreage for the past 8 years had allowed us to accumulate an astonishing amount of stuff. An incredible amount of organization, de-junking, minor repair work and cleaning was required before we felt ready to list the house. After finding our agents, we had a professional stager come by and provide suggestions that would make the house more sellable. This list provided so much additional work that we hired an old friend to come and help us with all the tasks. This included painting, cleaning, repairing floors, light fixtures, deck railings, and much more. We also purchased pillows, bedspread sets, stools, and towels to make sure the house looked just right. We packed all our books, photos and personal possessions and removed much of our furniture to insure the first impression would be the right one. Finally the house was ready. We listed and waited. There was a realtor open house and the showings started. Sometimes there would be 3 or more in a week and still no offers.

During this same time period we decided to shop for and purchase a 5th wheel that would be our home for the next year. The fifth wheel also required a Dodge 3500 diesel to pull it.

In the background to all of this, I was continuing my work for Hampson-Russell. Frequent international trips and training courses added to the work load and the stress. Finally, at the beginning of June, while I was overseas on a business trip, the house finally sold. Then we knew we would have to move and we were hit with the realization that we were still drowning in possessions. Fortunately we had a truck for the incredible number of trips to the good will, recycle center, church sponsored garage sales, and garbage dump. With additional help from friends, church and the local homeless shelter, we were finally in a position to get moving companies to come over and make a estimate on the cost of our move.

Fortunately I completed my work at the end of June and this left July to get everything ready to leave the house. Kailee had just graduated from High School and her boyfriend was visiting from Ohio. There was a memorial for Jan’s Mum in Brandon Manitoba at the beginning of the month. Shortly after returning back from this, we took the girls to a church camp on the saskatchewan border. The movers had finally given us a date of July 29 for the move and we were getting increased pressure to give them a final address. This required a trip to Vancouver Island to look for property. Fortunately the first house we looked at was in the perfect location and completely met our needs. This gave us a day or so to catch our breath before we returned home to face the final packing and hauling away that was needed before the movers came. I honestly don’t think we ever worked harder or slept less for an entire week. We were completely shattered by the time the moving van arrived. After the van left, we were faced with the final clean-up and we finally pulled the trailer away from the property just minutes before the official possession time.

Our first foray with the trailer was a trip to Waterton for my parents 50th anniversary celebration on August 1. Then came a quick succession of trips to the Calgary Airport. The first was on August 3 to pick up my mothers cousins from Denmark who came for the official anniversary celebration on August 9. Then another trip to Calgary on August 6 to meet Trevor and Janaki who had been in Bolivia for the past 8 weeks. We moved the trailer from Waterton to Taber on August 7 to help prepare for the celebration on the 9th. After the big anniversary celebration we were committed to convoy the truck, our Suzuki Jeep, two cars, our bicycles, some farm equipment, the danish relatives, Trevor and Janaki to Vancouver Island. Did I mention that we dropped Kailee at the airport so she could travel to Ontario to attend a church camp for 2 weeks? Coincidence that her boyfriend was also there? The primary purpose of this trip was to meet the the movers and receive our goods at the new house. August 13 we were on the Island and we completed the house purchase.

On the 14th the moving van was supposed to appear between 830 and 900 AM. Hours slowly passed, punctuated by frantic phone calls, until it became obvious that the move was not going to happen. We spent an unsettled day or two in Victoria with our Danish relatives and then began our trek back to Calgary. Our trailer had more than its share of teething pains and we had left it at the dealers in High River. We rushed back to pick it up and then hauled it to Taber for an overnight visit with my parents. Next morning, Krista, Jan and I started our mad dash across Canada so we could pick up Kailee at camp near Sudbury on August 22. Regina, Dryden, WaWa and finally Monetville. Only around 800 km/ day. Then we had to get Xanth to Winsor Ontario (about 7 hours 1 way) so his family could drive him back to Ohio to start University. Since I couldn’t bear pulling the trailer one more day, we decided to drive round trip in one day with the truck. When we arrived back in Monetville we hooked up the trailer and hauled it down near Waterloo where we could collapse for a few days.

Our stay near Waterloo gave us a chance for much needed sleep. We also had the chance to visit the congregation there and were able to see our good friends Al and Hazel Wygood. Al had been our shepherd during our World Accord trip to Honduras where we had worked with campesino villagers to build a school in their mountain village. This trip had been a life changing event for us, as we learned 3 important lessons from our Honduran hosts. These were the importance of community, the value of a simple life, and complete trust in God. We certainly would not be on this adventure without their example.

The labor day weekend was quickly approaching and there was no camping space available in the area. Kailee wanted to spend the weekend with her boyfriend in Ohio and this would also give us the chance to meet his family. So we found a campground with space available near Findlay Ohio. We hooked up the trailer on the Wednesday before the long weekend and made our way through London enroute to the border crossing at Sarnia. Krista made the border guard’s day complete when she surrendered her armful of vegetables to him. That one load of confiscated greens was more than he usually disposed of in an entire week. Our journey took us on a pilgrimage through Flint Michigan - home town of Michael Moore - and then South to Findlay. We arrived late in the evening, set up the trailer and then returned to Findlay for groceries and to meet Xanth.

The campground filled to capacity during the long weekend, but it still afforded us the chance to relax around a couple of small spring fed lakes. Swimming was good and it was probably more rest than we had for more than 2 months. Trouble with the sink draining added stress to the stay, but fortunately we got it sorted out. We were also very fortunate to visit with Xanth’s family at their home in Findlay. They are terrific people.

The campground quickly emptied after the long weekend celebrations. we had intended to move the trailer from there to Kirtland Ohio for a few days stay near the temple. However, we discussed this further and decided that we really needed to get settled into a more stable routine and get some rest before our internship at Koinonia began on Sept. 15. So we called Koinonia and confirmed we could arrive early. It took two long days of driving, but we finally arrived in Americus, Georgia on the evening of September 3. All together, it had been almost 9000 km of driving (including sidetrips) since we had left Victoria on the afternoon of August 16. That gives an average of more than 450 km/day, with much of the drive through the mountains or on two lane highways along the North shore of Lake Superior. And we were pulling a 38 foot trailer - What an introduction to RVing!! On top of that, we were already completely exhausted from the house-move before we even left Crossfield at the end of July!