The Power of Community

by | Sep 29, 2015 | Stories

Jenny and Ryan Smalley

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.” – M. Scott Peck

We all seem to know the power and beauty of community. Churches promote it, people seek it out, the Bible speaks wisdom regarding it. What we don’t seem to always understand is the why. Why is community so important and so talked about?

Ryan and Jenny Smalley met at the University of Iowa. Although Jenny comes from a loving Christian home, she recalls that she “was not on the best path, and that’s kinda when I met Ryan”.

Jenny’s sister lived in North Liberty at the time and invited Ryan and Jenny to go to church with her and her husband. They went consistently and really loved it but “weren’t living a Christian life”. During that time, they unexpectedly found out they were pregnant with their first son, RJ. Ryan and Jenny were married and decided things needed to change since they were becoming parents.

At the same time, Ryan’s mother, who had struggled with alcoholism for a long time, had deteriorating health due to a failing liver and kidney. Because she had cut herself off from most of the family, Ryan and Jenny were left to care for her the few months before she passed away.

“RJ was born a month after my mom passed away and I didn’t have a lot of time to process and cope with everything that happened” said Ryan. “RJ was my focus. Instead of dealing with some of those issues, I turned to drinking to forget about them and suppress them. But my battles continued to get worse.”

Both Ryan and Jenny admit that the amount of change in their lives at that time was enormous and difficult. Jenny’s uncle, who she had been very close to passed away, Ryan’s mother passed away, they bought a house, and had a son. Jenny looks over that time stating “A lot of things were happening in a really short amount of time. We were young and just trying to understand everything”.

Around Christmas-time of that year, Ryan was arrested for his 3rd offense for drinking and driving when their son, RJ was not quite 2 years old. Ryan and Jenny had just joined a connection group at Veritas, and felt compelled to share their struggles instead of hiding them. The response they received was overwhelming.

Between the time Ryan was arrested and his sentence started, the men of the connection group rallied around Ryan, meeting with him and praying with him that God would use him for His good and that he would have a purpose while in jail.

The connection group really helped me to draw closer to God because I was finally dependent on him. It was the first time in my life I had to be that.
– Ryan Smalley

The day the court announced Ryan’s sentence, Jenny found out that she was pregnant with their second son. “I remember the day he went in and I just came home and sat on the bed” Jenny recalled, “I broke down and was feeling sorry for myself definitely … and I just heard God telling me – ‘why are you sad, I promised you that I will always be here for you’.” She said, “From that moment, I felt such joy, so that was so cool; just feeling God’s presence in such a difficult time.  I’m very thankful for it, which is weird to say”.

Jenny spoke of that time fondly, and how those circumstances drew both her and Ryan closer to Christ and to each other. “Every time I talked to Ryan on the phone, he was like ‘you gotta hear about this guy I talked to. He didn’t even know who God was…’ He was able to share so much with these guys.”

A cake with open handcuffs was given to Ryan from his Connection Group after he was released from his jail sentence.

A cake with open handcuffs was given to Ryan from his Connection Group after he was released from his jail sentence.

For Ryan and Jenny, the support they received from community was essential. Ryan continued saying “having our small group’s support was amazing, instead of being ashamed and embarrassed, it was a relief to have their love and support”, with Jenny adding, “It’s changed our lives, changed our marriage, and changed our roles as parents”.

This last year, Ryan and Jenny were asked to help start a new connection group. They both admit at first, they were a little leery to leave their group and start fresh with new people, but after praying about it and discussing it, they were excited to continue to share their story and hear stories from other people in their new community.

Ryan and Jenny share how being vulnerable within community may be scary and unknown, but also both agree that it is definitely worth it. Galatians 6:1-2 states “Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.  Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”.

A safe community allowed Ryan and Jenny a place to grow together and towards Christ. There are many reasons community among believers is crucial and foundational, including encouraging and speaking truth to one another. But, also, as Ryan and Jenny shared, community must also be a place of practicing vulnerably and accepting each other’s mistakes, while allowing room for growth.

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