I was in America for the first time in forever on Memorial Day. This is a day where we remember the sacrifice of many who fought for the freedom of America. Drive down any street and you will see flags waving on houses with patriotism abounding. I found myself in the heartland of America this year. As I watched a military color guard present the Stars and Stripes for the national anthem of a baseball game, it struck me.
I live here now. This is not a visit, it is a move.
Perhaps my love for baseball made this epiphany so poignant. I simultaneously felt my love for America swell in my heart and my nervousness at returning after 12 years overseas cause my stomach to churn.
Our family is returning from 12 years serving in South Africa. I am leaving 25 years in missions service to return to serve as a pastor in the local church I grew up in. We return to my hometown, one which I left 25 long years ago.
We are different. America is very different.
We return at perhaps the most politically divided time in history. Tension, sexism, and racism which were kept locked in secret closets seem to rearing their head on a weekly basis.
Touching down on American soil as a returning resident, many sights greeted me which demonstrated how different I have become.
Walking through an airport I was able to identify where many people of African origin were from. I can now tell the nation or the region of many immigrants or citizens of America. African black people do not all look alike to me! (By the way, in Africa, I met many who think all white people look alike. It’s all a matter of familiarity!) I envisioned walking up to them and confirming my suspicions. “You are from Ethiopia, right?” or “Where in West Africa do you come from?”
When I have had these experiences in the past with Uber drivers or fellow travelers, you can feel their sense of relief as I celebrate their heritage rather than cast a suspicious look.
Unfortunately, their experience in America has often not reflected the motto on the Statue of Liberty of, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”
- I also observed the major decline in the infrastructure within America. Airports and roads are suffering and lagging behind many other countries I travel to.
- I found myself walking to the “wrong side” of the car for driving the first time.
- I may have driven on the wrong side of the road already (in a parking lot – stop judging)
After living through the current water crisis Cape Town is experiencing, I think differently about water usage. I still feel compelled to catch my shower water in a bucket to fill up the tank in my toilet.
My experiences range from the shocking to the humorous. Any sign in America’s heartland directing you to a ski area is now really funny!
I return with a great excitement and anticipation for the new season of life and ministry. I also have moments of panic and terror as I consider the shock this will be for my children who truly are foreigners in the land of their passport.
Maybe it was the baseball and flags waving in the early summer breeze. Perhaps it touched on a sense of nostalgia for what once was. Or maybe, it hits deep on a hope that the future can look more like the past.
Until then, I am a stranger in my own land.
Photo by NeONBRAND