Strangers and Aliens: Covid in the Slums

by Rahma

We had been waiting for months for news about when we might be able to receive a Covid vaccine. The elderly, health workers, government offices, and teachers were the first groups to be vaccinated. My husband and I are teachers, but the free school that we run in our slum community is not a “real” school, so we could not qualify to receive vaccines. 

For eleven months, we opened House of Hope during the pandemic– praying that the benefits to the community were greater than the risks presented by meeting in person. Sickness in slums is a constant affair; there are always children and adults sick with diarrhea, coughs, colds, fevers, sore throats. Normally when someone is sick with some or all of those symptoms, possible diagnoses include: the common flu, dengue fever, typhoid, or TB. Now we added “Covid-19” to the possible list.  

On Wednesday of our last week of classes for the year, my husband received a phone call from the government leader in his mom’s neighborhood. We had registered with this leader two weeks prior, hoping that one day we would be eligible to be vaccinated. “You can go today,” the man said. “To the police center.  You have ten minutes. There are only six vaccines left.”

Talk about last minute warning. We changed our clothes (out of slum clothes, into presentable vaccination clothes), grabbed our important documents (government ID, marriage certificate, my passport and visa), and jumped on our motorcycle. My husband sped through traffic, and we arrived at the police center perhaps twenty minutes after the phone call.

The police center was celebrating their birthday; in honor of the birthday, they were providing vaccines for the community. 

They looked at our ID cards, accepted my husband’s since he is Indonesian, but rejected me. I could not be vaccinated. I fought back disappointment and consoled myself with knowing that my husband was getting his first jab. Twenty minutes later, we were back on our motorcycle and going home.

Two days later, after numerous phone calls and confirmation from the same government leader near my in-law’s house, I set off by bike to go to the government clinic. This time equipped with a letter from the official, saying I was a resident and lived in the neighborhood. I spent two hours waiting in line with about 100 others– this time to get a swab rapid test in order to be eligible to be vaccinated the following day. After two hours of waiting, it was finally my turn and I presented the letter and my ID card.

“What is this?” the lady said.

“My permanent resident card.”

“We can’t use this number. You don’t have the right number.”  She confirmed with a higher-up and they sent me home.

I fought back angry tears once more. 

In some strange way, I felt like this experience bonded me with our neighbors.  Many of them do not have the proper documentation– not only is it a struggle to get vaccinated, but anything legal is a challenge. Registering for government elementary schools. Making marriage certificates. Or birth certificates. Or government health cards. I have a friend who had to travel 3 hours during labor to return to her home village for an emergency Cesarean.  

Scripture says we are strangers and aliens in this world.  There’s nothing like living somewhere ten years, but getting denied a vaccine to remind one of this truth. No matter how many years I live here, I will always be the “Bule” (pronounced “Boo”+ “lay”). I will always be the white-skinned one, with brown hair instead of black. I cried, not so much because I really wanted a vaccine, but because I wanted to belong. To not feel like an outsider in this land where I have given birth, taught hundreds of children, and planted myself. It just did not seem fair.

The following morning, we biked 55 kilometers round trip to the Zoo (where we were refused entry because of new Covid restrictions and because our ID cards were not from Jakarta).  I knew I was dragging a little bit, but a sudden rainstorm refreshed us and we made it home happily.  After a shower, however, I realized I was feverish. I spent the rest of the day in bed. My husband also started to feel sick. We wondered (Asian style) if it was because of getting rained on. 

The following morning, we got Covid PCR tests. We were positive, along with one of our teammates. We paid to get tested at a private clinic, as trying to get a free PCR from the government clinic is nearly impossible. Officially, our test results should be reported to our government health clinic. Officially, if one of our cases were to deteriorate, they should be responsible to send an ambulance and help us get to a hospital. But because we live in a slum, this is not possible.

If we chose to self-isolate in our sabbath house, in the middle-class neighborhood according to our ID address, the health officials would help us.  But since we would rather be at home in our slum house– where there are neighbors who can shop for us, where there is a field we can walk on and get fresh air, where our pet rabbit is, where we feel more comfortable– there is no government health center to report to. Slums are by definition illegal. We live on “dark land,” without government leadership. Slipping through the cracks of bureaucracy. No one wants to help our neighborhood. 

When we explained to our neighbor about trying to report to the government clinic, she laughed and said: “If we die, they don’t care.” 

And for us it does not really matter. Thankfully, our Covid cases seem mild. We have an oximeter and can self-monitor oxygen levels. We have money to buy vitamins, paracetamol, and nutritious food. We also have health insurance and money in the bank if we needed to check ourselves into a hospital. We have lots of middle-class friends with extra money to send us care packages of food. My kitchen is overflowing with fruit, snacks, honey, and other goodies sent to us– not only from our “rich” friends, but also from our friends in the slum.

But as I hear my neighbors cough, I wonder what they will do if they need to be hospitalized.  I wonder how much money is wasted when they go to a doctor and are given amoxicillin and told they just have “strep throat.”  I know that the official numbers of Covid cases in Indonesia are sky-rocketing, and I know that the real number is likely 20x higher than what is reported.  I feel the injustices of lacking proper ID cards. I feel the struggle of my friends wanting to access free government health care. I sense the denial and optimism of our street, hoping that everyone else just has a “normal cough.”

Lord, protect the most vulnerable.  Have mercy on all those who are sick.  Heal our bodies. Heal our souls.  Come, Lord Jesus.

For the past ten years, living in a slum, I have found solace in the words of Psalm 146.  I read these verses again today and they seem so applicable. My hope is not in princes (or government officials)– my hope is in the Lord. The Lord watches over the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the blind, and the bowed down.  And the Lord watches over the foreigner, too (hey, that’s me!). Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

