|Photo: Natasha Kanji 2011|
Don’t Welcome Me Back Home
“My desire is to depart ... But to remain in the flesh is more necessary .... Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again…”
I don’t want your welcome back greetings.
Please don’t think me ungrateful. Obviously, I won’t tell you to stop since I know you mean well. Your motives are pure.
But the greeting is erroneous. I am not back home. Not by my definition of ‘home’ anyway. Home doesn’t represent a permanent place on earth for me. Yes, there are pockets of space where I am best adapted, places I feel safe and abide within a relatively congenial community. These locations are familiar to me. They are a domicile where I sleep and eat my meals and where I am most relaxed and at ease. But they are not home. Instead, my heart yearns for a deeper home.
As C.S. Lewis so eloquently penned in the following quote:
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” ― C.S. Lewis
Living for any significant period in another country, another culture changes you. Whether you were an accountant, a nurse, or a pastor, you cannot leave without permanent scars. The simple act of surviving in a foreign environment spoils naïve ideas about a cohesive, simplistic worldview. The world is a messy place to live where chaos thrives. Submerged under the colours of a strange and different culture, you emerge with multicoloured lenses. Unlike real glasses though, you can’t remove them. There is no returning to your virgin views.
Even as your heart aches for home, a permanent resting place, travelling around the world proves there is no place completely safe, completely perfect. Heaven is not yet; it is still a hope; your heart’s anticipated future. You may have citizenship in your passport country but real homage belongs to the Lord of heaven and earth. We are citizens of another world as Paul outlines in Philippians chapter 1, verse 20: “…But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ…”
And so… I remind you, there’s no need to welcome me back home. No adulations, please. Don’t put me on a pestle and treat me like a hero. Don’t try to reacclimatise me to a life of mundane mediocrity with wrappings of cultural adaptation. Instead, remind me that there is a reason for reverse culture shock. Acknowledge that there’s a basis for why I don’t feel at home. Tell me there is value in my brokenness. Comfort me with words that give meaning to the bleeding of my wounds.
Don’t tell me everything will be ok.
Don’t tell me to ‘give it time’.
Instead, remind me I’m part of a bigger picture. These tears that flow without warning from deep recesses of my soul are reminders that the process of homecoming isn’t finished. The grand universal cosmic conflict is still ongoing and I have a part to play in it. The epic isn’t complete. The novel hasn’t come to the last page.
When I am overwhelmed by yet another teary-eyed patient in my office with problems beyond medical solutions, remind me that I’m still God’s hands to comfort the suffering.
When the sun has set and I’m putting in prescription renewals and answering messages while completing a hectic days worth of charting, all the while tired and hungry because I’ve missed lunch and now supper, tell me that the sacrifice is worth it.
When I fear I cannot face another unsatisfied patient seeking easy fixes for unsolvable circumstances, remind me I’m an ambassador of love and not of miracles. And when he gets angry and storms out of the room because I suggest changes in diet and weight loss to ease his aching arthritic knees or bring his diabetes under control, remind me again that I can still love without expectation or reciprocity.
I don’t need a hero’s welcome home. I don’t want a hero’s welcome.
I want a hero’s mission.
Remind me I’m part of a higher calling. I’m still part of a mission. I still have a job to do on this earth to represent Christ’s love to those I come in contact with each day.
Remind me that my mission service is not over. I am not coming home. I survived five years in Cameroon as a naïve and inexperienced physician. Through threats, thefts, fire, and tragedies, I survived and came through changed for the better. When I am tempted to forget, remind me of those valuable lessons I learned through people management, administrative duties, intercultural communication, adaptation, and flexibility. I am stronger than before. I survived adversities and adulations in Cameroon. Surely I can endure the challenges of today.
When I sigh and complain that home is tedious and dull, don’t tell me to appreciate my blessed abode. . Instead, remind me that I’m not home. I remain God’s ambassador to the world, whether here or in Africa. He hasn’t called it quits on my mission yet. There is a purpose in the pain that imbues meaning in the suffering. I can accept the frustrations, disappointments, disillusionments, and fatigue when I remember that this isn’t the end. The mission continues.
“ All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”
2 Corinthians 5: 18-20