“Ironically, as much as we yearn for deep friendships and meaningful communities, many of us seem to be unable to find our way into them. Even if we know we’re made for community, finding one and staying there seems almost impossible. Though we hate to admit it, if we stay long enough in any relationship or set of friendships, we will experience failure, doubt, burnout, loneliness, transitions, a loss of self, betrayal, frustration, a sense of entitlement, grief, and weariness. Yet it’s these painful community experiences, these tensions we struggle to navigate, that hold surprising gifts.” —FROM THE PREFACE
IN A STRIKINGLY confessional tone and vividly illustrated through story, Unexpected Gifts names eleven inevitable challenges that all friendships, relationships, and communities experience if they stay together long enough. Rather than allowing these challenges to become excuses to leave, Chris Heuertz suggests that things like betrayal, transitions, failure, loss of identity, entitlement, and doubt may actually be invitations to stay. And if we stay, these challenges can become unexpected gifts.
Betrayal, failure, loss of identity, doubt. If your relationships have suffered from any of these pitfalls, this book will show you that staying together can create something more—even something beautiful.
IN THIS HEARTFELT and thoughtful book, Christopher Heuertz writes of the dangers of isolation, the challenges we face when we join together, and the struggles and joys that emerge from genuine community bonding.
Whether readers are forming a new community, searching for deeper community, or participating in a longtime community, they will find inspiration, caution, guidance, and encouragement as they discover the beauty of pressing in to the ambiguities of growing relationships in this tender and honest testimony about how we are woven together by grace.
Christopher L. Heuertz is an activist, author, visionary and public speaker, who has traveled with his wife, Phileena, through nearly seventy countries working with the most vulnerable of the world’s poor. Chris has led the Word Made Flesh community as the International Executive Director since 1996. He and Phileena reside in Omaha, Nebraska.
"Unexpected Gifts is a rich and important book about the benefits and challenges of community that we desperately need. Chris Heuertz has lived out the message of these pages with great authenticity. His honesty draws you in, provokes and heals, and shows you why community is always worth the struggle."
“Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community brings a freshness to a topic in danger of growing stale: community. It is honest. It’s not often that a leader is so forthright, confessional even, about personal struggles, mistakes, and regrets. It is refreshing. Throwing open the doors and windows and letting in some air so we can all breathe a little easier and deeper. This transparency contrasts deeply with the more common posturing to prove something….competence or holiness or effectiveness or whatever the case might be. It is gritty. Tackling very real but seldom addressed areas like failure, doubt, grief, disappointment, sexual energy, and even boredom. It’s nuanced throughout with Chris’ international experiences (like traveling the ancient Camino pilgrimage), to biblical exploration (like considering the reasonable pragmatism of Judas), to personal anguish (like the decision not to have children) that keep it real, insightful, and compelling. I highly recommend this read if you have any interest in community, leadership, or living an authentic life of faith."
“Engaging and real, fascinating and gritty, Heuertz invites you to journey with him as he wrestles aloud with the challenges and surprises of life lived together. With insights collected from his experiences in slums, favelas, and neighborhoods around the world, he reveals the ugly myths that unhinge relationships. With a courageous honesty he speaks the unspoken questions that we all harbor, but are too scared to say. Heuertz gives hope, prophetic challenges, and an unexpected gift in this book.”
“Unexpected Gifts is a prophetic book about the wisdom of community. For nearly two decades Christopher Heuertz has led the community Word Made Flesh, whose goal is to serve and be with the most miserable and oppressed people of our world, hidden in war-torn lands, slums, and red light districts of big cities. The community founded in the evangelical church has become ecumenical; members from different churches united in their desire to serve the poorest of the poor, are inspired by Jesus. I would hope that many from my own Roman Catholic church may discover this new community clearly blessed by Jesus and the Holy Spirit.”
“There are few people who can reframe the way we think or act and bring about a paradigm shift . . . Chris and Phileena are gifted with this. Their experiences are filtered through grace and the unconditional love of God, which Chris brilliantly articulates in this book. Fundamentally, it’s a book about faithfulness to relationships. Anyone interested in leading an authentic Christian life will find wisdom reading it. Although Christian community-living is difficult, Chris challenges the common response of rejection within those communities. He suggests that the challenges can be converted to unexpected gifts. Chris is a brilliant and creative thinker of our time and uses parallel stories to contrast and expose the truth that leaves an indelible impression on your mind."
“By sharing stories of tragedy and triumph, Chris illustrates an intricate picture of how communities come together in the beauty and the broken. His passion, commitment, and service toward others is evident through his vulnerable and transparent experiences in community. I feel immensely privileged to learn from these intimate stories of honest pains and true joys that stem from genuine relationships. You’ll find yourself both challenged and encouraged by this gift that Chris shares with us.”
“Chris Heuertz’s Unexpected Gifts is a clarion call to missional community as ancient as Jesus’ first challenge for the disciples to ‘follow me’ . . . together. Heuertz’s eyes have seen the glory, and his flesh has borne the scars of life together. As a result, his provocative and inspiring roadmap for community life offers insightful instruction for the next generation of saints while applying a healing salve for those who may have tried and failed before. Heuertz’s book is an unexpected gift, indeed.”
"Ever wondered what it actually means to live in community? Chris Heuertz asks tough questions and shares vivid stories that will both haunt you as well as lift your spirit. He takes you on a journey through the slums of Calcutta to the war-torn streets of Sierra Leone to dimly lit clubs in Omaha, Nebraska posing questions and looking for answers. It's a trip worth taking."
"In a world of stale religiosity, Chris Heuertz is a breath of fresh air. He's unafraid to ask risky questions and even propose provocative answers, but he does so with humility and grace. Unexpected Gifts challenges readers to consider that the supposed burdens of life-on-life community may be blessings in disguise. Read it and prepare to be changed."
"In his book, Unexpected Gifts, Chris Heuertz confesses that this was not an easy book to write. Truth be told, this is not an easy book to read. If you're looking for an easy, simple, solution-based seven steps and gung-ho parade to being a perfect community, look elsewhere. This book is raw, difficult, uncomfortable, and emotional, but here's the deal: it speaks truth—with humility and honesty—and points us to the One who created us for community, friendship, and relationship. Community is the thing that we long for the most, and in my opinion, the thing that scares us the most. I don't know how to recommend this book but to simply invite you to journey with it."
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