Growing up, the classic musical fairytale film The Wizard of Oz was a real favourite of mine. I especially loved the famous final scene where Dorothy, desperate to get out of the strange land of Oz and home to Kansas, taps her magical ruby slippers together at the heel, repeating over and over, “There’s no place like home… there’s no place like home… there’s no place like home…”. For Dorothy, in that moment the place she wanted to be, above anywhere else in the world, was home.
There are a handful of places I've come to call ‘home’ over the years and now home is Fajara, in The Gambia! Complete with coconut trees, cockroaches, crickets and an (as yet) unidentified family of noisy creatures that live in our loft. Despite the creepy crawlies it's been a joy to make a new home here.
As a British citizen, I’ve had to apply for legal residency. After many hours in tiny offices full of (mostly) friendly immigration officials we now legally reside in The Gambia. Phew.
As part of this process I have also had to register for a legal document aptly named an ‘Alien’s Card’. To reside in The Gambia legally I must hold a card that tells me, and any immigration officer who asks to see it, that I am an alien here.
I'm an alien, I'm not a citizen of The Gambia. Even though I currently live here and work here, devour chicken yassa and drink litres of wonjo juice, I am not a citizen here.
Some days I feel it more than others... When friends in the car start talking in their local language and I have no clue what they are saying; when I arrive at school to take the morning assembly and the kids outside shout, ’Toubab!’ ‘Toubab!’ (White person! White person!); when I try on some beautiful clothes made from local fabric that look GREAT on my Gambian friend, but look slightly bizarre on me. Small as they are, these moments remind me: ‘Beth, you’re not a citizen of here. You’re an alien!’
Often these things make me chuckle. Sometimes they make me long for ‘home’ in the UK.
It’s true, I’m not a citizen of here. But actually Philippians 3:20 tells me that I'm not a citizen of the UK either!
“… our citizenship is in heaven …” Philippians 3:20
Yes, I hold a British passport. Yes, I love tea with a custard cream, I enjoy a good G&T and I highly approve of queuing. But to which country do I actually belong? The Bible tells me I belong to God’s country. I’m a citizen of heaven. Heaven is my Home. And if you’re trusting in Jesus heaven is your Home too!
The American evangelist Billy Graham was oft quoted as saying; ‘Heaven is my home, I’m just travelling through this world’. He was so right! Our homes here and now are small ‘h’ homes. We’re just passing through them, the way we might stay for a night or two at a hotel or a holiday cottage. Our big ‘H’ Home is still to come. And if we take God at his word, we know it’s going to be awesome.
I’ve found Philippians 3:20 a wonderful truth to ponder over the past couple of months. It’s a truth that, on good days, has helped me to thank God for my new little ‘h’ home here and, on harder days, to thank God for the hope of my big ‘H’ Home to come. Perhaps it might be a truth for you to enjoy too? If ‘home’ feels like a hard place right now, if it’s a place of mess (literal, emotional, relational, spiritual), if it’s a place of conflict or sickness, poverty or tiredness, remember this beautiful truth: heaven is your Home. Keep on looking to it and longing for it.
I don’t find it easy to look to my big ‘H’ Home. I think that’s normal, but God knows our hearts and he’s given us his word to help us. Passages like John 14:1-6, Hebrews 11:1-40, Isaiah 35, Revelation 21-22 are packed full of truths to help us think about our Home. Much like you might take time to look at pictures of your hotel or holiday home online, take some time to think about what it might be like in your heavenly Home: a place of no sadness, no sickness, no anxiety, no stress, no depression. Or, these songs have been a wonderful encouragement to me over the years, and I believe are a real gift to help us fix our eyes on our heavenly Home: There is a Higher Throne, Christ is Enough, Amazing Grace.
If ‘home’ is a place you love to be right now, thank God for his provision! But live in your ‘home’ now in light of your ‘Home’ to come. Enjoy it, because it’s a gift from our generous God. Share it, because we’re blessed in order to bless others. Hold loosely to it, because it’s only temporary.
“Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me Home.” (from ‘Amazing Grace’ by John Newton)
Beth Burgess served in The Gambia from 2017-2019.
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