30 Mar Living Homesick
Living in Kenya, I’ve experienced varying levels of homesickness.
My feelings towards home have felt a bit like a roller coaster- with moments of exhilarating excitement in my new surroundings, times when my stomach drops suddenly and feelings of loneliness and longing rush me downward, and unanticipated twists and turns of cross-culture living that leave me with feelings of discomfort and dizziness.None of these experiences should surprise or alarm; it’s a part of the reality of living in a place that is not home. And, to be honest, these challenges are part of the draw for me to do what I do.
In all of it, I’m constantly reminded of a truth that’s a reality for each of us as Christians. This world is not our home. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we are only passing through. We are foreigners; we are not meant to feel the complete comfort or ease of home in this life. (Philippians 3:20-21)
There are innumerable implications for one who is a foreigner. Language, customs, values, and traditions differ, and I have often found myself lost and disoriented as I’ve tried to interact with those around me. In a room full of people, I’m the only one who does not speak their language. I’m easily left behind in conversations; it’s not unusual for me to smile confusedly while everyone in the room laughs at a joke or funny comment spoken in Swahili.
This world is not our home. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we are only passing through.
The food I’m served is unfamiliar; sometimes I am unable to even identify the ingredients. Greeting friends requires a handshake or a kiss on the cheek every time you see them. Women are expected to serve the food to the men and to modestly avoid wearing anything that would show their thighs. Being on time is not as important as being invested in the conversation once you get there. An open door policy reigns; anyone is welcome in your home at almost anytime.
These, among many other expectations and customs, create the challenge of living in a place that is not your home. However, what I find most intriguing is this: beneath all the color and music and tradition, culture presents to us something deeper and far more self-revealing. For all that is the surface of culture, there lies beneath it a set of core beliefs about reality. This worldview is the measuring stick for an entire group of people, and this explains why even as I learn to follow the cues and expectations of my host culture, I am still inherently American in my thinking and values.
Concepts such as the importance of time and efficiency, individualism and personal freedoms, and the value of hard work reign in our culture. Time is regarded as a personal possession, therefore I must use mine well and also show respect for yours. The success of each individual is raised above that of the group; I am urged to pursue my own dreams and achievements at any cost. Laziness is looked down upon as hard work and self-improvement show great character.
None of these values are fundamentally wrong or misplaced in themselves. But yet they are secondary. We would be remiss to claim their absolute universal value or to insist on their superiority to those priorities and values of other people groups. In as much as we find within ourselves a fierce loyalty to these above ideas, what we must remember is this: as followers of Jesus, we are called to be loyal to a different set of values and priorities. We must not allow ourselves to feel at home in this world. God’s Word often admonishes us to avoid conforming to the world in which we now live. Instead, each day should serve as a reminder to our souls that home is yet to come. The values of the world around us should stir something deep inside us and remind us that we are not where we belong.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to be loyal to a different set of values and priorities.
Granted, it’s quite possible to live comfortably in a culture that’s not yours. The feelings of unfamiliarity eventually wear off as you grow in your understanding of the people around you. Yet as Christians, we must guard against this in a spiritual sense. We must lead our minds and our hearts by setting our hope on the life to come. We must teach our souls to long for our eternal home. It is a discipline far too easy to overlook.
Even in the contentment and joy I found in Kenya, I never stopped living with my home in view. I understood that I was not a Kenyan, but a visitor in the country for a season. My daily life was inhabited by this tension- a tension of now and not yet, of hope fulfilled and hope to come, of being a part yet never quite belonging.
All too often, we are distracted by this life. We are busy rushing from one event to the next; we are comfortable building our kingdoms here in this life. The priorities of a world-focused life will eventually prove futile. We must choose to set our hope and to set our hearts on our eternal destination. For “godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)