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Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community Paperback – January 8, 2013
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"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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"Even when transitions in our relationships are necessary, they aren't easy. Though hard decisions sometimes have to be made, the decisions and subsequent transitions don't reduce the impact, no do they scrub the pain away. Moving on is never easy, and even when these kinds of decisions are made, it sometimes seems as though the conversations are never closed. 'What ifs' and 'remember whens' are sprinkled into conversations, prodding at nostalgia and regret. Painful reminders erupt when you're not invited to a wedding or a dinner party or when someone who always used to call on your birthday is silent or absent. When you've invested in a relationship that undergoes a transition, even one that is necessary, processing the adjustments gets harder and harder over time. Haunting memories cause new kinds of loneliness."
And then Heuertz says things like this . . . "Life has a way of beating us into new versions of ourselves. These emerging versions of self, when dynamic and open to change, can't always stay in communities or relationships that once supported us but now may stifle our growth." When I read that given the last few years of my life, I was able to say bingo. Heuertz material had me saying bingo much of the time to my own joys, disappointments, hurts, and efforts at community. Unexpected Gifts indeed.
“In true community, failures give us the chance to choose people over principles.” -Chris Heuertz
This book wasn’t exactly what I expected when I ordered it, but I believe it was exactly what I needed… an unexpected gift. Indeed.
I have been interested in the idea and the practice of true community for quite some time. I believe it [community] has been one of the things I have most longed for in the course of my Christian experience. It is for this reason that I am drawn to books and writers who share their experiences; I’m learning as I go and learning as I continue to search. I am also aware of the potential for romanticizing a dream and making it something that it often is not, although my awareness does not preclude me from being guilty of being idealistic about my passion for community. This is why Chris’ book has been an Unexpected Gift to me.
I’ve read a lot on the topic of Christian community and while there are often disclaimers that would caution the reader about not realizing the challenges faced by people sharing their life together, the stories are mostly shared in positive light. This isn’t exactly the case with Heuertz’s approach. I encountered something more akin to a confessional. I think this was a good thing. One only take a look at or a listen to the chapter titles and I think a certain picture begins to emerge: Failure, Doubt, Insulation, Isolation, Transition, The Unknown Self, Betraying the Community, Incompatibility, Ingratitude, Grief, and Restlessness. Do these chapter titles sound like the ingredients of Gift? Herein lays the beauty of this book.
Community is challenging if not outright difficult. While I have not experienced the level of Community (in a Christian context) as shared by Heuertz in Unexpected Gifts, I’ve been part of community in the context of other institutions (military, athletics, and other). The stories and struggles shared by Chris are sobering, but they are also inviting as they put into words the path of transformation and self-emptying discovery of what Christian love really looks like.
Every part of this book was a joy for me, but there were several chapters that spoke to me at a very deep level; chapter five, Transitions, was one of them. Changes in life, departures from friends, and differences in philosophy of life are among a few of the transitions that have occurred in my own life. None of these transitions have been easy and I have made mistakes, it seems, in the course of each one and this is one of the reasons I connected with this chapter so much. Reconciliation and restoration, patience, gentleness, and understanding are all virtues that should be a part of every transition of life—Chris speaks with rich wisdom on this subject.
Betraying Community and Incompatibility were two more deeply moving chapters for me as they spoke closely to my own experiences with various transitions in my life. As I have said, this is a unique approach to describing the beauty of Community. By taking some of the dirty, misshapen, rocky objects from the muck of the earth, Heuertz shows how patience and perseverance along with a gentle touch can turn those castaway misshapen objects into the most beautiful of gems. These are the unexpected gifts of community.
This is a wonderful book; at times, it was difficult to read, but that was because I was lost in my own reflections or wiping away my tears. Thanks Chris.
I any case, I really enjoyed the perspectives of the author and I can truly say I have a new view on what community should look like.
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