Throughout my time in college, I constantly wondered what major challenges I would struggle with in “the real world”. Year after year, as my friends ahead of me graduated, what I heard over and over was the same struggles and frustration they all faced. Sure some of them took a bit longer to find a job, or find a place to live, but eventually those things always worked out. The greatest unfulfilled desire I heard from so many graduates, whether married or single, was to “find good community and friends”.
Recent studies by the Barna Group have shown that 40% of Americans have 0-1 friends they can confide in. For men specifically, the large majority tend to not make any new close friendships after the age of 25. Despite living in an age of limitless opportunities to connect through social media, various apps, work events, and networking opportunities, friendship and community can be difficult to find. During my time in the Fellows Program, I came in contact with numerous individuals and families of all ages who had that which I had heard was so hard to find. The difference however, was that those living in deep community with meaningful friendships did not view community as something to be found, but rather, something that must be created. We find jobs, places to live, churches to attend, and gyms to workout at, but community is something that is not found, but is grown and cultivated over time.
The time I spent living with my host family further showed me this truth. Whenever my host family introduced me, rather than saying “we host him” or “he has a room in our house,'' they would say, “he lives with us”. For me, that meant something significant as to how they saw my role in their home. They weren't simply my hosts, allowing me to occupy a space and see the nice, clean, surface level parts of who they are, but they invited me into what they were experiencing, challenging me to think deeply, and act purposefully. Because they have intentionally sought to create community for so much of their lives, welcoming me into their house (where they already had another family living apartment-style on the side of the house) allowed me to see so many benefits of intentional community and living with others.
During my Fellows year, my conversations with my fiancé about community progressed throughout the year from an appreciation for living with other families, to a desire to live with families in the future, to us adamantly praying for a family to live with as soon as we got married. Two months later, our prayer was answered. The week before our wedding!! We have enjoyed living in a house, next to my Fellows host family, WITH the family that was living with my host family while I was also living there. Since then, they have become our closest friends in town, challenged us to grow as individuals and as a couple, and encouraged us in our pursuit of community with God, each other, and others. Through community, we are all able to better grow as people through regularly investing in each other.
-Stefan Arroyo, Chattanooga Fellow Alum ‘18