1 Peter 1:17 exhorts us that â€śsince you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.â€ť And then in John 14:1-4 Christ tells us, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."
Indeed, Eleanor and I are truly aliens and exiles on this earth. November found us packing again for the 12th or 13th time in 2012 - Zambia, Malawi, Cameroon, Russia, and the United Kingdom. Wesley said that "the world is my pulpit," and El might very well add that "the suitcase is my home." Once again, we left empty suitcases in the countries which we visited, and once again, we will discard ones which barely made the trip home as international travel is hard on suitcases.
For the last twelve years, we have been taking a class one might entitle â€śSuitcase Theology 101.â€ť God has been using our mission trips to teach us that this world is no more our home than the countries in which we serve and that our earthly bodies are as temporal as the suitcases which we so regularly replace due to the wear and tear of mission travel.
Although I have read the exhortations of God the Holy Spirit concerning the fact that this world is not our home, it was not until we began our missionary travels that I came to a fuller understanding of these instructions. God the Holy Spirit reminds us in Philippians 3:20 that â€śour citizenship is in heavenâ€ť and again in 1 Peter 2:11 that we are to live â€śas aliens and strangers in the world.â€ť
When we are on the mission field, we are in strange surroundings. Nothing seems permanent, and even the most familiar is different enough to be unsettling. No matter how sweet the fellowship, no matter how strong the assurances are of love, there is always the sense that we do not quite belong. We may forget for a moment, but then language, culture, tastes and the limitations of being a foreigner on a temporary visa bring us back to reality. The clock on our visa is always ticking. We know that, no matter how settled we become, we will eventually have to leave. We are loved and have sweet fellowship with those to whom we minister, yet we always know that this is only a temporary fellowship and that we will soon be returning home to family. Only the Lord knows if we will ever return. In fact, we know that someday health, finances, the world political climate, a reassignment by God or a promotion to heaven will bring this ministry to an end. Now, when I read verses concerning our transient state on earth, I recognize that same feeling. On earth I am surrounded by friends, family and those with whom I minister, but this is not my home, this is not where I belong. I am an emissary, an ambassador, sent on a temporal mission. Someday I will go to that heavenly kingdom where I will truly be at home.
We praise God that our home is in heaven, and we are simply living out of both our literal fabric suitcases and our bodily suitcases of clay until we arrive at our final destination. Until then, we are just in transit. We have no right of expectation, nor personal desire to stay permanently on this fallen earth.
2 Corinthians 4:7 states â€śbut we have this treasure in jars of clay.â€ť We are living out of a suitcase of clay. We are only here temporarily. Soon we will be called home to rest from our labors.
Another passage which our particular form of mission ministry has helped me to understand is Hebrews 11:13-16 which reminds us that "all these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them."
Living out of a suitcase gives you the perspective that we are "strangers and exiles on the earth." We, as the saints of old freely confessed, are strangers and aliens on this earth. We, like they, seek ultimately a heavenly kingdom and a heavenly, permanent home.
You see, we are now home in Houston, but we are not home. We are applying for a renewal of our visa to return to Russia. We are raising funds for the church in Russia and our ministry. We are in communication with churches and ministries in Zambia, Cameroon and Nigeria. We are, indeed, an unsettled couple in terms of our residence. Both El and I will share with one another how we wake in the middle of the night and think not just â€śwhich side of the bedâ€ť are we on but â€śwhich side of the earth.â€ť Then our heads clear and we remember â€“ â€śAh, yes, this is Zambia, Cameroon, Russia, England, France or Houston.â€ť Even when we are home, we no longer have the luxury to settle in. Even when we are home, we are transients.
Yet this is how God would have us all live in terms of this present life. Christians are indeed transients, an â€śunsettled people.â€ť We should always feel that we do not quite â€śfit inâ€ť as we wait for our promotion to our heavenly home. In my travels in third world countries, I have met a number of lower level government employees serving in consulates or embassies. They are living and serving in countries other than their home country. Their goal is not to spend their career in a backwater consulate or government station, but they are waiting for the call, the promotion, a more permanent position, preferably back home.
I, too, have come to share their heart. I, too, am waiting for that call to my heavenly, permanent post and home. I have no intention of spending eternity on this backwater, fallen planet. Here I intend to work hard, as both emissary and ambassador for Christ, but we, like all those who truly believe, yearn for that promotion to our heavenly and permanent home. God the Holy Spirit reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:20 that â€śwe are therefore Christ's ambassadors,â€ť and, like any good ambassador, no matter how far down the pecking order we may be, we desire to represent our Lord and Savior to His glory. We desire to be found as hard workers when He returns. We do not look at this fallen world as our home but to a heavenly kingdom, and until we are promoted, we will serve with all our hearts - faithfully proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. Today in Houston, TX, tomorrow in. . . Russia? Zambia? Cameroon? Nigeria? U.K.? France? Heaven?
Our assignment rests with the will of our King.
By His mercy, II Corinthians 4:1 Rev. John S. Mahon â€“ Director Grace Community Int.