Guest Post by Robert Rasmussen
Because of the rapidly changing world in which we live, there are two questions that used to be easy to answer but are now quite difficult.
The first questions is: Where are you from?
How do you answer that question? If someone asks me where I am from, I have to clarify, “What do you mean when you ask where am I from?”
- I am from Federal Way, WA
- I am from a non-profit, multinational corporation called One Challenge
- I am from the United States, and from California, and originally from Scandanavia.
- I am from the parking lot, from my mother’s womb, from God.
You and I are from many places, depending on the context.
The second question is: Where are you going?
- I’m going home after this dinner, and I’m going to heaven when I die.
- I’m going to Atlanta in January, and Kenya in May.
We live in an increasingly complex world, and you who have left your homeland are on the frontier of that complexity.
On the one hand, that means you are on a great personal adventure. You are a part of the global story of interconnection. My family and I experienced that adventure firsthand in 1990 when we packed up our stuff and moved to Kenya, East Africa and lived for 10 years. In many ways, it was the best decade of our lives. We were stretched and blessed by new cultures and new friends.
On the other hand, yours is a journey full of fears and discouragement. You are unsettled, unsure, and often lonely. And an increasing number of people find themselves in a state of perpetual flux and disorientation.
Thomas Friedman argues in his book, The World is Flat, that we have entered a season of unprecedented change. (p. 234) [amazon affiliate link]
When you find yourself moved around by the global currents of business and education, one of the unpleasant results will be isolation.
When we came back home to the US in 2000, our country had changed while we had been away. Our friends had moved on, filling their lives with others. The culture had changed so fast it was as if we had been in a time warp in Africa.
And we had changed. People would ask us, “What is it like in Africa?” But they would lose interest when we didn’t have stories to tell of lions and drums in the night.” They would have an attention span of 2 minutes before they got bored.
I watch the evening news and I wonder how Americans can be so ignorant of the rest of the world. It is as if nothing matters to Americans unless it is about America, or affects Americans. But there is always something to be gained when we intermingle as nations. Our lives are enriched. And that is one of the reasons I believe God enables us to move around. He lets us experience multiple cultures so we can see the complexity of His wonderful world.
As internationals, you are rich in experience and worldview. You have much to contribute to me, and those you work with. It is too bad they don’t see you as a rich resource, but as a worker, filling a role.
I am always learning from other cultures. Currently, my wife and I have deliberately chosen to fellowship at a primarily African-American church. I am learning to understand and appreciate the passion and depth of experience found in African-Americans. Now, the core of my musical tasks go back to jazz and Latin. But African Americans invented Blues, Hip-hop, and Rap. So when they are grooving like smooth chocolate milk, I’m creaking like a Swedish rocking horse!
I’ve learned from other cultures an essential ingredient for surviving the isolation and discouragement that comes when we move between nations and cultures. It’s what the Kenyans (and others) call Jamaa. Household, or community.
While American culture started out as an adventure in individualism, where families left home to start over in the new world, most families around the world today still operate on the basis of community. The extended family takes care of each other.
I learned from my African friends that if you are in a household, you have four blessings:
1. You always have a place to stay. Even if you just drop in from out of town, you can be assured that you have a place to sleep for as long as you need it. In a household, there is belonging.
2. You always have enough food. A family means you share what you have, even if it is just a little. Being in a household means having provision.
3. There is always something you can contribute. Only the first night are you considered a special guest. After that, you are expected to do what you can for the family. Clean up. Play with the kids. Sing a song. Whatever you can do, it belongs to the family. In a household, you always have a purpose.
4. The last thing I learned is that in a family, you have a name. Your identity gives you a place to be known. You are identified. Society knows where you fit. And if it’s a good name, you have all the blessings that come with it.
Some of you are away from your household right now. My article may be making you a bit homesick. (Sorry).
But no matter where you go, the one who invented culture, God, has His eye on you. He sees where you are. Not only that, His hand is upon you, to guide you where you should go.
So as I close, let me ask you two questions:
Where are you from?
You are from a family, and a country, and a culture. You have a name. I affirm who you are. I would be privileged to meet, or at least know about your family. You are not just a teacher or engineer or spouse; not just a tenant or shopper. You are a human being, created by God in His image, and valuable to Him.
My second question is: Where are you going?
Eph. 2:19 says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.”
Did you know God has a household? It is his extended family, and you are welcome.
There are four wonderful experiences awaiting you in the community of his household:
1. You belong there. There is always room.
2. You have provision. Everything God has is yours. No one every goes hungry.
3. You have a purpose. You are needed. You can make a difference.
4. You have a new name, a new identity, as a Jesus-follower.
When the wave of settlers came to these shores from northern Europe, they needed a lot of help. They didn’t have enough food, and they didn’t have crops that would grow here. The Native Americans showed them good hospitality; they shared. And to commemorate God’s bounty and new friendship, they gave thanks.
It is with thanks that I see that you have come here. I know what it is like to be far from home. So let this community be your welcoming party. Let this community be your household, offering the warmth, and purpose, and new identity from God.
+ + + + Robert Rasmussen serves with One Challenge USA.