There are two monkeys swinging from the trees. Blonde hair dishevelled, bare toes digging into earth, grimy hands climbing stealthily. Their laughter and “look-at-me’s!” ring through the forest, and I secretly pray that the local bears are off pawing around in somebody else’s backyard.

Kurt and Cindy Grimm call this place their “backyard.” It seems more like an oasis to me. Watching their two little “monkeys” – Ollie, five, and Eli, three – it occurs to me that this must be how little boys imagine the Garden of Eden: trees to climb and flowers to admire; open space to run, jump and play; creatures to befriend; and the freedom to yell, experiment and explore God’s creation.

Paradise found

The Grimms’ backyard looks like a secluded, lush rainforest – and for good reason. Located on the stunning Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, their home is part of a “co-housing” community that practices sustainable living. Integral to their strata-titled community is a conservation covenant (the community owns 20 acres of land but has left 11 acres untouched). Notably, they are also automobile-free.

When I first heard the words “co-housing,” “shared community,” “sustainable living” and “automobile-free,” I pictured a sparse setting with dirt roads, dusty fields and dilapidated communal homes. But this is no commune or rustic setting full of “hippies.”

Upon first entering the community in my very out-of-place car, I immediately felt like I had stepped onto a movie set. What is this place? I thought. A cross between Leave it to Beaver and Tarzan?

Tidy private homes lie nestled together on a sloping hill, their lawns overflowing with greenery, exotic flowers and community-shared garden beds. A single lane of paved, car-less road winds its way happily up the hill, beckoning children to play street hockey and careen down the hill on scooters and bikes. I felt as if I had stumbled upon the last cozy village left in existence – a place where windows and doors stay unlocked at all hours.

As Kurt and Eli guided me on a tour of their village, I learned that sharing gardening space and an automobile-free road are not the only sharing this community does. Built in the centre of their village is a large Common House. Weekly community dinners take place there, with teams taking turns cooking and cleaning up. There’s also a kids’ play area, TV room, small library, large screen and projector for watching movies, community bulletin board and even a guest suite where visitors of families can stay for free.

It was easy to see why the Grimm family decided to live here. The natural beauty is tranquil and alluring. The fact that the community practices sustainable living is also important to the Grimms ¬– especially to Kurt, a professor in the Earth and Ocean Sciences Department at the University of British Columbia. However, I discovered it was more than just the lush, eco-friendly setting that attracted the Grimms to their unique home.

Both Kurt and Cindy always felt it was important to raise their children in a small-town, rural setting. For years they lived in the bustling city of Vancouver. While they enjoyed some aspects of city life, they dreamed of living where their boys could play outside, safe from traffic, and where they could enjoy the simplicities of rural life. The older their children got, the more Cindy realized, “I need people, I need mothers with babies.” In many ways, Roberts Creek Co-Housing Community was the answer to their needs.

Spiritual landscape

Within hours of first touring the neighbourhood, I was ready to move in! It seemed like the perfect place – Eden, recreated. But it did not take long to discover its barrenness.

Walking through the Common House with Kurt, we spoke in hushed tones about the spiritual landscape of the community. Out of the village’s 31 households, the Grimms are the only Christians. Many of their neighbours practice Buddhism, Astrology, New Ageism and even Wicca. “It hurts me that people are so lost,” Kurt said.

He explained that while their neighbours believe in many “good” things – diversity, acceptance, protecting the environment and even family (though families are very loosely defined) – they don’t know true joy: a relationship with Christ. Kurt shared, “What [this community] shows is that good intentions can take you a long way – and there are a lot of well-intentioned people here – but it can’t bring you home to real joy.”

Accidental missionaries

Over the few days I spent with the Grimms, I was struck by their bravery and optimism. They didn’t move to this community knowing they would carry the responsibility of being the only witnesses for Christ their neighbours would see. And while they felt God had led them there, they didn’t come with a clear “calling” to be missionaries. They were accidental missionaries – Christians just living their lives, realizing one day that God had strategically placed them as “lights” in a land of darkness. “Now that we’re here,” Kurt told me, “it’s becoming clear to us that we have a job to do. This is a mission field.”

Their mission field is literally in their backyard, their front yard, at their kitchen table, across the street and everywhere they go. They don’t have to cross the ocean or learn a new language to be missionaries for Christ; they are spotlights no matter what they do, and their neighbours notice them. “This is a microcosm of the socially liberal, secular world and because we live together, it’s more vivid,” said Kurt.

Much like missionaries, the Grimms are aware that their choice to live in a place where Christ is not uplifted is potentially dangerous for their children’s spiritual lives. After watching Ollie and Eli play with the adopted daughter of a lesbian couple, I asked Kurt and Cindy how they plan to protect their children from the secular views and lifestyles all around them. I appreciated the Grimms’ honesty in saying there are no simple answers. Above all, they rely on God to help them as parents and spiritual leaders to their kids. Beyond making sure their home-life is centred on Christ, the Grimms stay active in their church (which is not affiliated with the community) and plan to enrol their children in a Christian school. “That will be their grounding, their base,” explained Cindy. By “grounding” their children in Biblical teaching and supportive Christian relationships, Ollie and Eli will be equipped to stand strong and shine their own little “lights” in their community.

Hope for a lost Eden

Once I realized this was not, after all, such a perfect paradise, I began to notice the signs – the Buddhist prayer flags hanging from porches, the use of the Common House for meditation, the muted gong at community dinner instead of prayer before the meal.

What must it be like to live in constant community with people wrapped up in a futile mission to create a Christ-less utopia? There we were in a man-made “paradise,” yet so much unhappiness and discontent existed within. I realized that this was a group of lost people trying to create a perfect life in a fallen world. But we as Christians know that until Christ returns, there can never be another Eden on earth (Genesis 3:23-24).

The Grimms are doing what we’re all called to do – be lights in the dark, salt to the world – but they’re doing it in community. They’re living shoulder-to-shoulder with the lost, and they’re alone in many ways. Yet they accept their situation as a gift – perhaps an unexpected gift that at times they tire of, but they do not act as if their situation is impossible or too heavy a burden to carry. While they acknowledge that Satan seems to have a stronghold on their community, they also believe God is planning something big. “Revival is coming to this place,” said Kurt.

God has strategically positioned each of us in a specific place. We are surrounded by the lost at all times – in our neighbourhoods, our workplaces, in the grocery store, on the bus. Many are trying to be “good enough” for God, or trying to create the perfect life without Him. We’re fallen creatures just like them, but we understand the futility of trying to live without Christ.

Being an “accidental missionary” is probably what we all are. We aren’t always called to move to a foreign land, but we are always living in a lost and fallen world, outside the Garden of Eden. Sometimes it just takes a little nudge from God to remember that intentional investment in our communities cultivates constant opportunities to share His love and hope in a broken world.

Julie Vaughan was the editorial director at Focus on the Family Canada at the time of publication.

© 2007 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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