 The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.

~~~~~~~~

Rahma (not her real name) and her husband and two boys have lived and served in a slum in Jakarta for the past ten years. She enjoys learning piano, playing in the rain, and devouring Amy Carmichael books. You can learn more about the organization they serve with at servantsasia.org.

Neither Here Nor There, I Do Not Belong Anywhere

by Chris Moyer

Not fully in France. Not in America,
Not by the Seine, Not by the Susquehanna.
My belonging is mixed-up, Sam, you see.
I do not belong fully here or there.
I do not fully belong anywhere!

If you are a Third Culture Kid like me, you may read the word “belonging” and feel that it is an ephemeral or even impossible concept to grasp. Endless strings of transitions leave many TCKs wondering how they could ever find a stable sense of belonging. In many ways, the TCK life feels like my adapted stanza from Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham (above).

I struggled most intensely with my sense of belonging when I was a teenager and young adult because I experienced an intense push and pull between countries and continents through those years. Each year – from 9th grade through my first year of college – I faced a new phase of starting over. In 9th grade I had my last year in French schools. Then, in 10th grade, I shipped off (of my own volition) to Black Forest Academy in Germany. Next, I had a one-year stop in America (not of my own volition) for 11th grade. Then once again, I hopped the Atlantic to return to BFA for my senior year. Finally, I moved back to the States for college.

As I typed the above paragraph, I could feel my nerves amp up, my palms get sweaty, and butterflies begin to flutter in my stomach. Even though the last of those transitions took place over twenty years ago, the overwhelming sense of dread that accompanies having to start over is a feeling I can never quite shake. Yes, I have processed – and even learned to embrace – what took place during those years. But I can still vividly recall my desperate longing for stability and for a sense of true belonging, something for which my heart ached during that time in my life.

While I was blessed to develop meaningful relationships with many special people during those years – people I never would have met had I stayed in a single, stable environment – I can still keenly feel the tension that constantly pushed and pulled at me. The tension of wanting to fully fit in with those around me, all the while knowing deep inside that I was inherently different from both my French and American peers. My desire to belong remained just outside of my grasp because I was stuck in the perpetual reality of being an outsider in both of my “worlds.”

When living as a teenager in France, many of my classmates thought it was “cool” that I was American. But their understanding was based on the American shows they watched and the American musicians they listened to, rather than inquiring what it was like for me personally to be a US citizen. Instead of questions, I frequently heard comments such as, “You are so lucky to be American!” and, “I don’t understand why you would leave the US to live here!” And, just in case there was any doubt that I was not a local, my peers even nicknamed me, “Made in USA.” In some ways I liked that I had something that other kids wanted, and yet I struggled with being different. In my heart I simply wanted what most young people desire, that is to be like my friends and not stand out.

When in America I looked and sounded like my peers, which on the surface felt good. But on the inside, I felt like a zebra running among horses. Zebras sound like horses when they run, and outside of their black and white stripes, they even look like horses. But zebras and horses are different species. Try as I might, I could not ignore or fully hide my stripes. I did what I could to blend in like a cultural chameleon, but just as zebras cannot be tamed, so I could not suppress my multicultural identity.

At BFA, we were ALL zebras! Our base color (passport cultures) may have been different, as were our stripes (our host cultures), but within this community I finally found my “herd.” This offered me the sense of belonging I had been looking for and longing to find for so long. But before I knew it, graduation came along and we all went our separate ways. Many of us were once again living as zebras among horses.

TCKs do not have the power to change what makes them different from their peers in either their passport or their host countries. And now, as I parent three TCKs of my own, I want to help my children successfully navigate the treacherous path of belonging. While one side of the TCK “coin” represents challenges, the flip side to this is an intense richness that can only be found in this reality. Together, we will celebrate the beauty and accept the losses that come along with the multicultural life they did not personally choose for themselves.

It is my desire to lead my own TCK children to learn, as I did, that you do not need to fully belong to fully engage with those around you. No, you won’t ever “belong” to just one group or culture. And while that can be hard, it is ok. Understanding, acknowledging, grieving, and celebrating are all joined together to create the jumbled richness that is multi-cultural living. While I always felt different from my monocultural peers, coworkers, and family, I grew to accept these differences, while learning to belong — at least mostly. To explain what I mean by “mostly,” I highly recommend watching this short video from Michèle Phoenix: MKs & BELONGING – Three Options to Consider – YouTube

Below are three things (this is not an exhaustive list) that you can do to help your TCK(s) learn to mostly belong wherever they may be.

 

1. Process their sense of belonging with them.

For older TCKs, asking them reflective questions can draw out what is going on beneath the surface of their desire to belong:

  • Where do you feel you most belong?
  • What makes you feel like you belong there or with those people?
  • What it is like for you when you feel like an outsider?
  • What do you do when you feel like an outsider (look for specific behavior that helps or inhibits their desire to belong)?

For younger TCKs, you can still try to ask reflective questions like the ones above, or you can read a book like Swirly, which will draw out feelings and desires through story.

 

2. Help them make decisions that grow a healthy sense of belonging (be sure to process #1 with your kids before moving to #2).

As Michèle Phoenix says in her video, some TCKs will do whatever they can to blend in. They will forsake their heritage for the sake of belonging. While TCKs need to grieve what they have left behind, suppressing where they come from will create additional challenges of unresolved grief along the way.

Because of the mobile nature of their parents’ employment, some TCKs will experience short transition periods such as the one I had in America for my 11th grade year. I did not want to be in America that year, and my attitude and behavior clearly matched my disposition. It can be tempting for TCKs, when they know they will only be somewhere for a short period of time, to stay withdrawn and be unwilling to invest much into their momentary place of residence. This was my approach to my stop-gap year in America for two reasons. The first was that I longed to be back with my friends at BFA. The second was that I knew I was going to be leaving and did not want to get close to people for fear of how hard the goodbyes might be.

Whether TCKs are in a short transitional period, or whether they are in a more permanent phase of life, it is important to help them make conscious decisions that lead them to connect with others. Understandably, it is hard to move toward others when you feel like a cultural outsider, when you are in the middle of grief, or when you’re just plain tired of “putting yourself out there” yet again. But, relationships with peers are a crucial first step to a growing sense of belonging. Below are some ideas (again, not exhaustive) of how to help your kids connect with other kids:

  • Encourage them to invite a classmate to your home to play. If your TCK does not want to risk rejection, be the one to take initiative and invite their classmate’s family over for an afternoon snack or a meal.
  • When possible, have your TCK get involved in something they love to do. In our family we chose to forego extra-curricular activities during our first year in France because we thought the language barrier would be more stressful than the activity would be beneficial. However, after our initial “waiting period” we’ve witnessed our three kids blossoming more and more since beginning their hobbies here.
  • If your TCK(s) goes to local schools, check in with them regularly about how well (or not) they are connecting with their classmates. Some kids naturally jump into new settings with both feet. But others may be shy and insecure about finding their “place,” as we found was the case with one of our children who needed regular encouragement to move toward others. With time and some gentle nudges this kid has really grown in their ability to initiate with others, and as a result, their sense of belonging has been strengthened.

 

3. When possible, gather with other expat families.

There is a good chance that your TCK(s) will feel their greatest sense of belonging when they find themselves with other TCKs. They will likely no longer feel like a zebra running among horses when they come together. There is a comfort, often an unspoken one, through a mutual understanding that comes with being alongside of others from their “herd.” In light of this, make every effort to meet up with other expat families when possible.

When it is not possible to meet in person, whether because of where you live or because of the current global pandemic, your TCK(s) may enjoy having online gatherings with their TCK peers. Our youngest loves to connect with a TCK friend in Eastern Europe and do a “show and tell” with him. Our older kids simply enjoy sitting across the screen and chatting with their TCK friends.

Lastly, let me encourage you to find conferences/retreats to attend with other expat families. There are some great events put on by educational service organizations, mission organizations and others that will be like a breath of fresh air for you and your TCKs. These types of events were some of the biggest highlights of my childhood and I know my kids have loved the handful of retreats they have attended with their TCK peers.

 

In the end my hope is that we can see our kids mostly belong and that the adapted stanza from Sam I Am changes to:

Mostly in France. And in America
By the Seine and the Susquehanna.
I belong mostly, Sam, you see.
I belong mostly here and there.
I belong mostly anywhere.

