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Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community Paperback – January 8, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Unexpected Gifts is a rich and important book about the benefits and challenges of community that we desperately need. Chris Heuertz has lived out the message of these pages with great authenticity. His honesty draws you in, provokes and heals, and shows you why community is always worth the struggle." (Jud Wilhite, author of Torn, Sr. Pastor of Central Christian Church, Las Vegas)

“Engaging and real, fascinating and gritty, Heuertz invites you to journey with him as he wrestles aloud with the challenges and surprises of life lived together. With insights collected from his experiences in slums, favelas, and neighborhoods around the world, he reveals the ugly myths that unhinge relationships. With a courageous honesty he speaks the unspoken questions that we all harbor, but are too scared to say. Heuertz gives hope, prophetic challenges, and an unexpected gift in this book.” (Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Urbana Program Director, Co-editor of More than Serving Tea)

Unexpected Gifts is a prophetic book about the wisdom of community. For nearly two decades Christopher Heuertz has led the community Word Made Flesh, whose goal is to serve and be with the most miserable and oppressed people of our world, hidden in war-torn lands, slums, and red light districts of big cities. The community founded in the evangelical church has become ecumenical; members from different churches united in their desire to serve the poorest of the poor, are inspired by Jesus. I would hope that many from my own Roman Catholic church may discover this new community clearly blessed by Jesus and the Holy Spirit.” (Jean Vanier, author, founder of the Communities of l'Arche)

“There are few people who can reframe the way we think or act and bring about a paradigm shift . . . Chris and Phileena are gifted with this. Their experiences are filtered through grace and the unconditional love of God, which Chris brilliantly articulates in this book. Fundamentally, it’s a book about faithfulness to relationships. Anyone interested in leading an authentic Christian life will find wisdom reading it. Although Christian community-living is difficult, Chris challenges the common response of rejection within those communities. He suggests that the challenges can be converted to unexpected gifts. Chris is a brilliant and creative thinker of our time and uses parallel stories to contrast and expose the truth that leaves an indelible impression on your mind." (Pranitha Timothy, Director of Aftercare, International Justice Mission)

“By sharing stories of tragedy and triumph, Chris illustrates an intricate picture of how communities come together in the beauty and the broken. His passion, commitment, and service toward others is evident through his vulnerable and transparent experiences in community. I feel immensely privileged to learn from these intimate stories of honest pains and true joys that stem from genuine relationships. You’ll find yourself both challenged and encouraged by this gift that Chris shares with us.” (Nikole Lim, Founder & Executive Director of Freely in Hope)

“Chris Heuertz’s Unexpected Gifts is a clarion call to missional community as ancient as Jesus’ first challenge for the disciples to ‘follow me’ . . . together. Heuertz’s eyes have seen the glory, and his flesh has borne the scars of life together. As a result, his provocative and inspiring roadmap for community life offers insightful instruction for the next generation of saints while applying a healing salve for those who may have tried and failed before. Heuertz’s book is an unexpected gift, indeed.” (Lisa Sharon Harper, Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners, Co-Author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics, and Author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican . . . or)

"Ever wondered what it actually means to live in community? Chris Heuertz asks tough questions and shares vivid stories that will both haunt you as well as lift your spirit. He takes you on a journey through the slums of Calcutta to the war-torn streets of Sierra Leone to dimly lit clubs in Omaha, Nebraska posing questions and looking for answers. It's a trip worth taking." (Scott Harrison, Founder and CEO of charity: water)

"In a world of stale religiosity, Chris Heuertz is a breath of fresh air. He's unafraid to ask risky questions and even propose provocative answers, but he does so with humility and grace. Unexpected Gifts challenges readers to consider that the supposed burdens of life-on-life community may be blessings in disguise. Read it and prepare to be changed." (Jonathan Merritt, author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars)

