Jonathan knew the first time he walked through those doors. When he saw flags from all around the world hanging up in the foyer – including the Cambodian flag — he knew he’d come home.
I wasn’t so sure. In theory, I knew this church could be a good fit for us. But I didn’t really want to be here. I didn’t want to be at an American church. My heart was still back home in Cambodia, worshipping with people from 40 nations.
At that point we’d been out of church for over a year, waiting out this interminably long covid season. We’d had our vaccines, but our children hadn’t yet had theirs. We brought them to church once and then decided to leave them at home until they could achieve full vaccination status right along with us.
But it feels strange not to attend church as a family, so over the next few months we were in and out of services. It was just as well, though, because I had a lot of unfinished emotional and spiritual business to take care of.
Just last night I was telling the kids about Jeremiah 29. Not the overused verses 11 through 13 promising only good things to the Lord’s people, but the less familiar ones from just a bit earlier, in verses 5 through 7. The ones about building houses and settling down, the ones about planting gardens and eating what they produce, the ones about seeking the peace and prosperity of the city into which we have been carried.
I told my family I was ready to follow the instructions in Jeremiah 29, that I felt like I finally was following them. We’d settled into a house and made it a home. We’d planted gardens and even eaten a bit of what they’d produced. It was time to seek the peace and prosperity of the city.
This morning we walked all over the church campus, dropping children off at their various Sunday school classes. We found one for ourselves, too — one recommended by a friend. And as I sat there listening to the teacher talk about his heart for God and his heart for the world and about some of his church background and about some of the authors he’s read, I closed my eyes to blink back the tears.
I knew I had come Home.
It was the same feeling I’d had the first Sunday I walked into our international church in Cambodia and cried through the whole service. I knew I’d come home that day, and today I experienced the feeling again.
Mysteriously, both today’s Bible class and today’s sermon touched on Jeremiah 29, the earlier verses. They were written to a people in exile, a people separated from the land they’d been given. Missionaries often feel like exiles. We leave our passport countries to sail into the unknown. We don’t quite fit in our host countries, but we no longer fit in our first homes either. In time we settle into our secondary homes, but we must one day leave those too. In some way or another, we always feel like exiles.
You don’t have to be a missionary to feel like an exile, of course. We are all exiles in Babylon. None of us really belongs here, no matter which city each of us lives in. We belong to a different country, a better country. But sometimes when we’re with other citizens of that country, we can get a taste of home. This morning reminded me that I don’t have to be with citizens of a couple dozen earthly countries to feel like I’ve come home – although it was wonderful to live that reality for eight years.
All I have to do is find citizens of the Other country to which we all belong.