Five things Friday roundup: Lessons on true independence and interdependence

Bogdan, a student leader from Moldova, celebrates loading an impressive number of mattresses in the van for the spring Spiritual Life retreat at LCC International University in 2015. The retreat was an opportunity for Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox students from 30+ countries to see beyond their differences and function communally, despite so many varying backgrounds. — Josh Garber

While U.S. Independence Day brings a collective focus on national pride and individual freedom for many folks, I (Josh) often find myself sitting on the sidelines, feeling disconnected from the general patriotic sentiment. And with good reason: Anabaptists view themselves as primarily citizens of the kingdom of God, not of earthly governments. In his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, Greg Boyd points out: Jesus came to establish the kingdom of God as a radical alternative to all versions of the kingdom of the world, whether they declare themselves to be ‘under God’ or not.”

A decade of experience in international ministry and subsequent life in the Phoenix Valley has taught me that true independence is deeply intertwined with interdependence. The following five lessons highlight the balance between self-reliance and recognizing our mutual need for community and support. Such a balance allows us to cultivate a richer, more meaningful sense of independence that transcends nationalistic boundaries. Let us celebrate this Independence Day by honoring the connections that make us truly free.

1.  Independence requires community support

During my work at LCC International University in Lithuania and church work in Barcelona, I witnessed firsthand how folks thrived when they practiced mutual support. I’ve watched older Ukrainian students take the 16-year-old Ukrainian freshmen under their wings. And there was the network of folks in Barcelona who, after years of our loving them and creating space for community, took care of our family as our lives there destabilized.  Community support always led to a more profound experience of independence. In Phoenix, Trinity Mennonite Church and the network of supportive friends and neighbors we’ve built have been crucial.

This interdependence fosters a sense of belonging and shared responsibility, showing that true independence isn’t about isolation, but about finding strength in community.

2. Embracing vulnerability to foster genuine connections

Wherever our family has lived, being vulnerable and open with others has been essential for building trust and meaningful relationships. Sharing the struggle of our miscarriages with the students and faculty in Lithuania allowed them to embrace us at our lowest – and join our jubilance at the birth of our kid, Asher. In Barcelona, my vulnerability with a professor at our language school led to a desperately needed musical connection and friendship.

Whether it’s asking for help or offering support, these interactions strengthen the fabric of community life and remind us that independence includes the courage to depend on others.

3. The interplay of freedom and responsibility

Although not exclusive to serving abroad, doing ministry outside my native culture made me acutely aware that the freedom to serve and make choices is always accompanied by the responsibility to consider the well-being of others. I now live in Phoenix, but I still seek to find a balance between personal freedoms and social responsibilities.

Participating in church and community initiatives and being an active and considerate neighbor illustrate how independence is enriched by responsible actions that benefit the wider community.

4.  Learning from diverse perspectives

The U.S. mainstream interpretation of independence as being synonymous with “rugged individualism” – the belief that all individuals, or nearly all individuals, can succeed on their own with minimal [government] support – is wanting. I’ve been privileged to see firsthand how different societies, cultures and traditions prioritize community and collective well-being in various ways.

Engaging with the diverse cultural fabric of Phoenix has continued to teach me that independence includes listening to and learning from others. Appreciating different perspectives enhances our own sense of freedom and interconnectedness.

5. Spiritual independence and interdependence

Palmer Becker wrote, “Christians from an Anabaptist perspective experience Christ-centered community as the center of their life.” Jesus and his disciples modeled spiritual growth as a collective journey. No matter my physical location, shared worship, prayer and community activities have deepened my faith and highlighted the importance of spiritual interdependence.

These spiritual practices have shown me that spiritual independence is nurtured within a community. Our faith journeys are strengthened when we support and are supported by others.

Alisha and Josh Garber

Alisha and Josh Garber are in a season of discernment. After over a decade of mission work in Europe, they Read More

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