Originally Published in 2016
Being a foreigner is not easy. Removed from their homeland and surrounded by a culture that does not understand them, foreigners have always been relegated to the outskirts of society. They have often been rejected, maligned, even hated, by a group of people who sees their very existence as a threat to the “normal” way of life. The annals of history suggest that this milieu is congenital in humanity.
If any country in the history of the world were to be a safe haven for foreigners, it would surely be the United States, which stands on the principle of “liberty and freedom for all.” Yet even in the greatest country in the world, the burden of foreignness could not be cured. Native-Americans were condemned as heathens and had their homelands taken. Irish Catholic immigrants during the 19th century were constantly disparaged and subject to mob violence. Japanese-Americans during WWII were viewed as enemies and unlawfully sent to internment camps. The crimes and racism against African-Americans throughout our nation’s history are too many to count. Even today, debates rage about the presence of Muslim-Americans and how best to handle refugees and immigrants. The list goes on.
Yes, sadly, this is the life of a foreigner. Wherever they go, this type of treatment should be expected – unless of course, they conform to the existing culture and begin to fit in. After all, isn’t this what many in society wish to see? – If you choose to live here, you must abide by our norms and rules.
Having said this, I fear for Christians during this political season. It is safe to say that no matter the outcome of the election, our place in American society will dramatically shift.
However, the scariest thing about all this may not be that we live as hopeless rejects… but that we feel too at home.
You see, we are foreigners – and should expect to be treated as such.
The Apostle Paul calls us “citizens of heaven” (Phil. 3:20). We are merely temporary residents in a land that is vastly different from our home – the new heaven and new earth. This is a land that is already ours as an inheritance but we have not yet taken possession of. It is the true Promised Land, the fulfillment of what the Israelites (living as foreigners in Egypt) were guaranteed by God in the Old Testament.
In giving our lives to Christ, we are bound together with the ultimate foreigner – Jesus. In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus that the “Son of Man has come down from heaven.” He came to a land that did not recognize or understand him. As a result, he was treated as a foreigner and was killed with the outcasts on the fringes of the Holy City. Perhaps this is why throughout his ministry, Jesus was always most merciful and revelatory to the foreigner.
In John 15:18-19, Jesus leaves us with some challenging – and convicting – words: “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world.”
As I reflect on these words, I cannot help but feel that perhaps we are not foreign enough. Perhaps we are not hated enough in our comfortable American lives.
Foreigners may be looked down upon or resented when they refuse to conform to the norms of society. However, foreigners are hated when they try to conform society to their norms.
Yet, I don’t think that this necessarily looks like creating a “Christian America” or portraying the U.S. as some kind of “Christian Nation” through history books and policy making. In fact, sometimes, it may look like just the opposite. Politics is how the world changes things. Personal relationship is how Christian foreigners change things. This does not mean politics are totally irrelevant, but it does mean that they will never be preeminent. Our foreignness will be most apparent not in how “Christian” we can make America but in how Christ-like we act in America. After all, it does not take long to point out men and women who, in their quest to promote Christianity, seem surprisingly at home here.
No, true Christian foreignness looks much more like a young schoolboy staying strangely silent as his classmates engage in lewd conversation. Or maybe it is a middle-aged woman politely telling her friend over the phone that she would rather not engage in gossip.
To be a Christian foreigner is a mindset, a way of living, that looks markedly different from anything else the world offers. It is a proclamation among individuals that not only shouts “we will not change,” but also “come and join.” Our foreignness is characterized by a foreign love, a foreign hope, and a foreign joy that only others from our land can explain – and a lifestyle that only they would want.
Let us be careful not to trade this beauty – the beauty of our foreignness – for the temporary comforts of money, politics, or popularity. This place is not our home…and we should not want it to be.