After spending Christmas and New Year’s in Indiana with my family, I posted this on Facebook:
In many ways, it does feel like I have two homes – one in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and one in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I have friends in both places. I have a house in both places. I have a bicycle in both places. I even have a dog in both places. Its the oft-noted challenge of being an expat, or in the case of my students, a third-culture-kid (TCK). Its not the first time I have felt this way, either. As a teen, working at Miracle Mountain Ranch in western Pennsylvania each year, the Ranch became my home each summer. But Indiana was still home too.
I suppose in some ways, this is how we are supposed to feel, as Christians. There is a praise chorus proclaiming, “This is world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through, my treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue.” Rather than having two homes in different states or countries or continents, Christians have a celestial home and are just “expats” here on earth.
I forget that most days.
I am comfortable living here. Being an earthling is fun,exciting, adventurous, and…. comfortable.
Over Christmas break, I was incredibly blessed to spend a bit of time with some dear friends who challenged me. These friends pushed and prodded, asking me to be honest with myself (and them) about how I was doing. As uncomfortable as such conversations can be, they also made me feel exceptionally loved.
What is my purpose in life?
Have I become too comfortable?
Why am I here?
What am I living for?
If I dared enough to be honest with myself, I knew months ago that I was making choices that didn’t align with what I claimed to believe. Even if the choices themselves weren’t always wrong, my reasons for making them often were.
Tattooed on my wrist are the words “Love God; Love People.”
I wasn’t going out on the weekends because of my love for God or people. I wasn’t living a ridiculously busy, sleep-deprived life because of my love for God or people. I wasn’t filling my life with adrenaline and caffeine because of my love for God or people.
Somewhere along the line, I got comfortable.
I have a very unique opportunity. I was raised in a Christian home, homeschooled, and surrounded by people who didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t dance, didn’t have tattoos, didn’t swear, and didn’t do drugs. In almost complete contrast to that, I hang out with cyclists and volleyball players, people who are for the most part (and this is a very BROAD generalization) opposites in nearly every way to those I grew up around. Now, in my mid-twenties, I have friends on both ends of a wide spectrum.
Perhaps, like Esther, I am here “for such a time as this.”
When I started playing volleyball more competitively in my early twenties, I remember realizing that I had a grand opportunity as a Christian in the world of sports to somehow share the love of Christ with my teammates and friends. I hate the “Christanese” of “being a good example,” however, because I know so many men and women who are not Christians – men and women who are Muslims, athiests, Bhuddist, whatever – who are far better examples than many Christians I know. And, lets be honest, I’m no specimen of flawless morals myself – I get angry with myself and others, I swear, and speed like Roadrunner with Wile E. Coyote on his tail. Not that those things are always wrong. But they certainly aren’t always prime examples of loving people. At any rate, that realization was at least five years ago. Now, I have a lot of wonderful “volleyball friends,” many of which I have managed to stay in contact with even while living overseas. But I make no claim of in any way intentionally bringing Christ up in conversation with these friends. My excuse? Well, its awkward.
Lame. I know.
Here in Dar es Salaam, I don’t even know how many of my friends from hockey, volleyball, netball, etc. even know that I am a Christian. I play sports with them, party on the weekends with them, travel with them…and yet remain entirely silent on the one thing that I claim is central to my existence: Jesus Christ.
Hypocrite? I think yes.
If I really believe what I say I believe, and if I really care about these people I call friends, I can not continue to stay silent. I cannot continue making choices based only on what I want to do, on what is exciting and fun, or what the “cool kids do.” Somehow, I need to get back to the place where I can honestly answer the question, “Why do you play volleyball?” with, “I play volleyball because I love the sport, but also because it is a place where I have the opportunity to love others as Christ first loved me, and to give Him glory.” Or fill in the blank. Why do I cycle? Why do I go out on Friday night? Why do I play hockey? Why do I teach English? Whatever.
On Christmas Eve, my family and I went to Wallen Baptist Church, where I attend when I am in Fort Wayne, for the Christmas Eve Service. Towards the end of the service, Pastor Suciu stood up and spoke for less than fifteen minutes. He gave everyone a small white candle to remind us that we are to be lights in the world, just as Jesus was/is the Light of the world. At that point, I was finally able to be honest enough to admit that I have been failing as a missionary, as a Christian, as a light. Fortunately, God’s grace is more than sufficient for my failures, and perhaps He has managed to use me despite my bullheadedness, crashing through life in determined ignorance of the consequences of my decisions.
Through this entire process, which at timed seemed a bit like an open heart surgery, with my chest being cut open to reveal the selfishness within, I also realized that for right now, I need the accountability of these dear friends in Indiana. Friends who know and love me well enough to call me out for my errors, and who sacrificially give of their time and energy to put me back on track. Thus, the decision has been made. At the end of the school year in June, I will be moving back to Fort Wayne for awhile. The adventure and opportunities of teaching internationally still appeal to me, so I can’t promise I’ll stay forever, but for now, I’m moving back to the one home where I have some roots and accountability.
Perhaps this post should also be an apology. An apology to those who have generously supported my time here in Tanzania as a “missionary,” and an apology to the friends that I have failed to share Christ’s love with. I really am sorry. But also grateful that I took the opportunity to go back to Indiana for the holidays, and through that, was able to get refocused for this last semester in Dar es Salaam. And…being able to chill (literally) with my family for a few days was awesome as well!