"These...confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland."
This wonderful blog post was written by a guest author, who graciously allowed us to include her story for your benefit. "Sister Lydia" is a young woman that I have known for several years. Her parents are dear friends and ministry partners serving the Lord in Central Asia. In this short reflection, she describes her unique journey growing up on the mission field and of finding her identity in Christ, rather than in a national identity. Enjoy:
(the following story is lightly edited for content and for security)
Most of my life was spent in Central Asia where I attended a local school. One of the assignments I had to complete as a first grader was an essay about our homeland. The task appeared to me somewhat unclear and I decided to ask for clarification on the definition of the word “homeland”. “A homeland is the country you were born in, the place where you grew up, the nation of your citizenship, the home of your parents, and the place where your heart belongs”, my teacher explained. Unfortunately, her answer created more confusion than clarification. Everything she described had a different geographic location. I was born in Turkey, raised in Central Asia, my father grew up in America, and my mother in Ukraine. As a first grader, I struggled to figure out where my heart should belong.
For many years to come, I continued my search for a place of belonging. While I developed many close friendships in Central Asia, I did not completely identify with the culture. People referred to me as the “American girl” even though I had no memories of living in America. When I would visit the U.S. every few summers, I would be the “foreign kid”. When I was younger, this dynamic did not bother me, but as I grew older, I increasingly thought about it.
I realized that in Christ I could belong both in the East and in the West, because my true citizenship does not belong on earth. My true homeland is with God in heaven.
After I turned 15, my family moved back to America for the first time in 13 years. At first, this change excited me. I thought I finally returned to the country of my roots. I would look, talk, and act like everyone around me. However, the first time I visited an American youth group these thoughts proved inaccurate. I remember walking in and feeling completely lost. The difference in fashion, vernacular, and interests became apparent to me very quickly. I thought my life in Central Asia set me apart and made me unique to my American peers, but I sensed their absence of interest in my oversees life. Therefore, I tried to simply blend in. I started dressing like everyone else, watching the same movies, and listening to the same music. My efforts soon bore fruit and I began to change not only outwardly but inwardly.
After a while, few people could tell that I grew up oversees. In this time of “rebranding” I lost touch with the person who God made me to be. I put all my time and effort into trying to fit in and neglected the spiritual aspects of my life. I longed to make friends and connections in America to satisfy my desire for belonging. But deep down inside I felt like I had lost touch with my true self and with God. However, God did not allow me to wander for too long. He slowly woke me to the emptiness that had filled my life. I understood that He made me the way I am for a reason. I realized that God made Central Asia and its culture a part of my life no matter how hard I tried to hide it.
Instead of trying to find my value in other people, I strove to seek my identity in God. Though the lessons I learned seemed challenging, they shaped my ability to relate to people from different cultures without losing my identity. Living in various countries gave me the gift of feeling at home in those places. I realized that in Christ I could belong both in the East and in the West, because my true citizenship does not belong on earth. My true homeland is with God in heaven.