"In his book, Unexpected Gifts, Chris Heuertz confesses that this was not an easy book to write. Truth be told, this is not an easy book to read. If you're looking for an easy, simple, solution-based seven steps and gung-ho parade to being a perfect community, look elsewhere. This book is raw, difficult, uncomfortable, and emotional, but here's the deal: it speaks truth—with humility and honesty—and points us to the One who created us for community, friendship, and relationship. Community is the thing that we long for the most, and in my opinion, the thing that scares us the most. I don't know how to recommend this book but to simply invite you to journey with it." (Eugene Cho, lead pastor of Quest Church, founder of One Day's Wages)

Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community brings a freshness to a topic in danger of growing stale: community. It is honest. It’s not often that a leader is so forthright, confessional even, about personal struggles, mistakes, and regrets. It is refreshing. Throwing open the doors and windows and letting in some air so we can all breathe a little easier and deeper. This transparency contrasts deeply with the more common posturing to prove something….competence or holiness or effectiveness or whatever the case might be. It is gritty. Tackling very real but seldom addressed areas like failure, doubt, grief, disappointment, sexual energy, and even boredom. It’s nuanced throughout with Chris’ international experiences (like traveling the ancient Camino pilgrimage), to biblical exploration (like considering the reasonable pragmatism of Judas), to personal anguish (like the decision not to have children) that keep it real, insightful, and compelling. I highly recommend this read if you have any interest in community, leadership, or living an authentic life of faith." (Stuart Erny, Director of Campus Ministries, Anderson University)

About the Author

Christopher L. Heuertz is an activist, author, visionary and public speaker, who has traveled with his wife, Phileena, through nearly seventy countries working with the most vulnerable of the world’s poor. Chris has led the Word Made Flesh community as the International Executive Director since 1996. He and Phileena reside in Omaha, Nebraska.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Howard Books; Original edition (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451652267
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451652260
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chris Heuertz has spent his life bearing witness to the possibility of hope among a world that has legitimate reasons to question God's goodness.

Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Chris studied at Asbury University in Kentucky before moving to India where he was mentored by Mother Teresa for three years. While living in India, he helped launch South Asia's first pediatric AIDS care home--creating a safe haven for children impacted by the global pandemic.

A forerunner in the New Friar movement, Chris and his wife Phileena served with the Word Made Flesh community for nearly 20 years, working for women and children victimized by human traffickers in the commercial sex industry. This has taken Chris to over 70 countries working among the most vulnerable of the world's poor.

In 2012 Phileena and Chris launched Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism.

Named one of Outreach magazine's "30 Emerging Influencers Reshaping Leadership," Chris is a curator of unlikely friendships, an instigator for good, a champion of collaboration, and a witness to hope, Chris fights for a renewal of contemplative activism. He is known for his provocative storytelling, and Chris has written 3 books:

Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God in a Broken World (IVP, 2008) shows how a lifestyle of humility, community, simplicity, submission and brokenness sustains us through the challenges of life in a broken world.

Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission (IVP, 2010) the 4th title of Duke Divinity School's Center for Reconciliation's book series.

Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community (Howard Books, 2013) offers insight on how the soul is shaped through fidelity in difficult relationships.

Join Chris on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisHeuertz) in his adventures to love on the margins.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 16 customer reviews
I can really relate this quote to this book!!
S. SyedMustafa
The book is also gritty, tackling very real but seldom addressed areas like failure, doubt, grief, disappointment, sexual energy and even boredom.
Stuart Erny
This has turned out to be one of the most moving books I've ever read.
Aaron D.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Carter Pope on January 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
In a book about the challenges of community, Chris Heuertz reveals the depth that comes from being a part of a group of people that love and are sharing life together. As if going beyond his last book, Friendship at the Margins, Chris explores the cost of friendship and accountability and the depth and authenticity that emerge as we journey together in community. In a culture where so many of us simply give up or dismiss relationships once things get hard, Chris urges us to view these challenges as blessings in disguise; circumstances that help our hearts form the necessary mechanisms of grace and humility so that we may go deeper in our effort to see the face of God.

