Kokomo, IN.

A lovely place, one might imagine.

I’ve never been, but a couple years ago, it was in the running for my Place to Live for the summer. After accepting a position with the youth missions organization YouthWorks, I knew I could get placed anywhere around the country; with over 70 service sites in various big cities, small towns, and rural areas, the possibilities felt endless.

A lot of people would ask me, “If you could choose, where would you like to go?” This, of course, is a dangerous train of thought, because the reality was that I didn’t get to choose. Still, if pushed, I wanted to go somewhere cool, you know? Like San Francisco or Savannah, or some tiny town you’d never heard of like Marvel, Arkansas or Lame Deer, Montana. Someplace that would sound really legit when telling stories about it later. Because that’s what matters when you go on a mission trip, right?

My roommate, though, was the only one who asked this question, the one I was secretly dreading:

“Is there any place you really don’t want to go?”

The answer to this was easy. I knew it as soon as I saw it on the map with all the little pins.

Kokomo, IN.

To be fair, I wouldn’t have been thrilled with Chicago or Benton Harbor either—most sites in the Midwest seemed a little too close to home to constitute the kind of 10-week adventure I wanted to go on.

But this was the worst. This was Indiana. Kokomo, Indiana. It’s basically Pawnee without Leslie Knope there to keep it afloat, the town itself practically taunting you by saying, “Look! You thought you were still driving through the endlessness that is Indiana but suddenly you’re in KOKOMO! You’ve made it somewhere warm and tropical! All of your Beach Boys dreams are about to come true!”

But then comes the crushing realization: OH WAIT YOU’RE STILL IN INDIANA LOL NICE TRY.

So once I shared my fear of being placed in Kokomo, my roommate proceeded to do what the best of friends always do: she teased me about it incessantly.

The song was sung, of course. Randomly googled facts about the city were hollered in my direction. And even though I knew it was crazy, I felt like she was dooming me to Kokomo. But whenever I would get too worked up about it, she would always remind me what I knew all along:

It’s about the people, not the place.

This would probably be a better story if I did get placed in Kokomo, where I met beautiful townspeople with hearts of gold that chipped away at mine of stone, teaching me that despite the lackluster location, God’s love can—and does—exist anywhere and everywhere.

But that didn’t happen, at least not in Kokomo, because I’ve still never been to Kokomo.

So while the “it’s the people, not the place” mantra did not necessarily apply to my summer-long, Kokomo-less adventure, it sure helped when that same roommate and I moved out of the dorm we called home for two years—still teasing each other incessantly, just not in tiny room that also happened to hold all of our worldly possessions.

It helped when I left England after a semester abroad, arriving back in America with not just travel companions but friends, the kind who have seen you at your worst but still choose to call you friend—in other words, the best kind.

And it is helping now, when I remember that the relationships I started at Calvin do not have to end there. That place, while a mighty convenient meeting ground, would be nothing without the people.

So a hearty thanks to you, Kokomo, for providing not only a groovy tune but also a much-needed reminder. Perhaps I’ll visit someday, perhaps I won’t. But it’s nice to know that it doesn’t really matter if I go to Kokomo or Kabul, to this city or that one, as long as I remember the places I go do not matter nearly as much as the people who go through life with me.

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