Daddy, are we home yet?
“Daddy, are we home yet?” If I heard this sentence once, I must have heard it a thousand times, as my family travelled from South Africa to India. After sixteen hours of travel, two aeroplanes and a taxi ride we finally reached our home in India. My children were tired, but happy to be in their own bedrooms, and to play with their own toys, but mostly to see their friends and tell them about their adventures in South Africa. These conversations were mostly in Hindi and Marathi of course!
Keri and I realized long ago, that our children would grow up to be TCK’s - third culture kids. This is a term given to children who have grown up living abroad. All three of our children were born in India, but have South African passports. While we were on furlough, we tried our best to help our children develop their South African identity. We took them to rugby matches, encouraged their appetite for ‘biltong’, and spent as much time as we could in the ‘great outdoors’ including the Kruger National Park, spotting the ‘big 5’. But even after six months of furlough they still don’t regard themselves as South African. Ezra, my eldest son still would not eat ‘boerewors’ (farmer sausage) from the braai (BBQ) and requested instead his Indian food, dhal & rice.
As challenging as these circumstances are for Keri and I, we have been afforded the unique opportunity to explain to our children that for Christians, their real ‘home’ is in heaven. Yes, we may have a passport for whatever nation into which we were born, or which we chose to adopt; but that is not where our real citizenship is located.
The apostle Paul, reminds the Philippian church that even though they were a Roman colony, their ‘citizenship is in heaven’ (Php 3:20). Arthur Edward Brumley captured this truth that has struck a chord with many Christians, in the words of the gospel song:
This world is not my home I’m just passing through
my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
the angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
For Brumley, these words were penned out of the context of his upbringing in the poverty of Mid-America in the 1920’s and the Great Depression that followed. His Christian faith gave him a different perspective on the hardships that surrounded him and the hope of that better world that God has promised to his people.
As expats living in a foreign land this gospel truth can resonate with us and bring much joy and comfort. The book of Hebrews captures the deepest sense in which every true Christian lives so long as they remain in this world. Summing up how we as Christians are to cope with the demands of the life of faith in the ‘here and now’ the writer says, ‘For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come’ (Hebrews 13.14). Like our spiritual ancestors cited in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, we are ‘looking for a better country – a heavenly one’ (11.16) for ‘…the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God’ (11.10).
Peter uses the language of displaced persons when he addresses the scattered believers of his day as those who are ‘strangers in the world’ scattered throughout the Roman Provinces (1Pe 1.1). Later he challenges them to abstain from the corrupt behaviour that is characteristic of this world by living like ‘aliens and strangers’ (1Pe 2.11) – saying, in effect, ‘we don’t belong here!’
Thank the Lord, because of the gospel we do belong, not to this world, but to God! The apostle John writing to the believers so that their ‘joy may be full’ (v4) reminds them that ‘you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ (1Jn 1:3)
As Christians, our identity is in Christ through faith, because of what Christ has accomplished on the Cross of Calvary. Our fellowship is based in the Father and our citizenship is in heaven! Our joy should not be found in our toys, our cuisine or even our earthly culture. Satan will do his best to render Christians useless by keeping their minds and affections on the things of this world, but this world is not our home. Our greatest joy needs to be found in Christ and our greatest desire to be with Christ.
While we are exiles (expats) on this earth, our job is to glorify God by declaring and demonstrating the gospel. John Piper says ‘The greatness of Christian exiles is not success but service. Whether we win or lose, we witness to the way of truth, beauty, and joy. We don’t own culture, and we don’t rule it. We serve it with brokenhearted joy and longsuffering mercy, for the good of man and the joy of Jesus Christ.’
As Christian expats, we have the joy of serving others and the privilege of ‘proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light’ (1 Pt.2:9). The church is an embassy of grace on foreign soil. And we must remember that this church has been, is being, and will be built by Jesus Christ (Mt. 16:18). The church is how God makes himself known in the world. The church makes the invisible kingdom of God visible. What a blessing we have been given to work together for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been chosen for this purpose and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
In two months time, my family will once again uproot our lives and relocate to the UAE. As sad as our goodbyes will be, we remind ourselves that our true roots are not found in the culture we belong too, but in Christ. We find much joy knowing we will be part of a local church that desires to make the invisible kingdom of God visible. We look forward to serving alongside a family of faith that is striving to be an embassy of grace for all exiles that ‘are looking for the city that is to come’. For the good of man and the joy of Jesus Christ, may our partnership in the gospel bear much fruit for our eternal King Jesus.
 John Piper, “Christian Exiles” Tabletalk Magazine, 1 May 2011,
<http://ligonier.org/learn/articles/christian-exiles/> (1 October 2017)