I am only, always just a resident alien on a yoyo between worlds, with a foreign address, borrowed rooms, and a “home” where I never live. At least not yet. Someday. Meanwhile everything is temporary. A modern nomad, I have no herds, just other moveable goods: my books, my music, practical clothes, and indications of my nesting instinct like candles, chocolate, the essential coffeepot, and photos. Not even family stays intact: I trail children in my wake, some here, some there; siblings halfway around the world, parents all back where we come from. Friends are lost to distance or to silence. Memories of discarded nests of back and forth and torturous goodbyes move in succession through my thoughts. Airports have sanded off my heart until it’s raw. Togetherness and roots are the elusive stuff of dreams. Just call me Sarah, partnered with my Abe, inevitably packing up and moving on, risking everything on promises and for the sake of the Voice. We do have resting places; we’ve left our markers there, something permanent in all the transience. They stand as firm reminders of epiphanies. Whenever we can circle back in thought or fact, we do. And there, we find that gratitude and confidence renewed give hope a boost, and keep us headed in our true direction: a country where we’ll turn in suitcases for all the comforts of Home.
Twenty years ago I wrote that poem about our nomadic lifestyle, on mission, going where the Lord told us to go. We had recently been evacuated from civil war in Côte d’Ivoire and were in temporary housing in the U.S., uncertain about what moves the future might have for us. Three years later we were able to return to our work in that West African country. It was indeed our other home, but it felt very different: the country was divided, and that northern section where we worked was under rebel control. Every moment was underlined with uncertainty. Once again, the Lord brought us all through it, the country was reunited and we continued our ministry there until retirement in 2019.
But the moves were not over yet. We now had roots in Detroit (where we still live), and it did feel like home. Nevertheless both Glenn and I are still associated with ongoing projects in Ferke, our other “home,” and every year one or both of us have gone back for short visits to contribute to their progress.
That’s where we are right now, again! On January 13th we flew out of Detroit, and by late afternoon on the 16th we arrived in Ferke. We are in a different house than the one we lived in most of those previous decades, but we did live there once before for one year while another family needed our space in town. Here, we are out at the Baptist Hospital station where I grew up, and where we lived during our first term back as a family. It is no wonder that every time I go from one room to another, or out and about, memories come sliding into internal video play. Right now, I am “circling back” into those epiphanies.
So I am going to take a break from digging into the Sermon on the Mount in order to offer you an opportunity to accompany me on this particular journey. Some of you have had to uproot yourselves and move as well, and you can empathize with the way it is indeed possible to be deeply rooted in drastically different places on this wide earth.
Many characters in the Bible had those kinds of lives too. I think right away of Abraham and Sarah and their family, of Moses, Joshua, Ruth, and others. Each one had to trust their Lord God YHWH to accompany them. Jesus lived that way as well, from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to travels without a permanent home all over Israel and in Samaria. To begin with, he had left his forever-home in heaven to become a human being in order to rescue us from all our wrong choices, all our wandering down the wrong paths. He truly understands what it means to be a traveler—in my imagery, a nomad.
We had first arrived here in Ferke in 1979, and retired forty years later. You can imagine the wealth of adventures we had during those years, hard stuff and wonderful stuff. Going back to the States to retire put us on a new path of learning the culture around us in Detroit and following the Lord’s guidance in our use of time. Meanwhile, we’ve had the benefits of the technological revolution that have allowed us to keep connected to many of our dear African friends. And we’ve been back and forth, as I mentioned.
So here we are again. Where are you? Are you in the place you’ve called home for a while? Or is it a new place? Wherever you are, the Lord YHWH is with you. Psalm 139 has been a theme of my life ever since my prayer partner at Wheaton College (both of us MSU graduates) underlined it for me. Some people I’ve shared it with since have found it scary, especially the part that has God basically looking over your shoulder and knowing everything about you. I have found it reassuring. No matter where I am, as his child I am with him, and he is with me—nothing can be more essential to peace:
You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Ps. 139:1-10 NIV)
I am now back on the far side of the sea, since Detroit is now “home.” But this is still “home” in my heart as well. We had long visits with 10 people yesterday and this morning, the flow to our house a reminder of close relationships formed through the years. There are more visits that we will also be making. The deep cultural value of community is a treasure here. And it is a privilege to see the fruit of hard work, a harvest we never would have expected during the early years. People are excited that they have the New Testament and Pentateuch and Psalms in their mother tongue. More and more Nyarafolos are becoming fluent readers, even those who never went to school at all, due to their hunger for the Word. Friends who have battled serious physical distress are grateful to God and to all who helped them, sharing their stories of healing and progress forward.
The little things matter too, reminding me that the Creator has put delights here that trigger joy: bulbuls singing in the dawn light, tiny baby mangoes on certain trees and fingers of pink-beige blossoms on others, a white butterfly swooping by, a stately baobab standing guard beyond a village, the long fronds of a banana tree waving in the wind outside my window. They are markers of this place—along with the dust blown in by the harmattan wind from the Sahara and the teeny ants craving water and clustering around leaky faucets.
Best of all are the memories of God’s Presence. He protected us when in the war zone, then in rebel territory with no rule of law. He opened our “home” village of Tiepogovogo to us back in those early days, having already put hunger for Jesus in the hearts of two young men there by appearing to one of them. Now there are over 100 believers meeting there, coming from surrounding villages as well. He brought us through bouts with serious diseases. He gave us three children (two of them born here) to raise in this other world and provided the right educational opportunities for them. He gave us Family here, a panorama of sons and daughters and grandkids we could never have imagined. He had a purpose in making us and then sending us here, very vague to us at first; he opened up new paths along the way:
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Ps. 139:13-16 NIV)
Each of us has a unique story. Those of us who have followed the Lord’s leading can look back and see his hand on our lives, wherever he has placed us. I just want to obey the Father and share some of what he has done for me and through me and Glenn together—all credit going to Abba—so that it might encourage the faith of any who might need that:
We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. (Ps. 78:4b NIV)
Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. (Ps. 105:1 NLT)
Where are you now? Where have you been? To whom can you share what the Lord has done, for others and for you? Wherever we are, our good, gentle, gracious God is with us, giving us protection and provision and purpose. So let’s move forward with him!
This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Jos. 1:9 NLT)
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20 NLT)
When we follow Jesus, we know where the Road we walk with him will end up: at our forever home. We will be totally at home at last, a place where no roots will be wrenched out, secure in a completely good world filled with joys we cannot even imagine from down here. I’m sure we will see how we have been formed into who he had in mind from the beginning, using all of those changes and moves, enriching us with more understanding of him and of the world. Nomads that we’ve been, we will join the crowd of travelers (like Abraham and Sarah) who have seen God at work. Just read Hebrews 11!