My Furlough: American Or Alien?
Shortly into my furlough a young boy, dressed in a brand spanking new Cub Scout uniform, knocked on my door. He was adorable as he rattled off his memorized speech about why I should buy something (I forget exactly what), so that he could win a wonderful prize (again forgotten). I was a sucker and bought the something.
As my kids ran for the money, I made chitchat with my miniature salesman. Since it was nearly Halloween I asked him what he was going to be this year. A mysterious expression descended upon his face and he pointed to the sky. Thinking of John Glen circling the earth at that very moment I said, “An astronaut!” With a look of scorn he shook his head and said, “No, silly, I’m going to be an alien.”
It was at this point in my furlough that I realized that aliens, space ships, storm troopers, and space federations had invaded the American pop culture. These things were real to this kid! It dawned on me that I was way behind and it was going to be hard to catch up with my own culture.
Day to day tasks were fraught with frustration and sometimes even laughter. While at SIM headquarters our first week back, I was with another global working friend, who like us, was just back from the field. One of the travel staffers handed my friend a paper and asked her to take it over to the machine to make some copies. She took the paper and walked to the copier.
After awhile I realized that she was just standing there staring fixedly at all of the buttons. She turned to me and mouthed the word, “Help!” I started laughing because I didn’t have a clue how to work this very American machine either. Then she started laughing and we laughed until tears rolled down our faces. (We never did figure it out.)
I began to have a sort of Good Samaritan idea about the whole thing: I was doing good to others by bringing them the gift of laughter. Like the time I went to buy gasoline and walked into the store and asked the attendant if it would be ok to buy gas with real money. I cheered the whole store up with that one. Or the time, in a hotel lobby, I put my muffin in this new fangled microwave and blithely punched the “start” button and the door of the microwave popped open. Some gentlemen eating their breakfast politely choked on their coffee.
There were other more serious shocks. This furlough was our third and instead of getting easier, it seemed to be harder. The wealth around me became more difficult to ignore. Whenever I would think about my Christian friends in Peru living so faithfully in their poverty, tears would spring to my eyes. It became easier not to think of my other world, but just to concentrate on the world in which I now found myself.
One afternoon as I sat in a waiting room, I couldn’t help but overhear a woman talking on her cell phone. She first called a toy store in New York, then Dallas, and finally, San Antonio. Her quest was the Silver Bullet yo-yo for her young son. I was already in shock that she was calling long distance on her cell phone when, after the last frustrating call, she turned to me and said, “You’d think that a $140 yo-you would still be in stock, wouldn’t you?” I could only numbly nod my head.
Inside I was thinking, “These people think I’m an American. I talk like an American. I dress like an American. But they are wrong: I am an alien.”
Crazy thoughts, but in so many ways true. In seeking to obey the Great Commission fifteen years ago, we left our native country and began learning about other places and other ways. This has changed me.
So where do I fit in? Nowhere completely. I am no longer a citizen of this world, but a pilgrim. I am on a journey – only passing through this physical world of cultures and countries. And it has been a journey of hardship, sacrifice, discovery, and unbelievable joy.
Hebrews 11:16 state, “But as it is, they (the saints) desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”
So, I will press on. And I will try not to be bothered that I do not quite fit in anymore, but I will be encouraged with that city which God is even now preparing for me.