~~~~~~~~~

Chris Moyer grew up in France and Germany as the child of missionaries. After spending nineteen years in the States and serving as a counselor and then as a pastor, he returned to France in 2018 with his wife, Laura, and their three children to serve in church planting and global member care with World Team. Chris loves running, biking, following his favorite sports teams as a faithful “phan” (all teams from Philadelphia and France soccer), and travelling the world. You can read more of his reflections on his personal TCK experience and on parenting TCKs on his blog TCKonnective.

Beautifully Broken Belonging

I wrote this poem on January 15 as a way to process my impeding move from China to the U.S. in June. On January 19, I left China for what I thought was going to be 11 days in the US. However, due to the coronavirus, I’m still in the U.S., 50 days later, unsure of my return date. This poem has become even more meaningful to me as I am stuck in this limbo and creating a new normal for myself, all the while waiting to return home so that I can say goodbye to it again. –Kathryn Vasquez

 

 This place.

Always 

A celebrity. 

An “other.”

A goddess.

A ghost.

And double takes.

 

This place.

Culture, Community, and

Collective care.

Beautifully broken belonging.

 

Me in this place.

Is it assimilation or appropriation?

Stress or regrets?

Shock or roadblocks?

Hurting or healing?

 

This place.

Brokenly beautiful belonging.

 

How do I tell of the heartaches and headaches?

That suffocating darkness that

Sat on my chest 

And almost consumed me?

 

How do I tell of that light?

It lifted me out

And washed over me in a waterfall of acceptance.

 

How do I tell of triumph and joy?

Of restoration and worthiness?

Of heartbreak?

Of the cycle of happiness and pain?

Of sleepless nights?

Of peace that passes all understanding?

Of quiet waters?

Of identity?

Of rest?

How do I tell of 

Beautifully belonging to the broken?

 

How do I take: 

What I have learned?

Who I was?

Who I’ve become?

 

And go to a place where 

I can never be who I was

Nor can I be who I am.

What will I become in

That place,

Broken, without beautiful belonging?

 

But I have a consolation,

A hope,

A star to follow through this night.

What I’ve become. 

Who I’ve become.

Whose I’ve become.

The very things to give me strength for the journey ahead.

As I go to that place of beautifully broken belonging.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kathryn Vasquez has taught English in China since 2011. She enjoys reading, writing, photography, and traveling. She will be moving back to the US in June, but China has forever changed her.

On Being an Immigrant

by Seth Lewis

Growing up in Alabama, I knew the rules: I knew when to say “yes, ma’am” and how to order a Sprite by asking for a Coke and waiting for the server to say “What kind?” I knew what was expected of me, and I knew what to expect from others. I knew how to say things so that people would listen, and when I needed opportunities, I was confident that doors would open and people would give me trust. And I was right. Even when I made mistakes, the trust remained, and I knew I would have the help I needed to get back up and try again. Alabama was good to me, and I learned to expect it. I didn’t even think about it.

It wasn’t until I moved to Ireland that I learned what it means to be an outsider. All of a sudden I was an immigrant who was totally unfamiliar with the deep assumptions and unwritten consensus of my new home. I made a lot of mistakes, following the rules I grew up with instead of the unfamiliar rules of Ireland.

People were forgiving, but I soon began to realise that something was different. In Alabama, I was a homegrown local boy the community had invested themselves in. I was one of them, and they wanted me to succeed. They cheered me on, and I can still hear those cheers now, all the way across the ocean. In Ireland, I appeared out of nowhere as an unknown, a “blow-in” with no roots, no investment, no history. People were friendly, yes, but many were also suspicious, and how could I blame them? Who wouldn’t be?

It didn’t take long for me to realise that I was going to have to prove myself, and that all my qualifications and experience from America would do nothing to help me. I was going to have to start over from scratch, and this time I would have natural suspicion instead of natural trust from many of the people around me. If I had to describe that realisation in one word, it would be this: Lonely. I could no longer have the underlying confidence that I would always be supported by a wide community where I had deep roots. I was on my own this time.

Ten years later, I’ve learned a lot about how to fit in Ireland, what is expected of me, and what people mean when they say “I will, yeah” (they won’t). Ireland has been working her way under my skin, while I’ve been working hard to win her trust. In many ways I’ve gained it, and she’s given me great opportunities. I also have deep friendships with people I know will help me whenever I need it, even when I mess up. Without a natural reason to trust me, they have chosen to do so anyway. These are blessings, and I know it.

I also know that I will never have in Ireland (or anywhere else) what I had in Alabama. I won’t be able to relax in the natural camaraderie of a shared cultural history. I won’t be able to draw on a reservoir of native goodwill like the one I left behind with those who invested in my growth, those I grew up to resemble. I live in a land of other people’s reservoirs now. None of this is Ireland’s fault, so how can I complain if I’m treated differently sometimes? I know it isn’t deliberate. It’s just the natural result of not having natural ties. Wouldn’t I do the same? Haven’t I?

All things considered, Ireland has gone out of its way to be welcoming and generous to this blow-in. And yet, there are still occasional reminders of my status. There are times when I know, without having to be told, that my words have less weight than those of others. Other times, people find ways to tell me. Sometimes it comes from strangers, like the time I was in a slow queue at Lidl and the lady in front of me explained the delay by saying: “Sure, they’re all foreigners anyway.” I kept my mouth shut, because I knew my accent would give me away as a foreigner, too.

I can’t always keep my mouth shut, though. Wherever I go, I bring my accent with me, not only on my words, but also on my ways of thinking and my basic assumptions. I know I’m different. I know it can be hard for people to understand where I’m coming from, and I know that means I will always have to work harder to earn their trust.

I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m genuinely thankful for the experience of being an immigrant. It has reshaped my heart in ways I wouldn’t trade for all the natural trust in the world. Knowing I have to work harder to get the same hearing and opportunity that is freely given to others (as it was freely given to me in Alabama) has humbled me and shown me how I took that trust for granted and thought of it as my birthright, never considering the experience of those who didn’t enjoy the same advantages I had.

Overcoming the natural suspicion of others has strengthened my resolve, while simultaneously softening my attitude towards those I naturally tend to suspect. Experiencing the trust extended by people who have no natural reason to give it has taught me what grace looks like and has spurred me on to do the same for others.

I know my experience is not unique. I wonder how many Irishmen in Alabama could tell a similar story in reverse? Anyone who has left their home and their roots in order to replant their lives in a new place has likely tasted some of the same things, whether in a new country or a new county. As for me, I love my new home, and I’m proud to be able to call myself a citizen of Ireland, where being a blow-in has made me a better man.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Seth Lewis has lived on the south coast of the Republic of Ireland for the last ten years with his wife Jessica; two of their three children were born there. He works with a network of local churches who are committed to church planting and also assists with a local Bible college and youth camp ministry. Before moving overseas, Seth worked with a church in Virginia. His accent doesn’t really fit anywhere anymore, and he’s okay with that. You can find him online at sethlewis.ie.

