'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen' Hebrews 11:1
Followed by many stories of the people who lived by faith (whose lives are described in the Old Testament, then:
'These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth' Hebrews 11:13
Today was an emotional day. For the past year we have been joined at church by two families from different parts of the world. In both cases, the husband was working at the same hospital as me and their wives were home looking after three children of almost the same ages as our boys. One of them had been in touch before arriving, via an international network of Christian doctors, and we met the other family soon afterwards (somewhat by chance, if things ever should be by chance when God is in control!) playing in a nearby park. I am often amazed how in the family of God, there is no real issue of culture - instead we are all 'strangers and pilgrims' on the same journey, headed heaven bound.
The children bonded quickly - I remember one day last summer when my five year old and their four year old were absolutely delighted to pee against the same tree (sorry to be so graphic, but that was the moment that they became firm friends!). They then dashed off into the undergrowth and spent the next few hours playing with sticks. I have many photos of them together, digging in the dirt, collecting beetles, building dens. We have had some great days out together as a family. Language did not really seem an issue. Recently, my sons commented 'he makes more sense now; he used to speak nonsense most of the time'. They had not realised he was speaking different languages, but the fact they thought he was talking 'nonsense' did not matter at all in the friendship. On another occasion, we all enjoyed a blustery walk to some islands at low tide. Six adults, nine children, seven nationalities represented and multiple languages being spoken, and yet the fellowship was rich.
We learnt lots from one another. There are cultural differences all over the place, perhaps reflected in the songs we might choose or the style of Bible study with which we are familiar, but we were all coming from different directions to head in the way we believe God is calling us. I've recently commented on how I have found that having children really brings out the differences, and at times can make us feel different and misunderstood, even among Christians. There was little of this here.
Today, we had prayers of farewell as both these families will depart over the next couple of weeks; they may never come back to live in the UK. At the same service, we prayed for another close family with three children who are going on a scouting visit to a tough Asian country with a view to longer term missionary service; they left today. And as I type, my husband is upstairs packing as he flies to Africa the day after tomorrow to set some things up for our move in September. All of this movement, all of this transition brought some unexpected emotion (I am usually more of a pragmatist!). Also, this has been the first time my boys have really been aware of the departures, and the eldest has commented he feels sad (I have been trying to hide how I feel from him, but today this was not possible). I feel very much in a state of transition, not really sure where home is. This has been a recurring theme over the past decade as we have moved between countries several times, sometimes not knowing how long we are there for, sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes with great purpose. We have known joys and sorrows, but in all we know God has been faithful.
So, rather than continue to describe emotions, I will focus on what all of this teaches us about God (and the lessons I hope my children really hold on to):
1) God is so much bigger than we can understand. The world is bigger than we understand. We should never put people into 'boxes' because of their nationality or language
2) One day in heaven, the Bible is quite clear, there will be a great multitude from every tribe and tongue. 'After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!' Revelation 7:9-10
3) The family of God transcends culture. We can learn so much from the way people from other countries see the outworking of the Biblical instructions regarding fellowship, hospitality and encouragement
4) We have a great ability to pray for one another. At the weekend we had been to the beach with one of the families and built a massive sandcastle. The next day, my six year old drew a sandcastle with 19 flags on it (because he had counted that he knew people in 19 countries). We have a world map (ours is Operation World with statistics about unreached people groups on it) on which we have placed yellow stickers for where the people we are praying for are. We've started a monthly prayer meeting in our house. It seems so much more real to the boys because they have real friends there
5) Similarly, writing letters of encouragement - for the boys, having a reason to write makes a huge difference to their willingness to do handwriting. They also love to receive letters - recently we wrote to some friends on the other side of the world, and several weeks later we had a reply - the boys love this, and it keeps the relationships alive
6) Having other friends who are in transition helps our boys see that our family is not so very unusual, and that there are others who move between countries and cultures too. This has been really helpful for them, and the fact that 9 of their friends are leaving in the next week will make it easier for us to move at the end of the summer.
7) We've seen God open doors, bless and provide for these other families. That has been exciting! We have previously known God provide everything we could possibly need for us. Therefore as we approach the next move, there really is no need to fear at all. God knows where we should live, where we should go to church, the key people we should build relationships with. The faith of our friends at this time of transition has been a blessing
8) We've seen amazing hospitality and blessing from these people who have been 'visitors' in the UK - this is such an important reminder that whether you are in a place for a week, a month or a year, you should not see it as too short to be used by God.
I am sure I will reflect more on this topic over the coming weeks, but for now I should go and help with the packing.
My challenge to you tonight is to consider:
1) Where is your true home?
2) Where do you find your identity?
3) Where do you place your security?