One of the most frequent questions we are asked when we are overseas is, “Where is your home?” I don’t know about you, but for us that was a difficult question to answer.
We would think, “Should we answer with where we were born, or where we have family, or where we last lived?” As Christians, we often think, “Our home is in heaven.” But that isn’t a very satisfying answer to acquaintances who would just like a starting point for conversation.
Personally, the question in my mind was, “What feels like home?” It seemed that question could be answered differently on any given day.
While living in the tropics, the thought of a cool breeze and the changing colors of leaves, would make home seem very far away. Christmas holidays with the lack of pine scented air also triggered thoughts of home. But back in America, my mind would wander to the sights and sounds of a corner coffee shop and my Asian home would feel very far away.
Home might be where we don’t have to explain the way to fix our tea and where we don’t have to convert the cost of a chicken into a different currency before buying it. Home is knowing where to buy the things we need and how to get a broken appliance fixed.
Yet it is not just these external things that make a place feel like home. It also involves our interactions with people. When we automatically speak to children in the language they understand and we understand the gestures and jokes, we feel at home. When our stomachs rumble at the same time our neighbors are sitting down to dinner, we feel at home.
For those of us who have lived cross culturally for a while, we may never again feel completelyat home anywhere. Our lives and our outlook on life has been changed forever. But as a friend of mine often says, “That’s a good thing!”
Many of my relatives have never moved away from the town in which they were born. Some have not even traveled more than a hundred miles from home in their whole lives. They cannot understand my pleasure in traveling and meeting new people. They fear the unknown and worry about our safety when we are overseas.
When I was growing up, I never imagined I would get to visit so many parts of the world and live for years in two other countries. At first those places seemed strange to me, but I learned that different is not the same as bad. I learned that other people have good reasons for they way they do things. I learned that slowing down gives you the chance to make friends and that most things don’t really need to be done “right now!”
I have wonderful friends in several parts of the world, people I never would have met if I had insisted on staying home. I have been enriched by the variety I have experienced. And my heart has been stretched to include those I never would have understood if I hadn’t lived with them for awhile.
When I feel homeless, I remember my home ultimately isn’t here anyway. Although it’s not an answer to a casual acquaintance, it is an answer to the personal unrest I feel from time to time. Perhaps we are supposed to feel homeless here sometimes to remind us we have a Father in heaven preparing a place for us to live in for eternity.
In an article Tom Mueller wrote for the January, 2003 Hemispheres magazine, he described what home is. He wrote, “We all have a home in our head–part memory, part fantasy, part projection of self–where we feel “grounded,” where we can let down our guard and be more fully ourselves. But expats have a unique recipe for rootedness, regardless of their location: a highly personal blend of people, language, religion, music, and old stone structures real and imagined. The result is home, which, even more than beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”
So when you or your family members begin to question where home is, remember you each have a home in your head that is your special blend of experiences and imaginings. Just don’t try too hard to recreate that image, because it’s like a sand castle. The next tide will sweep it away. It’s ok to feel some homelessness from time to time. You are part of a large community of people serving other cultures that feels the same way occasionally. This feeling will fade soon enough and in its place will be gratefulness for an expanded vision of the world our Lord has made.