Where to Call “Home”: Prepping Post-Pandemic – Part 2, by Alex Braszko

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

Fitting In

Good communication is key, if you want to fit in, wherever you decide to live in this world. But fitting in requires more than just learning a language. While I have seen only a few parts of the Middle East and Asia, I have discovered cultural barriers and hostility toward my chosen religion, as well as my citizenship, in some countries. These facts can make it difficult for a western-minded conservative Christian American to feel at home in some places, even when he embraces local customs, language, and traditions. And while I can speak three languages pretty decently, I never was able to learn the Korean language or Hangul very well, or Chinese, or Japanese for that matter, other than some basic phrases. And I really did try.

The same could be said about politics. After explaining myself to neighbors or coworkers or new acquaintances in California for the umpteenth time, and after experiencing some really shocking moral affronts I never could have predicted, I noticed how refreshing it was to meet with and talk to someone that shared the same faith, life priorities and perspectives after a while.

The Value of a Close-Knit Community: Priceless!

I am surprised how many of my Protestant and Nondenominational Christian friends have heard of the “Benedict Option” concept. In his book The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher refers to, “…a key challenge for… Christians going forward: How do we live in joy and confidence even though the world seems to be collapsing around us? How do we navigate the arks we build safely between the twin illusions of false optimism and exaggerated fear?” He continues, “Love is the only way we will make it through what is to come. Love is not romantic ecstasy. It has to be a kind of love that has been honed and intensified through regular prayer, fasting, and repentance and, for many Christians, through receiving the holy sacraments. And it must be a love that has been refined through suffering. There is no other way.”

In searching for the ideal example of the Benedict Option, Dreher claims to have found it in the small Italian city of Tipi Loschi, gaining insight from one of its local leaders, Marco Sermarini. Rod asked him how to achieve an ideal Christian community like Tipi Loschi. Marco’s response: “Start by getting serious about living as Christians. Accept that there can be no middle ground.” He later continues, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next in life, but in the meantime, we have to fight for the good… the possibility of saving the good things in the world is only that: a possibility. We have to take the chances we have to set a rock in the earth and to keep this rock steady.”

I believe that it is crucial to consider your community-in-a-crisis when choosing where you want to live in this world. Especially if your Faith is critically important to you. “No man is an island unto himself,” we’ve heard many times. It is much easier to survive a crisis with others sharing the load… and practically, wouldn’t you like to know that your neighbor considers it a grave sin to steal from you in a crisis, to shoot you or turn you in for personal gain!? Honestly, having similar moral values and Faith to share with others during a crisis, and having those values and beliefs guide the decisions you and your neighbors make in preparation of a crisis is critical when you take your Faith seriously. Having access to a close-knit community that shares your Faith is exactly that: priceless.

And Then There Is War

So after years of research, learning the language, finding a job and a piece of land with what your wife called, “The cutest little dacha”, you made the move to Ukraine. Things were perfect… until Putin decided to invade. Now what? Well, as a man, you are required, by law, to stay in the country and fight the Russians while your wife and children hopefully fled and safely crossed into Europe early on. Hopefully, you considered this was a reality before you chose to move to Ukraine. If not, now you know. And if you are considering moving to any other Eastern European or South American or African country, you may consider the same situation could happen there. Again, do your research before choosing to move and consider the very real and life-altering risks.

Our Experience

Regardless of your situation, unless you’ve found “Home” early on in life, at some point you will have to develop your own moving criteria and evaluate those criteria based upon what is most important to you. Here’s an example of what my wife and I went through in our decision-making process:

As my wife and I were contemplating my retirement from the Army after my 22 years of service as a Military Intelligence and Space Operations officer, we actually had an opportunity to move, one last time, at the Army’s expense, to our terminal location of choice. We considered all the places in the world we had visited over our 14 years together. Having been a planner for much of my career, we naturally had to develop weighted criteria and create a decision matrix as a part of our decision-making process (doesn’t everyone with a military background?) We prayed about it quite a bit and then we started brainstorming our criteria.

We love natural beauty, history, and culture. We spent three years in Europe together and seriously considered becoming expats in one of the beautiful European countries we visited when I was assigned to USAFRICOM in Stuttgart, Germany. Certainly, there were very real and tempting options; Andalusia, Spain with its excellent foods and wines and sherries, beaches, exciting festivals… the Alsace-Lorraine region of France with its own amazing foods and sites and traditions… Ireland or Scotland in the UK… Delft in the Netherlands. We had friends we made during my military career that lived in several of those countries and we knew they would help us settle in. There were expat communities and websites for each of them all as well. We knew we would miss many of the conveniences of living in the U.S., but the access to history and culture in Europe would more than make up for losing some of the comforts we grew up with.

