“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed, if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desired a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” Hebrews 11:13-16 NAS
“Look! It’s a white person!”
I heard it often as I did my shopping in West African markets, sidestepping puddles, bargaining for fabric and shooing flies off the tomatoes I wanted to buy. The cry never failed to bring a crowd. You’d think only kids would do this, but I drew my share of gawking adults, too. “Wow, look … a real, live white person!” the crowd buzzed. Mostly, I ignored it, because it became the norm for me. Sometimes, when I was feeling sassy, I’d let my eyes get as wide as theirs, look over my shoulder and say in their language, “Really? Where? I don’t see her.”
And then, when my husband and I would travel deep into the bush, we’d encounter villagers who had never in their lives seen a Caucasian. Quite frankly, they didn’t know what we were. Little children have burst into tears at the mere sight of me. More than one woman has dropped her basket and run in terror.
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind: I was a stranger in West Africa. My accent was thick, my hair unruly. I couldn’t perform the simplest of feminine chores: winnow rice, chop firewood, pound millet.
And often, when the heat and frustration would roll over me, I’d long to return to the States. That was when God would whisper to my heart, “America is not your home. Heaven is.” Indeed. I was in Africa as a stranger, as an exile, but not of the United States. I was a displaced heavenly citizen. I had a home town alright. It was the city God is preparing for me.
Well, I’m back now. Typing in Texas, I am. And you know what? God was right. America is not my home. I am a stranger and exile here, too. My home is heaven. Oh, people don’t stop and stare at me anymore, but I’m weird just the same. I don’t follow U.S. patterns of thinking on a whole host of issues. And I am still called to make sacrificial choices, choices that advance God’s kingdom instead of my own. It’s just that it is harder to do it here, with materialism whispering in my ears and society telling me I’m wrong.
I’m not at home in the U.S.A. I wasn’t at home in Africa. The place I feel the most “fit”? Anywhere other Christians are gathered, worshipping our savior, serving him together. When I get together with other exiles and we can talk about home, yearn for home together, and work to show others the way to our home – well, that’s puts my homesickness at bay. That’s when I’m acting on who I really am …
A citizen of heaven, not of any country on Earth.