Originally published Monday, 21 October 2013.
When I stepped onto that plane just shy of 21 years old, little did I know just how much things would change.
I was saying goodbye to the only town I’d ever known – a predominantly Dutch, middle-class, American suburb – and walking into the bustling, diverse metropolis of Cape Town.
Forget trying to fit in … the moment I opened my mouth, my tongue betrayed me, and my twangy American accent stuck out like a sore thumb.
The irony is that now, after spending over ten years living amongst South Africans, the harshness of my American accent has been sanded down, and what remains is often not recognizable to those in my own hometown.
My South African husband, our three kids and I recently moved from Cape Town to the States. Upon our arrival, people would strike up a conversation with me, and after a few minutes pose the question, “Where are you from?”
I’m from here! I’d want to scream. Really, I am! It might not sound like it, but I’m one of you!
If you’ve ever lived in a foreign context for any length of time, you’ll know what I mean.
Maybe it wasn’t your accent that changed, but I’m quite confident that some part of you did. Not only that, but the place you left behind changed in your absence, too.
Life goes on. People and places bend and shift and progress.
The town that once was the only place I’d known for 21 years is now different. People have moved, gotten married, had babies. Some have died. New restaurants have gone up, others have been torn down.
In South Africa, I did my best to make our house a home, and yet even after ten years, the myricad of cultures were still foreign to me.
I didn’t quite belong.
Moving back ‘home,’ has made me realize I don’t quite belong here, either. A handful of people are kind enough to ask what it’s like in South Africa, but often it’s just out of common courtesy, or to make conversation. And to be honest, even my best efforts to describe the beauty will never do it justice. They will never really know what it was like to live there.
This is what it’s like when we’re living in the in-between.
And as long as we’re between the fall and glory, between creation and the final redemption, we’ll never really feel as though we belong.
We’re not supposed to.
In John 15:19, Jesus says, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”
We’re called to be in the world, but not of it.
We’re sojourners on this earth, wanderers, not really fitting in until Christ returns and we will be welcomed into His eternal fold forever.
This is the tension of the “already-not yet” kingdom.
True, if we are believers, then we already belong to Him. He is in us and we are in Him – and yet we’re not with Him as we desire to be.
I may be a U.S. citizen and I may have permanent residency in South Africa – but, by the grace of God, my citizenship is in heaven.
If you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and yet in the day-to-day grind of life you feel that you don’t belong – don’t fret.
You’re not supposed to.
Be glad when your Christian accent clashes with the voices of the world, and count it a privilege to belong to Him alone.