I Belong to You

by Laura Hope

As a child, my parents moved often. We left Israel when I was 3 years old only to move from state to state in the USA for the next ten years due to my father’s work. When we came back to Israel when I was 13, I struggled with a sense of belonging and my identity. As the years went by, I continued to struggle. Living as a Christian amongst Muslims and Jews was complicated. As a teenager, I learned the art of adapting and becoming like a chameleon to fit in. 

After an attempt to set fire to the congregation we attended, a fear came over me and I did not talk much about my faith.  I remember when I was just 13, the next-door neighbor kids stoned my brother and me because we were seen attending the Feast of Tabernacles. Their parents were invited to go and they happened to see us there, and the persecution began. When we left the apartment, they amazingly apologized for that incident. After my car accident at age 17, I broke free from some of that fear and the Lord helped me to share my testimony to most of the Aliwhites and Druze in the Golan. In the year 2000, there was a huge open door.

After completing my BA in Theology in Jerusalem, that fear of not belonging came again. Being born in Israel and spending many years in Metulla in a Jewish village, with a family that had a ministry to the Arabs, I was misunderstood by many Arab and Jewish believers who either thought I loved the Jews too much or that I loved the Arabs too much. I felt I would always be a foreigner and never fit in or belong, even though I was born in this country.

At one point I was seriously trying to do DNA testing to find out if we did have Jewish heritage because of Jewish names we had in our family from Holland. But in the end, I felt it was chasing the wind and it could hinder possibly other open doors God was giving me. When it came to marriage, I wanted someone on equal terms as myself.  That meant someone who would accept me for who I was and to whom I would not have to prove myself. 

When Remi came into my life, I did not feel that it mattered to him what I was. He could have cared less if I was Arab or Jew or African. He just liked me and pursued me. I was attending a seminar shortly after we were married, and someone who always made me feel rejected and nervous walked into the room. Remi whispered in my ear, “Do not worry, you belong to me now.” Somehow that woke me up and gave me a huge sense of security.

I think this is what God wants us to remember. God wants to whisper in our ear and assure us that we belong to him. We are not our own. If we can hold on to the promise of the one to whom we belong, we will find our hearts at home. It is easy for me to forget whom I belong to! In a land of so much insecurity, one can easily lose their focus on eternity and how our kingdom is not of this world.

Recently, my son was having trouble at school, and I was questioning whether it was time to move him to a different school or home school him. We resolved the issue and he is still in the same class. When I told an acquaintance that I was struggling with whether to home school him or not, she asked me a question: “Do you want your son to suffer from not belonging as you have?” This person felt it was more important that he felt as if he belonged to the group, and then find private lessons tailored to him.

I must say I do not want my son to have to deal with this feeling of not belonging, but the other half of me wants him to realize that as believers there is something more important than fitting in. If we can hold on to God and allow him to place his love as a seal on our hearts, we will find security that will not be shaken. Because truly we are like Father Abraham who himself was a stranger or alien in the promised land.

We are strangers believing by faith that we will reach a Golden City of the New Jerusalem that is to come. I want my son to base his sole identity NOT in his school or his peers, but on the one to whom he belongs. Whom do you belong to? To whom have you given your heart? Does it belong to your Beloved, the King of Kings?

God wants to cover us like a mother hen and bring comfort to his people. He wants to sing over us with songs of love. He wants us to know deep down and say, “I am my Beloved’s and He is mine.” Knowing this down deep will bring a deep sense of security that the world does not give.

If you have ever suffered from the feeling of not belonging, I want to invite you to look to the One whose heart is so ravished by you! Our God takes delight in you, and he wants you to belong to him. He wants to place his seal upon you so you will never forget that you belong to Him. He wants to sing over you with songs of joy.

Lift up your eyes and find comfort from under his wings. Let him surround you with the wings of his presence so that you know that it does not matter where you went to school, where you have lived, where you are from, or what job you work at, but what most matters is that you never forget that you are not your own, you belong to your Beloved.

Originally published here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Laura Hope grew up as a third culture kid, she has been directing the Heavenly Light Bookshop since 2009. She has a blog, poetofdreams.com. She holds a BA in Theology. She has two boys nearly 8 and 7 years old. Her hobbies are herbalism, exploring ancient Biblical sites, and art. She is currently residing in Jerusalem and she loves to encourage and inspire others in their pilgrimage of the heart.

When Re-Entry is Hard

by Lauren Neal

No one can prepare you for re-entry, not even your closest friends and family who have walked alongside of you through this season. Neither can a countless number of books and podcasts nor accumulated hours spent in therapy. Oh, or copious amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and rum (Barbancourt to be precise).

Re-entry, often disguised as the word “transition” (but dear Lord, if you ever catch me using the t-word just slap me across the face), is like re-birth. But this time, you’re not a screaming, crying infant; you’re a screaming, crying adult, and you come out of the womb with the expectation to walk and talk, and spell out your 5-year-plan to the acquaintance you run into at the grocery store, not out of interest, but out of obligation. Except you’re tongue-tied and heart broken and wondering how to choose from the umpteen flavors and brands of ice cream that will actually remain frozen in the trunk of your car on your ride home.

Home.

That’s a funny word now. Well, no. It’s not really funny at all. It’s actually rather frustrating and confusing and debilitating because the aisle, where you’ve just experienced this uncomfortable encounter, feels foreign in spite of its familiarity. Former normalities just don’t feel normal anymore. I personally envision home as this imaginary place where I could somehow supernaturally pull Haiti’s coastline up to the border of Cincinnati, along with all the other places that have claimed the people I love, and squish together my two houses and merge together my two lives and live happily ever after, together. But alas, that seems like a rather lofty task and unfortunately, Ohio’s geographic coordinates might prove to make that an unfeasible reality.

So now, I’m stuck holding a basket full of overpriced luxury food items in a grocery store smack dab in the middle of the Midwest, trying to muster up the strength to tell said acquaintance that I, in fact, have no plan. Yep, you read that right. Zero plan. Talk about an utter disappointment. (If you’re reading this and realize we’ve had one of these encounters, don’t worry—it’s not you, it’s definitely me).

After recovering from my conversation, I get in my car and turn the key in the ignition, and drive back to my residency in a mere three minutes, all without hitting any potholes or laying on my horn five times or receiving the middle finger accompanied by a slew of profane Creole expletives. Then, I park and I climb the stairs of my apartment only to feel the rush of the air conditioner as I open the front door, a reminder that Haiti is so far away. Finally, to ease that hole in my heart, I reach for the ice cream pint, a trusted emotional remedy, and eat it straight out of the carton because, come on, ice cream fixes everything (at least momentarily).

Dessert aside, it’s been a whole year and a half since I returned from Haiti, and yet I still feel caught in the phase of re-entry, filled with a million questions.

