Displacement. Hope. Glory
Rather than 'Cheers' or 'Warm regards' or 'Blessings', my husband often signs off his emails 'Christ in you, the hope of glory'. It’s from Colossians 1:27. The words hope and glory have mainly carried grief for me these last few years. I think of my twin sister who died two years ago already in glory. As I miss her deeply and constantly, what I still hope for also comes into sharp relief. She no longer contends with her sin. Joy and wholeness are hers. She is with Jesus.
Of course Jesus is also with me, by his Spirit. But I feel anything but whole.
I knew going into living and working cross-culturally that it would add an extra dimension to the Christian discipline of dying to self. My twin described the early years as living as half a person, because you don't have language or understand what's going on and relationships can only ever be half-formed. There are a thousand aspects of your own culture that you have to put to death in order to be fully present and appreciative in the new one. That's painful. It can also feel like a betrayal to people in your own country.
And so, as you go on in cross-cultural life, and I am now almost 8 years in, there is a profound sense of displacement. Of returning to your home country for visits and having people tell you, "You don't belong here anymore," or, "You don't understand us anymore." These things are true to an extent: we have invested elsewhere and spent our time working hard at knowing a different people. Most people in our home country embrace this, recognising that the body of Christ is strongest when the different parts can learn from each other, that cross-cultural workers like us are a bridge that allows this to happen. However, there are those for whom we become objects of suspicion, and ultimately they say, "You cannot be a part of us anymore." Sometimes dying to self also means being rejected by those you thought you belonged to.
And so for me, belonging to Jesus has become all the more precious. Though I am displaced, he has a place for me. Though I am rejected, I am his. And it's been important for me to keep this focus on him and what he is doing because my experience is not of holding onto him but being held by him.
I said to my prayer triplet that between grief and living cross-culturally long-term I feel like I am undone, or taken apart, and I cannot work out how to put what is left of me back together. If I can't even work out who I am, how can I stand or stand firm? A dismembered body, with an arm here and a liver over there and a ligament flung in a distant corner cannot hold itself up, let alone grasp onto something.
But all of these parts can be gathered, broken apart though they are, and held by someone. In Ezekiel 37 the Holy Spirit calls to dry bones, creating tendons where they were none, reuniting bone with muscle. While I cannot keep track of my splayed and scattered parts, he can scoop them up.
If that sounds warm and fuzzy, it doesn’t feel that way. I still feel just as confused and broken. But Jesus has always welcomed broken people. When I was in my earlier years of cross-cultural ministry, someone said to me, "Welcome to be half a person, for as long as you need." I am realising that Jesus makes a similar invitation, "Welcome to be broken..." I can be in pieces and still be safe because he scoops me up.
Were it not for this truth, I would worry that, lying in pieces as I am, I could not organize myself to hold onto him. Or that somehow in my disorientation I would wander beyond his reach. But I am not my saviour; I am the saved one. This reliance on Jesus is not a liability to faith: it's an outworking of the gospel. He is the saviour.
And here is more good news. When the Holy Spirit makes a body live, he then comes to live in it. Jesus not only has a home for me; he has made his home in me by his Spirit. Christ in us, the hope of glory. Of course, this is true for all Christians at the moment of their conversion but for me it’s been particularly pertinent to remember this during experiences of rejection, that even as I feel shamed by others, Jesus is not ashamed to be mine and to live in me.
Neither is his power compromised by the vessel; however shamed or broken I feel is in some ways immaterial: it is Christ’s power at work, not my own. Which means I don’t have to feel particularly together for Jesus to be at work. It is Christ in me that assures this hope and that he chooses to make his home in me makes it even more glorious and him even more worthy of praise.
Tamie hails from Adelaide and lives in Tanzania with her husband and two sons. In partnership with CMS Australia, they work with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES). She is a PhD candidate through the Angelina Noble Centre and writes at www.meetjesusatuni.com