Reason #30 Allendale Is Better Than Where You Live: Love and Acceptance

welcome_to_allendale crop

“Sometimes the thing you never know to ask turns out to be the biggest blessing of all.”  Rev. Deb Richardson-Moore, The Weight of Mercy

We are in Greenville now. But a big piece of our heart is still in Allendale, so we will go back. There are football games to attend, and kids to see.

And memories to re-live and keep fresh.

Our Start in Allendale

I started working for the Boys & Girls Club in Allendale County on January 17, 2011, and the club opened two weeks later. That’s 3.5 years ago. Living and working in Allendale since then was such an amazing experience. And surprising.

As we transitioned to Allendale in that season, we were told by some of our initial friends in the community that Allendale residents were wary of outsiders. And for good reasons. Over the decades, many folks have come to the county with big promises. Most departed with full pockets and/or satisfied souls, but left a wake of chaos and brokenness.

So we came in with more caution than expectancy, and more humility than authority. We came to serve and to learn. And hopefully (we reasoned), we would earn their trust over time.

Nothing has surprised us more than this reason that Allendale has been such a wonderful place to live:

“The community of Allendale welcomes you with love and acceptance.”

Surprised by Acceptance

Of course, many people won’t do accept you fully or quickly. Some will remain cautious, or even work against you. But the bulk of our experience has been acceptance and trust.

How did this happen? Four things come to mind, in order of importance:

  1. God’s gracious hand has been on us, which I wrote about here. Without a doubt, God has led the way for us. Even in the times when we felt alone, we grew to know God more intimately and see His bigger plan.
  2. Local community members encouraged and supported us. We had people who barely knew us (or not at all) welcome us into their homes and their lives. They encouraged us, gave us advice, and pointed us in directions that we needed to go. Some let us borrow their stuff. We have had the most wonderful Home Cookin’. And, perhaps most importantly, people spoke well of us in public, which helped bridge the gap between us and this community.
  3. We rode the coattails of Grace Church. Especially in my first few months in Allendale, I was not ashamed to name-drop Grace Church, since they had already done so much in the community well before we got to Allendale. We just Followed a Well-Tread Path.
  4. We were diligent in pursuing excellence in what we did. I don’t mean to say that we were perfect. We made plenty of mistakes. But in the opportunities that we had (especially with my first job), I would say that we did a pretty good job. We brought in our experiences, energy, and resources, and provided a connection for others to add their experiences, energy, and resources.

Surprised by Grace

Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised by the love and acceptance we have received. After all, that’s God’s story.

Being accepted by a strange community is no more surprising than being loved by a God whom I once considered an enemy (Romans 5:6-11). Long before I ever thought of Him, Jesus pursued me and laid down His life for me. I was indifferent, but He was undeterred.

So, if God can work in my heart, to stir me to respond to His grace, I shouldn’t be surprised when He does the same for others. God has been at work in Allendale long before we got here, and He’ll be at work long after we leave.

When people in Allendale (or anywhere) show love and acceptance, they are doing nothing more than reflecting the image of our God who IS LOVE (I John 4:8).

Even as we depart with The Blessing of Such Sweet Sorrow, I remember with joy the love and acceptance we found in Allendale.

“With regard to God’s answers to prayer, expect the unexpected. Most of the greatest gifts and deepest joys that God gives us come wrapped in painful packages.”  Jon Bloom (via Desiring God

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