(First published on Common Grounds Online)
In November I did what no thinking person would do in the middle of an economic crisis: I quit my job and traveled halfway around the world, to Australia.
I left behind a steady stream of income and a heap of security in the hope that I might find a little more freedom, creativity, and vision for the future. So, I jumped on a jet plane for a very long trip down south, where I would spend the next two and a half months connecting with old friends and rediscovering my Aussie side. (Quick interjection: I was born in Australia, but moved to the States when I was seven.)
Along the way, I picked up a thousand little lessons from those who have walked a few extra steps down life’s journey. Prominent among them was this concept of cultivating life.
If you stand staring at an unassuming apartment complex at 9 Pembroke Street in a northern suburb of Sydney, you will notice a splash of green on the second floor of the white-washed building. Most of the flats display a token hanging plant or two, but Unit 3 looks like it is hosting an exhibit from the botanical gardens. Colorful vines hang from its balcony as a blanket. On any given morning, it is not unusual to see a wiry middle-aged couple sitting in folding chairs on that balcony drinking cups of English tea with lots of milk. They might comment about the yellow-crested cockatoos nesting in a nearby tree or shout a greeting to a neighbor.
While staying with Shaun and Erica in their modest Australian flat, I may have also been taking a class in gardening, beekeeping, or, well, just life. In their early fifties, the couple doesn’t have any children and has had more than their fair share of sufferings—the recent loss of parents and excruciating physical ailments—but they know how to live, and to live well.
Every morning before heading to work (as an instructor for teachers of English students), Shaun pulls on his brown work boots and heads out into the garden. Erica is not far behind. Together they pull weeds, plant new flowers, creating beauty and community as they go. They do not own the garden, but still choose to cultivate the space around their apartment complex for their own joy and the common good.
Recently, Shaun excavated a heavy stone from somewhere else and placed it in a square meter of dirt outside the apartment building. A picnic around the stone with all of their neighbors wasn’t far behind. Recent migrants and Aussie oldies emerged from their solitary cubicles to share a sandwich and a story.
And that’s what life at 9 Epping Road is all about for Shaun and Erica—building life and community from a square meter of dirt. And conversations about Christ seem to happen as they go.
As Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’ “