Our daydreaming abruptly ended, however, when one of us brought up that proximity to our family members in the U.S. and having our kids develop relationships with their grandparents, aunts and uncles was more important than living in some of the most beautiful places in the world. We also both wanted a close-knit church community and active church life and we just were not able to find that easily in Europe, unfortunately. So, there went our idea of being expats.

So we refocused our criteria on the United States. We ruled out Hawaii due to its extremely high cost of living and Alaska due to its brutal winters. Beyond natural beauty, history, and culture, which we actually discovered in each region of our county, access to military facilities was important (I was retired-Army after all), as was job availability based on my background and professional experiences. For those two reasons, we had to rule out most of the Northeastern United States.

We also thought about the cost of living and taxes, including property taxes, and safety for our children. That ruled out several major metropolitan areas on the East and West Coasts and some of the bigger cities in the middle of the country. As did traffic; we had lived in Norfolk, Virginia where I attended a military course and Alexandria, Virginia when I worked at the Pentagon and we quickly learned we could not handle traffic that might take us one hour to travel one single mile by car. Throw in a natural or manmade disaster and no one is going anywhere quickly in a vehicle in the event of an emergency. No-go for a prepper, in my humble opinion.

We were assigned for almost a year to Fort Huachuca, Arizona. We loved the natural beauty of the desert, when it was in bloom, and truly appreciated the art and culture of the Southwest. But my wife and I both have green thumbs, so we had to live somewhere where there was lots of water and plenty of good soil readily available to grow a garden and plant beautiful deciduous trees. There went much of the Rocky Mountain region.

I will caveat, there are plenty of Catholic and Orthodox monasteries that make their homes in the desert and survive just fine, thank you. They have access to water through aquifers and are far enough out of the way that most folks don’t even know they’re there. They grow olives or other fruits and vegetables with irrigation. So it’s not that surviving in the desert is impossible, just not for us.

We had some land in Florida, and considered retiring there, but my wife claimed she couldn’t stand the heat and humidity in summer (and she is from Missouri!) That really broke my heart, especially knowing how conservative much of Florida can be.

Finally, we considered natural disasters. After the 2011 earthquake and resulting Tsunami that hit Japan and destroyed Fukushima, my sister in Washington told us of the preparations the military was making in the event of an impending tsunami hitting the Northwest Coast. Having lived in Monterey, California we knew all about the history and expected future earthquake along the San Andreas Fault. We experienced tornadoes in the Midwest, witnessed the results of hurricanes in the southeast, massive winter storms in the North and saw firsthand the damage caused by floods along major US rivers… We finally realized there is nowhere on earth completely safe from catastrophic events. So we actually ended up giving a lower weight to natural disasters as a selection criteria.

What we did recognize as a very significant difference in our choice was whether we were going to live a rural or suburban life. We experienced and lived in both as the Army moved us around. Living in the burbs meant a whole lot of differences from living out in the country. From a self-sufficiency perspective, the country life has many obvious advantages: propane tanks for heating a house, and wells for access to water. If we bought land and built a house, we could certainly raise animals that might not be allowed in a suburban neighborhood… We could plant a garden, have orchards, access to trees for firewood. But living in the burbs meant access to more convenience, more culture, and closer proximity to a Church. And in order to buy land, we had to be able to afford it.

Our Choice

In the end we ended up moving to an acreage we purchased in the Midwest to be in proximity to family and about a one-hour drive from a major metropolitan area and military installation. Kansas City, Missouri is a pretty cool mid-sized city, with Fort Leavenworth nearby in Kansas, affordable living, many safe communities, not too much traffic, some decent Western Frontier and Civil War history,. and excellent cultural events. A great Football Team (Go Chiefs!) and amazing kind and friendly neighbors added to the attraction. Finally, we discovered an amazing Church and Church community we fell in love with when we visited. We realized we had settled on the best place to live, for us, for now.

After seeing what happened in many of those places we considered living in from 2020-2022, (in our opinion) the draconian and oftentimes unnecessary measures they took and are still keeping in place due to COVID-19 makes us appreciate that God, once again, took us down the right path in life to live where we currently live. We still have to travel an hour to get anywhere with big city options and conveniences, but we’ve learned to adjust to our new environment and there have been many, many times we’ve been grateful we live out in the country, not the least of which was during the pandemic.

Final Thoughts

As we witnessed firsthand over the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we are now watching in Ukraine, trying to survive a local or worldwide catastrophe can be a very lonely and scary predicament. How much better is it when you’ve got a family, a community of like-minded individuals nearby that are willing to sacrifice to help you out as much as you’re willing to sacrifice to help them out? How much comfort do you obtain from living on a piece of land a decent drive out from a major city, maybe with a water well in addition to city water, where you can teach your kids to shoot in the backyard? If you do find something like that comforting, after you consider all the above criteria and more specific personal requirements, and after weeks or months or years of research and saving money to finally settle on a place, then you’ll know you have done due diligence. And by God’s Grace, maybe you too will find, from a prepper’s perspective, the perfect place to call “Home”.