I write this as two adopting families prepare to finally go home after months of living in Nicaragua with their orphans-no-more. One of the most challenging aspects of coming home after living abroad is in finding your way back into the culture. When you are immersed in it, as most U.S. citizens are for their whole lives, you don’t even realize how different it is from living elsewhere in the world. And when you spend a significant amount of time in a developing country — whether for a job, missions, or to adopt a child — those differences can sometimes feel painfully obvious.
I love my passport country. I love the freedom I have when I’m there and that everyone (well, almost everyone) speaks my language. I love the many friends and family connections there. I love that I can have just about anything I could ever want or need delivered to my door within a day or so (thanks to places like Amazon Prime). And I love that life is so easy there, at least when compared to live elsewhere.
But it is in the easy life that part of the problem lies.
Living away has taught me a lot about my struggle with independence. In Nicaragua, I am utterly dependent on God to get me through each day. When you just need to communicate with the appliance repairman, and to explain how you shouldn’t be smelling gas or feeling your eyes burn every time the oven is turned on, you say more prayers — for understanding, clarity, safety, and so on — than you might otherwise. When you could go to jail because the drunk, unlicensed motorcyclist who drove into your car is seriously injured — just because you have the bigger car and more money — you must rely on God’s provision and guidance to make it through. And when you have a loved one fighting a life-threatening illness, without access to any sort of emergency response system, you learn exactly what praying without ceasing means.
When I lived in the U.S., I didn’t really understand what dependence on God should look like… because I didn’t need to! I had 911, a huge assortment of top-notch medical providers who all speak my language, well-stocked grocery stores and pharmacies on every corner, an effective public school system, a fair judicial system, safe roadways, (mostly) effective laws, the latest and greatest technology, and pretty much anything else I could ever want or need.
Why would I need God amidst all of that? Exactly. And yet, I thought I had this whole Christ-follower thing figured out back when I lived amidst all of that.
Outside of my passport country, I am — and pretty much always will be — a foreigner. I am currently in Nicaragua, but I am not of Nicaragua. Because of that, life is neither easy or comfortable, and I often feel like I don’t belong… like I am living on the outside looking in. I suspect this is probably as close as I can get to what God commanded when He said (in Romans 12:2): “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, in order to prove by you what is that good and pleasing and perfect will of God.”
Why? Because this is not our home! We were created for an eternal home, so we’re all, technically, foreigners just passing through. Of course, in order to get there, we have to live here first. And that’s hard. I’m oh-so-tempted to fall in love with this world as I’m passing through…
When I eventually return to the States full time, I’ll no longer be a foreigner, but a native North American living in my homeland. I find it exponentially harder to not be of that land, when I am living in it. In other words, I find it a whole lot easier to conform and be defined by my world when I’m living in my home country.
And yet, we can’t always live apart from the place and culture of our birth, right? I mean, the vast majority of us will spend most of our lives in our passport country. So we must find ways to live in this world, but not be of it, no matter what language is spoken around us. There’s a MercyMe song that has become my mantra in this regard, and the chorus goes something like this:
Greater is the One living inside of me
Than he who is living in the world
I think those two lines might hold the key to this whole living in and not of business. If only I can remember that Christ — living in me — is greater than anything else. He is infinitely more beautiful, more worthy, more important, and more powerful than anything I could ever attain here. I’m sure I have a lot more to learn about how this is lived out, but I’m grateful for the knowledge that when my eyes are completely fixed on Christ — regardless of my physical address — all the noise around me fades away.
He is the only thing that matters. And when He is in me so much that He overflows into everything I do, my zip code (or lack thereof) seems inconsequential.
Ann Voskamp recently wrote about a similar topic. I find great encouragement in her words, so I will leave you with them:
In Christ, you’re a native of heaven right now. You aren’t a citizen of here trying to work into heaven. You’re a citizen of heaven trying to work through here… When your ethnicity is heaven, then all adversity offers the gift of intimacy, driving you into the home of His heart…
Because this is always it: All my brokenness is a whisper that I don’t belong, and every time I don’t feel like I belong, the Scarred and Rejected God whispers, “Come here, my beloved.”
And the longer I live, the more I feel like an exile. This is a gift. The exiled make His extravagant love their home.
We were made for heaven and Him and our heart beats hard for it.