Who am I?

What is my purpose now?

Does anyone even care about me anymore?

Why don’t people ask?

Do they even know how hard this is?

Will I be stuck in Cincinnati forever?

Will I ever live in Haiti again?

When will I get over this?

You know how when you come back into the United States after being abroad and you go through customs, there are those TSA security guys who do one final check of your passport, like a just-in-case precautionary measure? They typically ask you where you’ve been and why you’ve been there. And after they’ve confirmed that the photo and information on the passport is, in fact, you, they’ll close your little book of adventure stamps, your pass to international freedom, and hand it back to you as they proclaim, “Welcome home.” Two simple words, yet unparalleled gravity.

Welcome home.

While I lived abroad, this expression delighted me. It was exhilarating like I’d just accomplished something genuinely extraordinary. But on December 20, 2017, this once uplifting gesture felt numbingly defeating. Soul-crushing. An audible end of an era. Welcome home. Home? Where is home now? Little did I know then, as I held back tears in the international quarters of the Atlanta airport, that it was only the first of many comments to come that would provoke feelings of failure.

No one can prepare you for re-entry. No one can prepare you for when you’ll feel the emotions or why you’ll feel them. (Thank God my computer monitor is large enough at work to shield those moments of vulnerability.)

There’s no formula. No step-by-step guide. No “Re-Entry for Dummies.” No 5 Ways to Conquer your Re-Entry for Ultimate Success articles or webinars (is it just me or is there a list for everything now?).

The intensity of a purpose-filled life was so real. The thrill. The excitement. The notion that every day was new. Don’t get me wrong. Even now, in Cincinnati, Ohio, every single day has purpose, and I’m such an advocate that every twist and turn, every choice and every missed opportunity, is woven into chapters to form our individual journeys and collective stories, each uniquely whole.

But it’s just different now, and in a way I struggle to articulate. There are high-highs and lower-lows. As an introvert, I often choose to hermit myself because sometimes I feel like my presence can be a burden. They don’t want to hear about Haiti again, right? Bless my sweet friends who put up with my tireless venting.

Many days, I feel like I’m aimlessly treading into an unknown abyss, like I’m moving forward but with no real direction. The precision of my former “calling” has now all but dissipated entirely, and I feel like I’m piecing together a puzzle with no resolve.

I miss my life as I dwell on the memories and scroll through social media. I forget about the stuff that ultimately led to my burnout and romanticize the good and wonder, was it really that hard? Though I know in my heart that yes, it really was that hard.

Now, even after a year and a half, I spend my short commute to work vocalizing my need for a grateful heart, praying that God would help me to get through another day, that I might find contentment right where I am, hoping his hand will guide me as I piece together this complex puzzle.

Throughout this season, I’ve, no doubt, experienced significant, life-giving healing and restoration thanks to a community of people who have carried me when my feet could not support the weight of my body. But it doesn’t discount those moments of pain and struggle and grief. Sometimes, the guilt and the deep wounds I harbor inside unexpectedly surface to remind me that perhaps this process will last a lifetime.

Sometimes, I go to happy hour and I shop online and I eat ice cream out of the pint and I enjoy my life.

Sometimes, I wallow in self-pity and I feel overwhelmingly discouraged and I cry and I loathe my life.

Yet, in spite of all of that, God is sovereign. And I choose to trust that his purpose always prevails even when my hope grows dim and my faith is distant.

It’s okay to feel all these things at once and it’s okay not have everything figured out. It’s okay to trudge through the barren wasteland. And when you’re tired, it’s okay to stop and to sit and rest. And then, it’s also okay to fall flat on your face and sob uncontrollably. But, on the other hand, it’s okay to be happy and to feel proud of your progress, to relish in the small victories and to forget about the pain. After a long season in the desert, it’s okay to feel rehydrated and refreshed. And finally, it’s okay to question and doubt and feel angry about former theologies and beliefs you once had, the same ones that even led to your second home in the first place.

My friend, wherever it is you find yourself, let me shout it from the rooftops: It. Is. Okay.

And next time you’re in the grocery store and you have one of these awkward run-in’s, give yourself a little extra grace. Whether it’s been a week, a month, a year, or ten years, you have the permission to feel exactly what you are feeling. The departure from your second home doesn’t devalue or diminish your love and affection for it. It just makes the separation that much more difficult.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to reach out when you need to, to share the feelings weighing on your heart, and to confide in those who have loved you along the way. They may not may understand all the pieces of your story, but they’ll remind you that you’re not alone. Because after all, we’re in this together.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lauren Neal is a writer, a photographer, and a recovering missionary. Though her heart is in Haiti, her feet are planted in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she’s learning to pick up the pieces of a new life. An introvert, she enjoys spending time with her family and close friends. And of course, on occasion, she indulges in her favorite, Graeter’s mint chocolate chip ice cream. You can find her online at www.laurenneal.com and on Instagram.

When Did This Place Become Home?

by Beth

If I am completely honest, I think I spent our first two years in Central Asia longing to go home to our home country (or even to the USA where we had lived for a short while). I would pray: Your will God but deep down I was hoping that His will was that we wouldn’t be here long.

Now that we have lived here for a while, something has changed. I’m not sure what it is. I still have days of high culture stress and I still get frustrated with my poor mastery of the language, but something inside of me has shifted.

My husband visited our landlords who live two doors from us, to pay rent and the conversation they had went something like this:

Landlord: How long have you been living in our house now?

My husband: More than five years.

Landlord: Really? I thought it was only three and a half years! We’ve learnt how to trust each other.

My husband: We so appreciate that we’ve been able to stay so long. Friends of ours have had to move three times in the time we’ve lived in your house because each time their landlords needed the home for themselves or relatives to live in.

Landlords: Yes, that won’t happen with us (they live with their daughter)Although when our grandson gets married, he will need a house (their grandson is ten years old now!). But actually, when he gets married then he and his wife can just move in with your family and his wife will be your kelen  (daughter-in-law who does all the housework and cooking in this culture)!

My husband and I laughed when he told me about this exchange, but there really is a sweetness in all of it. Our landlords are content with us living in their house and they can see us being here for a lot longer. For our family this house is our home. When did that happen? When did this house filled with furniture I didn’t choose (and never would!) – this house painted with whitewash and sparkling, beaded Central Asian style curtains hanging in the windows – start feeling like home?

I was watching my son play in his under 12 basketball game and one boy completely missed a pass. A friend sitting next to me said: “These boys have many years playing together to get this right. By the time they’re in high school they would have been playing basketball with each other for so long that they won’t miss a pass like that.” And in that moment the longing for my son to be able to continue playing basketball for this school was so strong that it felt like an ache and I found myself silently praying: “Lord, please can we stay till our kids finish school here?”

When did this place become home? When did it happen that instead of longing to leave, I have a longing NOT to leave?

