It was May of 1989. I was 12 years old, and my family was getting ready to leave the country where I had spent most of my childhood.
We were leaving Liberia to go back to California for a year-long home assignment. We packed up our house and put all our personal belongings into the spare room. Another family would stay there for the year we were gone. The plan was that we would return in the summer of 1990, and would stay in Liberia for my four years of high school.
But during that year we were gone, a civil war broke out in Liberia. It got worse. And then it got catastrophic.
And finally it got so bad that all the missionaries were evacuated. The compound where I grew up was bombed. Many Liberian friends were killed. We never returned.
We lost everything. Everything we owned was in Liberia, and it was all looted. I lost my dog, my bedroom, my sixth grade journal, the painting my grandmother made me when I was born, and my childhood treasures. More significantly, I lost my home country, my identity, my innocence.
I never got to say good-bye, either to the country or the people I loved. Liberia haunts my dreams; it remains an unfinished part of my life to this day.
I grieved deeply for Liberia at age 13. But we were forced to move on—and quickly. We were reassigned to Ethiopia; I was off to boarding school—all in a period of a few months. I grew up; I went to college, and shortly after I was married, God brought my husband and me to Tanzania, east Africa. I was thrilled! Back home in Africa, at last. I figured all of the holes left in my heart from Liberia had been filled.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2013, at age 36 and after 10 years of life in Tanzania, that I realized that the ache of Liberia had never left me. We were leaving Tanzania to go back to California for a year-long home assignment. I was packing up our house and putting all our personal belongings into a spare room. Another family would stay in our house for the year we were gone.
As much as I was excited to visit California again, anxiety swelled within me. The feelings were too eerily familiar to what I experienced as a child–packing up, leaving everything behind, assuming I would return. I found myself worrying that the same thing would happen again….that I would lose everything.
It was a mostly irrational fear. Tanzania is a far more stable country than Liberia was in 1989. But after losing Liberia, and then being evacuated from Ethiopia in 1991, I realize that you never really know what’s going to happen in Africa. I was forced to come face to face with the loss I had experienced so long ago.
We went on that home assignment, and we did return to Tanzania last year. In many ways, it was a healing experience for me, to return. But if there is one thing this life has taught me, it’s that I must hold loosely to everything. Everything. I can’t put down roots anywhere; I will never find stability. Even if I spend my whole life here, I will never be allowed citizenship of this country. I will never be allowed to own property here; I will never grow old in one house. I may someday have to evacuate with the clothes on my back. Or, I could just get robbed blind.
I’m reminded that I can’t love this life so tightly. This life is not all there is, and it’s definitely not worth fretting over. After all, can I ever ensure the protection of my earthly treasures? Even if I was to live my entire life in one house in America, would I be guaranteed stability and safety? It’s just an illusion, and my transient life as a foreigner helps me to remember that reality.
Liberia, Ethiopia, or Tanzania are not my home, but America isn’t either. I will always be a foreigner, until that Day when heaven meets earth and all is made new. So I set my sights on things above, and relax my grip on my possessions, my country, my identity. They were never mine to begin with. The whole reason I am living in Africa is because I want to store up treasure in heaven. May I never try too hard to cling to the things of this earth as well.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Amy Medina has spent almost half her life in Africa, both as an MK in Liberia and now in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, since 2001. Living in tropical Africa has helped her perfect the fine art of sweating, but she also loves teaching, cooking, and hospitality. She and her husband worked many years with TCKs and now are involved with pastoral training. They also adopted three amazing Tanzanian kids along the way. Amy blogs regularly at www.gilandamy.blogspot.com.