A story is told of an elderly missionary arriving home on board a liner for a break, after years abroad on the mission field. Coming into port he hears a band strike up. “How nice of them to welcome me back,” he thinks to himself, though soon realises the ceremony is not for him but for some dignitary returning back after a brief official visit overseas. Disembarking, the missionary sees that there is no-one waiting to meet him. Saddened he checks into a hotel, and pours out his disappointment and loneliness to the God he has faithfully served. “Why was there no-one to welcome me home, after all this time, and after all I’ve done?” He senses a quiet voice speaking to his heart, “But my son, you’re not home yet.”
On moving to Kenya, we were intrigued to see on our visas we were registered ‘aliens’. This wasn’t intended as an insult; the word (from alias, meaning ‘other’) simply referred to our status as those from another country. Later, we moved to Canada and became ‘landed immigrants’. After some years we were able to take up citizenship, and now hold dual nationality. My passport may state that I am a bona fide Canadian, but my roots, culture and customs remind me I am first and foremost British. It was something of a surprise then, on returning to England in 2001 to realise that, not only had some of my perspectives changed, so – it seemed – had Britain. This disorientation on returning to my place of origin is termed ‘reverse culture shock.’ But I still found myself asking, “Where do I belong? Where is home?”
One of the severest challenges a person may face is that of displacement. A refugee longs for a place to call home; an asylum seeker flees a desperate or dangerous situation in search of safety; an economic migrant wanders from place to place, looking for somewhere to make a living and a home for his family.
Imagine the feelings of a refugee crossing a border, going through customs, and coming as a stranger into a foreign land. Nothing is familiar, he knows nobody. But suppose he then sees a group of people; they’re calling him and holding a huge banner with the words ‘Welcome home!’ The stress of the planning, and pain of leaving his own land is put behind him. Exhaustion from the journey gives way to relief on finally arriving safely, and being welcomed in by new friends to a new home.
what the bible says…
Jesus told a story of another kind of home-coming. A son leaves home to squander his inheritance on a self-indulgent life-style, ending up in a rotten job helping a pig farmer, and hungrier than the pigs he was paid to feed. Finally he comes to his senses, realises his foolishness, and sets off for home. Better to swallow his pride and return, than stay in squalor and deprivation, he reasons. Naturally he’s unsure of his father’s reaction – what sort of reception is he likely to get? At best – “I warned you”, at worst, perhaps rejection from the family. He thinks he should suggest coming back as a servant, rather than a son. But his father, seeing him at a distance, runs to greet him. The servants are told to prepare a feast. The son’s foolish wilfulness is forgotten in the joy of having him home again [Luke 15:11-32].
This is how our heavenly Father welcomes us. We may not feel we’ve been especially rebellious or wilful, but can we honestly say that we have always wanted to do it God’s way and not our own? No one can make such a claim. We too can admit we’ve often turned away and preferred our own selfish ways. But when we turn around, what a welcome awaits us. This is where we belong – with our Father. Home at last.