We often quote from Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (NIV). This life in Central Asia is very different from the plans I had hoped for, but despite this, my family is not being harmed and God is using it to prosper us. This is so different from what I ever imagined home to be, but it is good because it’s what God has given us; we are part of God’s story.

Once again, I find myself kneeling before God and praying: “Your will God, however long you want us to serve here.” But now, deep down I’m hoping that it will be His will that we stay for many more years. I know that being here is temporary, we are still strangers in a foreign land reliant on visas and the kindness of a foreign government and reliant on the support we receive each month. But ultimately, we’re fully reliant on God, He brought us here and He will keep us here until He calls us elsewhere.

Originally published at OM.

Read Beth’s companion piece here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Beth is from the global South, and she loves the ocean and cold Christmas dinner on a hot day around the pool. She is married to an adventurer, and they have three wonderfully unique children.

Looking for a Place to Land

by Kate Motaung

I was a few weeks shy of twenty-one, and my plan was to stay in South Africa for five months. But just as my childhood stay in a renovated pump house stretched into a decade, what I thought would be a few months overseas morphed into ten and a half years. God’s plan kept me there and stained my heart with Rooibos tea and red African soil.

Over ten years, I moved ten times, bookended by my initial move to South Africa, and then back again to West Michigan. Time and time again with each new rental apartment, each borrowed house, I desperately tried to convince myself that I was content. But the truth was, when I was here, I wanted to be there, and when I was there, I wanted to be here.

At first, all I wanted was to hang pictures on the walls without fear of our landlord inspecting the drywall at the end of our lease. To pound a nail into fresh paint and transform a bland house into my signature flavor. But after a chain of rented apartments and long-term house-sitting stints, I lost interest in making any effort. Knowing we’d be moving again soon stifled my desire to settle. Sometimes I didn’t even bother to unwrap the scented candles from their swaths of newspaper. In the last few rentals, I even left the framed family photos tucked away in their Bubble Wrap, knowing that I would just have to rewrap them soon anyway. As we packed suitcases and boxes for the umpteenth time, I felt the burden of exile. The weight of my wandering.

Then finally, I understood. This whole life is a rental. This whole body of mine is a borrowed house. And sometimes it’s a good thing to be discontent with where we are, because this is not it. It’s a good thing to feel like we’re not at home and to long for another, for permanence, for stability, because we’re not home yet. Having been washed by the astounding grace of the cross, praise God, my citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).

My life sprawled out between the parentheses of two continents. This is living in the “in between”—between the fall and redemption, the already and the not yet, between hope’s longing and fulfillment. Where time passes with the click of a mouse and drags like a whiny toddler down a grocery store aisle. Where graves are dug and happiness buried. Where bees and words sting, and hopes are ripped off like stubborn bandages. Where victory has been accomplished, but Christ has not yet returned.

God took my definition of home, tore it up, and tossed it out the passenger seat window, where it caught the southeaster, never to be seen again. He opened to that chapter of my soul where the ink is faded, the yellowed pages transparent from vigorous scribbles and constant erasing. For years, I obsessed over the pursuit of home. It always felt just out of reach. Visible, but unattainable. Now I see I had it all wrong. Home in its truest sense—my eternal home—is exactly the opposite. It’s attainable but not visible. Attainable only because of Christ’s work on the cross and His gift of faith to me. Invisible for a little while longer, “for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). It took me decades to figure out that home is partly about where I’m from, yes—but home is far more about where I’m heading.

Home is more than just a place—it’s a promise.

God took the tug-of-war that waged in my soul, the thick rope that spanned across the ocean, and yanked from both sides. He cut it clean through the middle, somewhere over the depths of the Atlantic. And He made me look up. To see that the greatest and strongest pull is neither east nor west, neither here nor there. It’s the heavenward pull.

It’s the pull toward home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Author’s note: This post was an excerpt from my memoir, A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging. It appears near the end, as I reflect on the consequences of my decision to spend the final semester of my cross-cultural missions degree in Cape Town, South Africa. I ended up meeting and marrying a South African man, and we now have three children.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kate Motaung is the author of A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and BelongingA Start-Up Guide for Online Christian Writers, and Letters to Grief, and co-author of Influence: Building a Platform that Elevates Jesus (Not Me). She is the host of Five Minute Friday, an online community that encourages and equips Christian writers, and owner of Refine Services, a company that offers writing, editing, and digital marketing services. Kate blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Citizens of Heaven: Third Culture Kids and the Longing for Home

by Tanya Crossman

When I wrote Misunderstood, there were a lot of smaller topics that came up in interviews which didn’t really fit into the narrative of the book. I was recently able to spend some time on one of these side topics for a research thesis titled: “A place to call home: citizenship in heaven for TCKs.” I interviewed nine Christian TCKs aged 19-26 (from a range of backgrounds and nationalities) and surveyed another 92 Christian TCKs.

In this post and its sequel, I’m going to explain a little of the two main findings of my research. In short: knowing their citizenship in heaven brings TCKs comfort, and also provides a powerful tool for discipleship.

 

Home and Belonging

The TCKs I interviewed talked about ‘home’ in the context of emotional connections. Home means loved ones, especially immediate family members (34%) and communities they belong to (11.5%). Only 16.5% of those surveyed connected home with a single place.

“For TCKs the word home is more of a concept, as opposed to a place.” – Nadia

“Physical location can be important, but the familiarity of a place is more often than not defined by the people and the interactions you have. For me, that is home.” – Lee

Since home is something that is connected to people, home can move – whether you like it or not. Home is something that can be lost. A community disperses, and so does the sense of home. A family moves on, and suddenly a place that was home is no longer accessible.

“I lost my home, where I used to be. I have many places I could have called home, but now there’s no core community there, it simply wouldn’t feel like home anymore.” – Kaito

Many TCKs go through life aching for a single place to call home, and knowing that what they long for is impossible. There is no earthly way to bring their experiences of home together in a single place.

“To [my passport country peers] home is a familiar place, but to me my family is home. My home is not here, because they’re not here. When I go visit them it’s not really familiar either. I miss places that I’ve never been to, or not been in long. . .My home is literally in three or four countries now, maybe five sometimes.” – Min

Citizenship in heaven answers a deep felt need in TCKs for something that does not exist for them on earth: a singular, comprehensive source of home.

 

The hope of heaven as home

77% of the TCKs I surveyed identified with feeling foreign on earth. The idea that there is a home for them located outside the complications of earthly allegiances is powerful. 80% said citizenship in heaven is comforting. This comfort was strikingly demonstrated in interviews, where some of these TCKs considered for the first time what the idea of heaven as home means for their transition-weary hearts.

“As a TCK or someone who is searching for their home or where they belong, having concepts like citizenship in heaven help us, or give us hope that one day we will belong somewhere.” – Nadia

“Heaven is my home so it’s okay that I’m so confused about where my home is, because maybe there isn’t one here, there’s one there. It’s a huge relief. If you don’t feel like you’re at home, that’s okay, because God is your home.” Alexis

Although heaven is a place not seen, even this connects with the TCK experience. TCKs grow up in a place that isn’t ‘home’ – knowing that somewhere else, on the other end of a long journey, is a place that is really ‘home’. A place they know through the stories of others, rather than in their own experience. TCKs’ complicated relationship with ‘home’ on earth makes heaven as home a powerful truth.

