My father has lived in Australia for over 67 years. For most of that time, he has held an Australian passport. He married an Australian woman and raised his children here. In so many ways Australia has been good to him. It has given him an education and a standard of living beyond anything he could have hoped for in his native India.
Yet Australia has never been a place of real belonging. His strong accent, his awkwardness in social situations and a vastly different life experience and value system to someone of British heritage who was born in this country, have meant that, even in my eyes, he would always be an “outsider”. I remember being deeply moved when, as an adult, I saw a photo of an older sister with an unbelievable likeness to him. There was a place where he belonged. It just wasn’t here.
But I was wrong. The excitement that preceded each visit “home” only ever returned as disappointment and despair. “Home” no longer existed. Places changed, relationships moved on and the values lived out by subsequent generations brought sadness and shame rather than reliving fond memories. The more time that passed, the greater the change and his ability to critique family and cultural dynamics from an external perspective. Not being able to return to the India that he grew up in brought a profound sense of grief and loss. “At home nowhere, foreigner everywhere” he used to say. Eventually it became too painful to return at all.
“At home nowhere, foreigner everywhere”
It now seems you don’t need to immigrate to another country to feel that same sense of loss. The unprecedented movement of people around the globe along with generational and social change has left many Australians feeling grief or fear that their children and grandchildren will not enjoy the Australia they loved. People are moving to new outlying housing estates in major capital cities in order to escape the cultural mix that has become established in affordable suburbs. Even in the church, it is common to hear references to “our country” or “we mustn’t let them change us”; statements that exclude, create division and reveal a primary allegiance to maintaining a comfortable status quo.
The truth is that culture is never static and that every generation views those that follow with some level of dismay. The timeless warning of Ecclesiastes 7:10 not to say “Why were the old days better than these” reveals a human propensity to long for times that have passed. But if we view the Australia we grew up in as our home and the place where our hearts lie, then we will we will forever look back with sadness at what has been lost instead of looking forward and marvelling at how God is working out his missional purposes in our midst.
Whether it is an unwillingness to leave our place of comfort and go to somewhere unfamiliar, or to allow that place to be permanently changed by those with whom God would have us share what is His, there is an idolatry that prevents us from holding lightly to the country we grew up in and wholeheartedly joining Him in His mission. For many of us the loss of comfort feels too costly. Yet the alternative is not without cost. Our churches are stifled and shrinking as we anxiously cling to what we know, when we could be rejoicing at the harvest and at the opportunities God is giving us that previous generations of believers could only dream of. If we are citizens of heaven and our home is truly with the Lord Jesus whose return we eagerly await, then we will offer up ourselves and the place where we live for his purposes. As we do this, our faith will be transformed and we will begin to long for what is ahead, for the experience of being with him as part of the worshipping multitude.
If we are citizens of heaven and our home is truly with the Lord Jesus whose return we eagerly await, then we will offer up ourselves and the place where we live for his purposes.
As for me, and many like me, there will never be an earthly home to long for. The people I hold most dearly are those who have offered acceptance and walked beside me in what has only ever been a difficult and lonely place. Yet in recent years am I learning that there is One who offers healing for the deep shame that I carry. One who has always been there and who has adopted me into His family at great personal cost. To Him I belong, for He has known me from the time He created my inmost being. As I do the work He has uniquely prepared for me, I wait for the day when I will see Him face to face – only then will I finally be home.
Lisa Bateup is the Director of CultureConnect.
CultureConnect is helping to bridge the gap between the church and ethnic minorities in Australia. We’re envisioning and equipping churches to reach out into their own neighbourhoods. Let’s work together.