On Being a Stranger in a Strange Land…

Image result for calpis soda

It had been quite the day.
16+ hours of flying.
Setting off on a new adventure.
Moving to Japan.
Taking all my worldly goods – or at least those I thought I couldn’t live without – in four large bags.
Arriving at Narita Airport in Tokyo only to discover that I was not ready.
I had somehow missed the memo on getting the correct paperwork for my visa.
I ended up being escorted to a room filled with Japanese men in uniforms, all looking very unhappy.
White walls.
A language I barely had begun to learn.

And then a gentleman in a suit, bowing profusely, taking over (much to my relief.)
Turns out he was one of my bosses from the Board of Education in the town where I would be teaching and living.
And he sorted the whole thing out for me.

An awkward, mind-boggling beginning.

Then, as we made our way to the van with ALL my luggage, he kindly turned to me and said, “Maybe you are thirsty? You like a drink? Perhaps you like cow piss?”

My jet-lagged, beleaguered, beyond-weary brain could only manage a weak, “Excuse me?” as he offered me a soda.
With the Calpis logo on it.
Oh. No, thank you.
No cow piss – or Calpis – for me, thanks.

That was the start of learning what it really meant to live as a “stranger in a strange land”.
I had traveled before.
I had even stayed an extended time – like weeks at a time.
But now I was living cross-culturally.
The good, the bad and the ugly of it all.
Sometimes I was the good, the bad or the ugly.
And sometimes it was an experience, a belief-system or a misunderstanding that became the good, the bad or the ugly.

But as time wore on, it became less and less of a cross-cultural experience.
I learned more of the language.
My apartment became home.
I found friends and a couple of churches with worship services in English.
I figured out how to avoid potentially disastrous situations.
And I successfully navigated others (with the help of those new friends.)

By my third year of living and working there, life was “normal”.
My Mom even commented that my e-mails had less and less in them about the culture or about my experiences.
Because the strange land was not so strange any more.
I had adapted.

But then something would happen.
A big thing.
A small thing.
To me or to someone I knew.
And it would suddenly hit me like the sharp kick of wasabi – I live in JAPAN. This is NOT home. I am NOT Japanese. This is NOT my culture.

Sometimes it was a good thing that would trigger it.
Like watching the Olympics on TV and hearing the U.S. National Anthem.
For the first time in my life, it made me cry.
It was a reminder of my real home, my real citizenship.

And sometimes it was a horrible thing.
Like being so packed in a train car that it was impossible to count how many people were touching me. I lost track at a dozen. And then being groped by one of those people – but having no idea who it was.

A stranger in a strange land.
Not my home.
A temporary home, filled with blessings.
Laughter with friends.
Students who loved me.
Deep, life-changing conversations.
But not my home.

I find myself in much the same place here these days.
In Maryland.
Where I have lived for a total of 41 of my 46 years.
But this is not my home.
I am a stranger in a strange land.

I have lived here so long that it is easy to forget that fact.
It also doesn’t help that I have not yet seen with physical eyes the country of my spiritual citizenship, what Jesus called “The Kingdom of Heaven”.
My eternal citizenship. My forever home.
And so I can very often just bounce through life like the Tigger I am, cheerfully bounding from one task to the next, one experience to the next.
But then something will happen.
Sometimes something wonderful.
And sometimes something awful.
But it will remind me that I am not Home yet.
This is NOT my home.
I am NOT a citizen of this world.
This is NOT the culture of my (second) birth.

Like the conversations I had a couple weeks ago.
Several in one week about death and dying.
One with a friend who has a dreadful diagnosis – and a cheerful smile.
She came to see me the other day to encourage me.
Although I am not the one with the diagnosis.
She used her limited supply of energy to drop by my office with a card and some gifts, to tell me she believes in me.
And we chatted about heaven.
About hope.
About death not being the end.
We chatted.
And we laughed.
About something that terrifies those who do not share our citizenship.
Because both of us realize that we are strangers in a strange land.
Not from here.
And not staying here permanently.

We share a common nationality. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are both sojourners, people traveling through, because this world – the Kingdom of This World – is not where we are from, nor is it where we are headed.
Our bodies live here.
But, by grace through faith in Jesus, our souls are heaven-bound.

Which leads me to some questions for myself:

Why do I expect people who do not share my citizenship in The Kingdom of Heaven to act and think like they do? Why am I disappointed when they don’t understand?

And since citizenship in God’s Kingdom is open to ALL people, why do I not share that good news more freely with those who have no hope? If I really believe that all of this life ends in one of two destinations, Heaven or Hell, why am I not more boldly proclaiming that Heaven is available to all who will put their trust in Jesus?

As I live out my days as a foreigner here, do I look like – sound like – act like – a person who is not from here? Do my actions, my words, my updates and posts reflect that I am a stranger here?

What can I do to help myself remember my true Home, my citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, more consistently?

My prayer today:
To the Eternal King, the One Who Sits Upon the Throne, God Most High;
You are holy, perfect, just and good. You are merciful, gracious and kind.
I come boldly before Your Throne of Grace, not because I am worthy, but because I claim the gift You have given, forgiveness for my sins because Jesus took the penalty for them on the cross when he died.

Today I once again pledge my allegiance to Your Kingdom.
I bow before You, laying down before Your throne all that concerns me today.
I ask that You would give me Your eyes to see Your agenda, Your desires, Your plan, Your will. Help me to only pick up what concerns YOU today.
I ask that You would cause Your Kingdom to come on earth, even as it is in heaven.

I thank You that, as my Sovereign King, You will provide all I need today – both the physical, material things like food, and the deeper, intangible things like love for my neighbor and forgiveness for those who have harmed me.
May I live this day in the Truth of what and who I am – a citizen of Your Kingdom, deeply loved and on a mission for You, the King of all Kings.
For Yours – and not mine – is The Kingdom, The Power, and the Glory forever and ever.


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