The other night I dreamt I was in Uganda, walking through the mud, talking in Luganda to the Ugandans I met along the way. It was one of those dreams that was so real and vivid I could almost smell Africa again. When I woke, however, I discovered that not only was I not in Africa, I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the South, my new home. I couldn't help but feel a sad disappointment when those edges of sleep wore off, to not be there. I am one hundred percent excited and confident that God has me here by His leading, but sometimes there's just nothing you can do when you miss home.
I have about 45 minutes left of being 28, before I enter my final year of my 20's. Okay, really it's not that dramatic, but at least its a reason to give pause for reflection. In both part confusion and overwhelming awe, I am humbled by the life God has granted me, where He's taken me, and where He is walking with me now.
I drove across the United States, from Chico, CA, to Charlotte, NC with my dad just last week. From the US, to the places I've traveled around the world, it astounds me - where people live. From huge metropolitan cities with beautiful skylines, to slums in the mud, to trailer parks in the middle of literally nowhere in Nevada, people live. By choice or force of circumstance, we live. And I wonder, how much does where we live define who we are? How we feel about ourselves? How others see us?
I've been thinking about my own sense of house, home, and belonging lately. I've back in the US for 3 months now. How can that much time have passed already? Each month that goes by I feel like I should be more adjusted with less longing for my Uganda, but I'm not. I worry that I'll forget all the little details of things that I love (like people's accents and the sound of the Plantain Eater birds) and the big things that I hate (like raw poverty and corruption) that changed me so much. I worry that I'm staying away too long. I worry like it really is home. Like I'm away from home.
owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.
43.7 million people are now displaced worldwideI've been thinking a lot lately about a story in the book of Jeremiah. I love this verse, this promise in Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." I've certainly hung on to this promise many times, but never really stopped to read the whole story, the why of this promise God makes. Without going too far back into the story, essentially, this verse is part of a letter the prophet Jeremiah sends to the Israelite exiles in Babylon. God's letter to the exiles (Jer 29:1-10). And this amazes me. roughly equalling the entire populations of Colombia or South Korea, or of Scandinavia and Sri Lanka combined. Within this total are 15.4 million refugees, 27.5 million people displaced within their own country by conflict, and nearly 850,000 asylum-seekers, nearly one fifth of them in South Africa alone.
God writes a letter to a people, His people, who were taken from their homes by a foreign king and now exiled in a strange and foreign land. And what does God say? Let me paraphrase. God says, "I am the one who sent you into exile. Now I want you to live in this foreign land. Build yourselves houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their food. Get married and have babies. Let your babies grow up and have more babies." And I love this part. Verse 7:
"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."Then God tells them that He has a time in mind for their exile (70 years) and then, then God makes them this promise: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Kind of makes it all the more significant, don't you think?
But while I had always focused on that particular promise, now I can't get past the instructions God gave to His people before He gave them the promise. In exile, away from all their own sense of belonging and home, they were to live, and live well. What is that saying? "Grow where you're planted." Or, as one wise missionary I know said, "This is the assignment."
Millions of refugees live in the US and thousands of these live in Charlotte, NC, where I also now live. I am so excited and grateful that God has led me here, to work and serve among these people, to have this season of life.
I've kept a little piece of paper from a church bulletin when I went to Grace EV Free church during my Biola days and these words continue to speak the truth my heart often forgets:
"And so, one again, a principle pertinent for so much in life smacks us squarely in the face: expectations rarely coincide with actual outcomes, but the outcomes show that God has been at work even though we haven't clearly seen the process. This is the God we hope in - his ways are not our ways, but he is for us, not against us, even if the circumstances would seem to indicate otherwise. Let's trust and believe and wait and hope. Our God cannot fail us - he will prove faithful."Hebrews 11 tells about heroes of faith and says,
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.Maybe 29 is my year of exile, as I wait to see, "just where are you taking me God?"...maybe you are outside of your should-be ideal, behind or too late, or not there yet...maybe we are all exiles, journeying our way to our true Home. For now, I'm thankful for the journey, I'm thankful for God's promise for the future, I'm thankful that He allows prosperity and growth even in the in-between times of life, and I'm thankful that I'm on my way Home.