Chris' experience as international director of Word Made Flesh for the last sixteen years enhances his storytelling as he shares the lives of those around the globe that face unfathomable suffering yet still press in to the love and hope of God with a faith that I will never understand. These stories are intertwined to reveal the work of God's kingdom, inexorably making all things new, as we too are made new through the struggle of shared experience.

Topics like failure, the presence of doubt, and entitlement are so often labeled as areas we should avoid in our effort to make it to the top, but Chris tackles these issues as the very experiences that invite us into deeper waters both within ourselves and within others. With honesty and vulnerability, we see that we can be a part of creating something beautiful in our relationships, and that maybe that's what God intended all along.

Chris and his wife Phileena, are two of the leading voices in missions, both sounding a siren call to the practices and postures necessary to be a part of God's redemptive work. May we all glean from their wisdom and learn from their example.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul A. Mastin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
I have never lived in an intentional community. The closest I have come was when I lived in a drug and alcohol rehab house, in a neighborhood where several staff and volunteers of a church and related ministry also lived. Even though we did not share a common purse (combining our incomes), there was a great deal of material sharing and a fantastic sense of family. The geographical proximity, a shared mission of serving the city's poor, and common desire to faithfully follow Jesus' teachings made this tight-knit group a true community. It was the greatest spiritual and social period of my life.

Reading Christopher Heuertz's new book, Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community, gave me a sense of nostalgia and longing for those times. Heuertz is executive directer of Word Made Flesh, an organization committed to "serving Jesus among the poorest of the poor." Unexpected Gifts tells a little bit of the story of Word Made Flesh, but I could only infer a little from the book. Apparently WMF is made up of communities around the world who live intentionally (and, presumably, communally) in very poor areas, ministering among the residents.

Unexpected Gifts will appeal most to those who are, or are considering, living communally. Heuertz presents an honest picture, not glossing over some of the difficulties of community living, especially when the community has chosen to live in a slum or other marginal setting. He starts out by saying the book is "about the cost of community, not positive spin. In community, there will always be a series of losses, giving something up to gain something more. But in the giving up, we find better versions of ourselves.
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Format: Paperback
This book brings a freshness to a topic in danger of growing stale: community. First, it is honest. It's not often that a leader is so forthright, confessional even, about personal struggles, mistakes, and regrets. This is so refreshing, throwing open the doors and windows and letting in some air so we can all breathe a little easier and deeper. This transparency contrasts deeply with the more common posturing to prove something...competence or holiness or effectiveness or whatever the case might be. The book is also gritty, tackling very real but seldom addressed areas like failure, doubt, grief, disappointment, sexual energy and even boredom. It's nuanced throughout w/ Chris' international experiences (like traveling the ancient Camino pilgrimage), to biblical exploration (like considering the reasonable pragmatism of Judas) to personal anguish (like the decision not to have children) that keep it real, insightful and compelling. I highly recommend this read if you have any interest in community, leadership or living an authentic life of faith.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Dodd on February 11, 2013
Format: Paperback
In his new book, Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community, Christopher Heuertz takes a hard honest look at the real-world life of community from a confessional viewpoint. Chris is not writing about the idea of community but instead, he carves out his experienced journey of hardship in and through community life. At the heart of the book is an acceptance that community life and its expression is fundamentally broken because we, as individuals who partake of community, are broken. In a beautiful tapestry Chris weaves together stories from his life, whether of building relationships and community in slums of India, Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America or of his journey on the Camino de Santiago, or even of finding an authentic expression of community in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. By entering into the depths of broken relationships and coming to grips with our flawed human condition, Chris brings to life the gifts that can be found and received in relationships with one another.

Although I can't say that I fully concur with all of Chris's secondary theological positions, I can say that I willingly situate myself in a posture to receive from his great wisdom, knowledge and insight which can only come from great experience and contemplative reflection.

Chris, a poet and artist, makes his own Sari Bari, a patchwork blanket, in this gem of a book. I highly recommend Unexpected Gifts to anyone seeking to live out an authentic gospel life to a broken world in need of Christ's love. Whether you are a Christian or not, this book has much to teach about what it means to live with one another's brokenness and gifts. This is a must read book.
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