“Currently I’m a citizen of Singapore, that may change, but the constant of being a citizen of heaven is always reassuring to have. . .It’s an overwhelming thought, especially as someone who doesn’t really have a home to go back to every time. It’s nice to know that in the future, in the long term, in the prospect of eternity, I actually do have somewhere I do belong.” Min

 

An inclusive kingdom

There are no distinctions between Christians; all are fellow citizens, with the same rights and responsibilities (Ephesians 2:19). This beautiful truth is powerfully illustrated in Revelation, where people from every earthly place and allegiance gather together to worship the One God (Revelation 5:9-10, 7:9-10). Heaven embraces and includes peoples currently divided by geography, ethnicity, and language.

Several TCKs I interviewed picked up on the idea that heaven is inclusive: a place where people of all nations and languages are bound together as a single people in a single place, where there is distinction but no division. What comfort this brings to the 62% of TCKS who said they feel at home in international or multicultural communities. The place they long for, the place they know doesn’t exist on earth, is real – and it is their eternal home.

“I have this dream of a country that’s completely multicultural. . .I do think that it should be stressed how much relief it brings me, knowing that I’m going to get that… because it’s something that you’re always aching for, and never think you’re going to get, and then realising… I’ll actually get it when I go to heaven. And when you’re 13 and you’re 14 and you don’t belong anywhere, and you feel that there’s no place that’s home, it would have been nice to know, to have this as a curriculum, and to know that it’s completely fine if you don’t have a home…I don’t belong anywhere. But there is somewhere, and that’s great!” – Alexis

The hope we have in Christ comprehensively answers the longings of human hearts, and a key longing for TCKs (one they often feel is hopeless) is for home, a place to belong. The kingdom of heaven is what their hearts long for – and this is a powerful message.

This comfort alone makes citizenship in heaven an important piece of theology to teach to TCKs. This was where I thought my thesis might end, but I discovered another important way that TCKs interact with the concept of citizenship in heaven. Stay tuned for my concluding post to learn more.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tanya Crossman spent most of her childhood as a local in Australia and most of her adulthood as an expat in China (with stops in the U.S. and Cambodia). Along the way she unexpectedly turned into an expert on millennial TCKs, wrote a book, and starting travelling the world to speak on her favourite topic: why TCKs are awesome and how to serve them well. After completing an MDiv in Australia, she recently got married (to a TCK) and moved back to Beijing. Now she’s enjoying rediscovering everything she loves about China! She can be found online far too often, usually on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and occasionally at her website.

On Home and Keeping Place

Longing for home

“Home is a human place. Instinctively, each of us, male and female, knows the sound of its welcome – and the joy of our possible return.

This community knows the challenge of creating home in odd spaces and places around the globe. We also know what it is to be homesick, to long for familiar sights and sounds, to occasionally cry during the dark of night, reaching out to a God who created place.

In her newly released book, Keeping Place – Reflections on the Meaning of Home, Jen Pollock Michel writes about this human longing. The back cover eloquently conveys what the book extends to the reader:

“Keeping Place offers hope to the wanderer, help to the stranded,and a new vision of what it means to live today with our longings for eternal home.”

I had the privilege of reading an advance copy of Keeping Place. Throughout my reading, I thought about my upbringing, as well as the many moves I have made in my adult life. I also thought about this community and the ways we leave one home and create a new one, always aware that in home and place, the temporal and the eternal meet.

I asked Jen if she would meet with our community here at A Life Overseas and talk about the book – which really means have a conversation about home and place.

I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did!

Interview with Jen Pollock Michel

Can you give us a sense of how you came to write a book about place and home? 

I feel like I’ve spent my entire life searching for home. This is partially because we were a very typically mobile American family during my childhood: my dad chased the tail of opportunity, and we moved for those opportunities. And although I wanted to give a more rooted life to my own children, we’ve also moved a lot for my husband’s career, including a move to Canada six years ago.

But it’s not just mobility that has left me longing for home. I’ve also experienced a lot of loss in my life: the premature death of my father, the suicide of my brother, a sometimes emotionally distant relationship with my mother. It’s these life experiences that springboard a Scriptural exploration throughout the book.

You currently live in Toronto, Canada – a place where you didn’t grow up and a country where you don’t legally hold citizenship. How has living where you are a guest shaped your view of home?

It’s now been six years that we’ve had no permanent immigration status in Canada, so I’m writing about home from the “stranger” perspective, for sure. In an ex-pat life, the longings for permanence and belonging are particularly acute, and it’s easy, of course, to nostalgically think of the place we’ve left behind as the home that would settle those longings.

But truthfully, I’ve realized in writing the book that these longings aren’t just characteristic of the ex-pat life. It’s not as if we’re the only ones to feel dislocation in this world. No, I think it’s most true to say that exile is the human experience and has been since Genesis 3 when we left the Garden behind. This exile can be dislocation geographically, but it can also be estrangement in our relationships with others and most importantly, with God.

What truths (characteristics) of God did you learn through writing this book? 

Probably most importantly, I’ve begun to see God is as “homemaker.” That word tends, for many Westerners, to connote a woman who abandons career to stay at home with her children, and this conception has given us a very narrow view of homemaking. But to look carefully at the arc of Scripture (which begins and ends at home) is to see a homemaking God. At the very beginning, Genesis 1 drives toward this idea that God is making a habitable world for his people. “It is good” is a way for God to say, “It is homelike. People can live here.” And then of course in Revelation, we see God bringing heaven to earth and welcoming his children to dwell with him.

For me, a view of God’s homemaking inspires a whole new affective quality to his work of redemption. It’s not just that God has sent Jesus so that he can “acquit” sinners in a kind of impersonal legal transaction. It’s that God has made His own Son a stranger for our sake.

Salvation isn’t just pardon: it’s welcome. It’s homecoming.

In Keeping Place, you speak of God as a “housekeeping” God. How did you come to this description? 

I didn’t expect that “housekeeping” would become as big a theme in the book as it did, but I started to see that it was a word that could make sense of the tension between the “now” and the “not yet.” In one sense, we are experiencing “home” with God now through the work of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. In other sense, we’re waiting on “home”—groaning, along with the rest of creation, to see this broken world put to rights. Housekeeping is a word that seemed to speak to the activity of the in-between. In other words, we may not have “home” in the fullest sense of that word, but we do have the “housekeeping”—the call to embodied, emplaced acts of love in the world.

I think we can fairly say that housekeeping is work that God himself took up through Jesus Christ when he took on flesh and entered the world, eventually to suffer death. He didn’t love at a distance. He implicated himself in the world’s grief. As the prophet Isaiah says, Jesus was a suffering servant.

