by Ryan Miller
Group living in Alaska
Carrie Lehman Chisholm 99 spent her childhood in Paoli, Ind.,
in an intentional community, even though she did not know it at
the time. During college, both she and her husband-to-be, Jeff 00,
took part in Goshen Colleges small group houses. But neither
experience completely prepared them for the community living they
currently experience as unit leaders for Mennonite Mission Network
Service Adventure house full of teens and young adults in Anchorage,
Carrie grew up surrounded by physician friends. Her parents, Eric
Lehman 72 and Louise OConnell, were part of a group
of Indianapolis doctors that moved together to Paoli and built houses
that surrounded a shared yard space.
Growing up I didnt really realize it was a community.
I just thought we lived close together and shared things sometimes,
Carrie said. The difference between the neighborhood of her youth,
the communities at school and the Chisholms current arrangement
With small group housing in college, I picked my friends who
I wanted to live with, so we all got along for the most part,
Carrie said. Here I dont get along with all of them
all the time. You dont have to like them, but you have to
live with them.
Added Jeff, You take seven people from seven different places
in the world and say, OK, do it. Its like MTVs
Real World, except in that program they try to find
personalities that will clash and in this program we seek to find
people who will live by the guidelines, Jeff said.
Jeff knows how those teens feel when they are tossed into a group
of strangers from different origins. He spent his senior year of
high school studying in Sweden, where friends and acquaintances
challenged his beliefs and the way he hoped to live his life.
In them questioning me and in my dialogue defending my own
position, I think I became anchored. I also learned from them a
new perspective that happens when you get out of a closed community,
Service Adventure, he added, can be similar. This is an opportunity
for people to discover their own faith and become their own people,
Jeff said. It creates a place where people can be challenged.
Added Carrie, They learn what they believe, and not just what
their parents believe. They gain self-confidence. They can live
on their own. They are more focused, know themselves better.
Some people came away switching their whole outlook on what they
want to do. One girl came up after hanging out with the wrong crowd
in high school. She wanted to get away and refocus. She ended up
staying here after the term was over so she wouldnt have the
tendencies to go back with her old crowd.
Within the unit, Carrie and Jeff are parents, best friends, spiritual
leaders and mediators, to some extent. They meet individually with
each person in the group and help coordinate learning components,
weekly worship and other household necessities, but the group participants
have ultimate responsibility for the health of the unit. Still,
the Chisholms are the epoxy that holds everything together, acting
as facilitators when problems arise cleaning, doing dishes,
leisure-time activities, personality clashes, the house budget,
etc. and help group members solve their own disputes instead
of offering easy answers.
How someone adjusts to this (type of living) in a large part
has to do with what kind of communities theyve lived in in
the past, Jeff said. Those who are individualistic learn
that they dont get everything they want.
A lot of people
may come in with a very authoritative background from their parents
and want to tell others what to do. We wont be a third party
in triangulation in dealing with their issues, but we will work
with them in dealing with reconciliation.
Jeffs peace studies minor and Carries experience teaching
at an area preschool/kindergarten has helped them guide the 2001
group through some rough spots that culminated in an eight-hour
meeting over two days where group members wrote problems anonymously
on slips of paper which were pulled from a hat and discussed until
they could be resolved.
When you put yourself in with a bunch of people who will let
you know when youre doing something wrong, you become very
in tune with your own tendencies, Jeff said. Theyll
let you know when youve crossed some boundaries or are being
too critical or need to grow in a new way. Its a highlighter
for me as far as growth areas.
The Chisholms examined other voluntary service group living programs,
but wanted a place where they could live out their faith while enjoying
the early stages of marriage.
Jeff said, The idealism that a lot of people come out of college
with, I wanted to put into action rather than being trapped into
making the bucks that a lot of people get into. (At Goshen) we were
studying about simplicity how do we go about doing service
or living without using so many resources? Community gives a great
opportunity for doing that type of thing.
Service Adventure promised a chance for simple living in community
with structure and some couple-specific privacy built in. So, after
a summer at Amigo Centre in Sturgis, Mich., spent working and discerning
Gods will for their lives, they went to the Mission Network
in 2000. Service Adventure, with its emphasis on community as well
as simple living, seemed to fit.
How do I look at my life in relationship to Christs
message? Jeff said. Living simply does not always mean
having the cheapest things around you. And it gives you another
value besides just work, he said. Service teaches so
much about doing things and never getting anything in return. Somebody
might notice that you cleaned up the counters after everyone took
off for work, but if youre waiting around for the repayment
or the thanks, its not really service.
Besides the community within the unit, Anchorage also features a
small, tight-knit and ultrasupportive group of Mennonites at Prince
of Peace Mennonite Church as well as a significant military
presence due to several bases in the area. In his work as an agency
nurse, Jeff frequently is sent to Elmendorf Air Force Base, where
he is asked regularly why he has not yet enlisted.
I have to be honest and say what I believe or that I dont
think thats where Christ is leading me, Jeff said. The
teens in the Service Adventure unit often receive the same types
of questions and are forced to explain their own ideas about faith,
war and peace. Many of those conversations are discussed and reinforced
in group conversations.
But living, and working as leaders, in a group setting does have
You never go home from work. I make a joke sometimes when
Im working as a nurse that this is my break, Jeff said.
There are those communities that are so close that there is
You can be socialized by your group so much that
you dont give yourself the time you need.
Still, the Chisholms said the Service Adventure model of community
teaches servant leadership in comparison to the values of the world.
When you look at communities this close, in comparison to
this culture and the emphasis it places on individualism, very few
survive, Jeff said. It takes a lot of give and a lot
of willingness not to take.