This is what I’m thinking of when I say that God is not just a homemaking God but a housekeeping God.

How has Keeping Place shaped your practical view of home?  

As I’ve just said, “housekeeping” is a concept that became central to the book and has been very meaningfully to me personally. In my own experience, displacement has sometimes left me feeling stuck. To feel impermanent in a place, it’s easy to choose disinvestment and to idealize the “far” over the near. Housekeeping is the word that draws me back to the near. Who is God calling me to love and serve in the place that I’m in? What is the particular suffering of the people closest to me—in my family, my neighborhood, my city? And to borrow from Henri Nouwen, what are ways that God is moving me into the role of the prodigal father in order that I might express his love and welcome? I can get stuck in my own feeling of homesickness—or I could work to help others discover the gospel promise of home.

Housekeeping is also a word to remind me about the nature of love. It’s not usually going to be glamorous. It’s often going to go unnoticed and unappreciated. It is never a once-and-done work. But when the church of Jesus Christ takes up the “housekeeping” for their cities, when we do it for the love of God and love of neighbor, I believe we witness to the reality of a homemaking God and a permanent, eternal home.

In the article “Refugees don’t need your pity” the author says this: “Rootlessness — the implied weakness of it — is treated as a failure. That is plainly schizophrenic: In a world where one in seven people is displaced, the failure must be of planetary scale. It belongs to all of us. This is a century of dislocation not merely of body and home, but also of empathy, dignity, compassion.” How does Keeping Place address this statement? 

In Keeping Place, I’ve tried to say that all of humanity is suffering from homesickness. If we acknowledge the three biblical dimensions of home that I draw out in the book (home as geographical connection, home as social bond, home as friendship with God), then at some level, we’re all feeling rootless. We’re feeling displaced. We’re all suffering the nostalgia of what was lost in Genesis 3. This could be because we’ve moved. But it might also be that our parents are divorced or we’re spiritually unmoored.

One temptation that Christians often face is to downplay home as geographical connection, which is why I do want to say that physical rootlessness is a very real grief in our age. We don’t have the connection to land that previous generations did. Wendell Berry is a contemporary novelist, who draws out the kind of suffering this produces. It’s easy sometimes as Christians to approach home in a very “gnostic” way: we make it mean our connection with God or human community. But from Scripture, I don’t think we can avoid that place is a very important dimension of home. When the kingdom of God comes to earth, we’re not going to live ghostly lives in the clouds. We’re going to live embodied lives in a city.

The gospel gives credence to the importance of physical place and roots.

The ALOS community is a community that knows what it is to pack up their luggage, homes, and hearts. How might your book on home encourage them? 

I’d go straight to chapter 4 and the story of Jacob. When I was studying the life of Jacob, I was so fascinated that the Hebrew scholar, Robert Alter, called him a man of the “liminal places.” Alter was the one who helped me see that every time we find Jacob in the book of Genesis, he’s at a border of some kind.

Who’s meeting Jacob in all of these in-between places? God. God himself. God is the stability that Jacob doesn’t have. I can’t think of a more consoling thought for those of us whose lives have included a lot of packing up, crossing borders, and leaving things behind.

Someone is there to meet us on that journey. And one day, he’s bringing us home.

___________________________

jen michel

Jen Pollock Michel is the award-winning author of Teach Us to Want and Keeping Place. She writes widely for print and digital publications and travels to speak at churches, conferences, and retreats. Jen holds a B.A. in French from Wheaton College and an M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University. She is married to Ryan, and they have five school-age children. Their family attends Grace Toronto Church (Canada). You can follow Jen on Twitter @jenpmichel.

The Far Side of Somewhere

I remember my first home service. All those awkward experiences like drinking water from the tap and flushing the toilet with potable water again. Or feeling naked and exposed with no metal security bars on the windows. Or handing payment to cashiers with two hands (like I do in Cambodia) and then being embarrassed, because normal people don’t do that here.

What was up with the laundry smelling nice, all the time? (Come to think of it, what was up with everything smelling nice, all the time?) Could a load of laundry really take a mere two hours to complete, all the way from wash to wear, without having to hang on the line for two or three days in rainy season and still be damp — and smelling of fire and whatever dish the neighbors last cooked over said fire??

I wanted someone to explain to me why Americans felt the need to store hot water in a tank. Seemed like such a waste of energy when you could use a tankless water heater instead, thereby providing a never-ending source of hot water for yourself. (Running out of hot water in the winter is a big problem for me.)

Today I’m facing another home service. I’ll click publish on this blog post and leave my Cambodia home. I’ll board a plane and begin the process of temporarily re-entering my American home. I need to go. It’s time. After a second two-year stint in this country, culture fatigue has hit me hard. I’m worn out from the collective sin patterns of this culture, and I need a break. I love Cambodia, and I sometimes need a break from Cambodia.

Still, there’s nothing like preparing to go on home service for bringing on an identity crisis. Who am I, and where do I belong? I live in this city and traverse its Asian streets, all without quite belonging to them. Yet I don’t quite belong to the immaculately clean American streets I’ll soon be walking, either. Belonging is a slippery feeling for a global nomad. It can be everywhere, and it can be nowhere, all at the same time.

Nevertheless, when I walk in the door of my parents’ house tomorrow, I know I will once more experience the words of Bernard Cook, words that hung on the walls of every one of my childhood homes: “We need to have people who mean something to us; people to whom we can turn, knowing that being with them is coming home.” Growing up in a military family, I always knew Home was with my family. Home is with the people I love.

And as a Christian, I know Home is with God Himself. I love these words from Christine Hoover’s book From Good to Grace: “With Christ as my city, I can traipse all over the globe and never once not be at home. Because I dwell in His grace.” Christine knows a bit about this unmoored feeling of mine. She and her husband didn’t cross country borders when they moved to Virginia to church plant, but in leaving their home state of Texas to follow God’s leading, they certainly crossed the kind of deep cultural divide that make you wonder where in the world you belong.

I want Christ to be my city. I want to dwell in Him. The best part about finding home and belonging in Him is that He goes with me wherever I go. Psalm 139 is a gift to us global nomads in this regard. In verses 7 through 10, the Psalmist asks:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

When I moved to Cambodia nearly four years ago, I traveled west across the ocean on a morning flight, literally rising on the wings of the dawn. And when I stepped off the plane in Phnom Penh, I found that not only had God flown the skies with me, but that He was already here in this place — for I cannot flee from His presence. Even on the far side of the sea, He holds me fast. And no matter how deep the depths of my life, I know He is with me.

From now on, wherever I go and no matter which side of the sea I settle on, I will always be on the far side of somewhere I love. There is just no getting around that. But how precious of God to include David’s words in His Word. David could not have known about jet propulsion when he penned Psalm 139, but thousands of years later, his words are a balm to the global nomad’s soul. For we rise on the wings of the dawn, and we settle on the far side of the sea, and because God lives in us, we can find Home in every place He has made.

ocean-918998_1920c