God, bless America

Good morning, America.  Happy Independence Day!

I am 8,020 miles away, enjoying the same sunshine that will greet you in a few hours, glad to be here serving God but softly missing my homeland on its birthday.

Eleven years ago, I spent the Fourth of July in Mongolia, where SIM had sent me as a missionary journalist for the previous month.  The US Embassy there hosted a picnic for Americans and their guests.  There were hot dogs, Heinz ketchup and French’s mustard, patriotic songs, and lots of bunting.  Kids from many nations splashed around the apartment complex’s fountain.  I remember feeling very moved by signs and symbols of my homeland; it was the longest I’d ever been away from her before, but I was also near my return.

Now, we have only been gone two weeks, with two years yet to go.  I am sure moments of deep homesickness will come, but I don’t feel sad today, just absent.  There will be picnics and fireworks and patriotic displays at home, but it is just another day here.  I’m sure Cape Town has fireworks sometimes, just not today.

The kids asked recently if we were still Americans or were now South Africans.  “Americans,” I told them.  “We live in South Africa now, but we will always be Americans.”  I am grateful for our host country and its people; they have welcomed us well and warmly, but we know we are their guests, not their fellows.  We are glad to be here, glad to be making friends across cultures, glad to be serving Christ and sharing His love.  We’re also glad and grateful to be Americans, to have been born and raised in a land of freedom and peace and prosperity, to have the protections of our citizenship.  Many lands have such blessings, but many others don’t.  We pray for their freedom, safety, and redemption.

Our last few weeks in America were a whirlwind, with little time to think or reflect and even less to write, but one of the most meaningful moments for me was visiting the Statue of Liberty for the first time.  Having just dropped off our visa applications at the South African consulate in New York City, standing beneath that symbol of America, of freedom, and of immigration touched me deeply.

America has always been a mixture of immigrants seeking freedom, peace, and a chance to pursue happiness.  William Saroyan, a first-generation American, celebrated our diverse heritage in his World War II novel The Human Comedy:

The little automobile moved along parallel with Kings River near the picnic grounds. On this Sunday afternoon five big picnics were going on-with music and dancing-Italians, Greeks, Serbs, Armenians, and Americans. Each group had its own kind of music and dancing. Spangler stopped the automobile at each group for a moment in order to be able to listen to the singing and to watch the dancing. “Those are Greeks over there. I used to know a family of Greeks. That’s the way they dance in the old country.” 

The car moved on a short distance and stopped again. “Those people over there are the Armenians. I can tell from the bearded priests and the lively kids. That’s what they believe in-God and kids.” The car moved on and stopped near another group. “Those people are Slovenians and Serbs, and maybe a few other people from around in there.”

The car moved a short distance and then stopped again. “Italians. Corbett himself is probably over there somewhere with his wife and kids.”

Now, the automobile came to the last group. The music was loud swing, jive and boogie-woogie, and the dancing was wild. “Americans! Greeks, Serbs, Poles, Russians, Mexicans, Armenians, Germans, Negroes, Swedes, Spaniards, Basques, Portuguese, Italians, Jews, French, English, Scotch, Irish. You name it. That’s who we are.”

The body of Christ is similar:  people from any (and someday every) background, choosing to become something-else-as-well.  Not giving up their heritage, but adopting a new identity grounded in a common idea:  the kingdom of Heaven, joined through the redemption freely given by Jesus.  We sang a hymn recently in Zulu, not understanding its words but appreciating its beauty and desire to glorify God.  The other night, I taught some of the other missionaries a card game called Quiddler.  We sat around the table, an American, a South African, an Australian, a Brit, a Northern Irishman, and a Swiss, all speaking English differently and all coming from different lands but members of Christ’s kingdom, working together to save those outside it.  Trying to help people find freedom in Christ, independence from sin.

We are here as Christians and missionaries, but we are always also Americans.  We are representatives and emissaries of God, not of our country, people, or government – but we are always examples of America for those from other lands..  Far away from home, serving and representing Christ, we pray for the work we have here and for the people around us, but we also pray for home, for those we love there, and for the good of our country.  God, bless America, land that I love.  Stand beside her and guide her through the night with a Light from above.

“Prayer for Home”

by Fernando Ortega
(listen here)

This has long been a favorite song of mine, but it’s especially dear this morning.

Grant them peace, most precious gift of all
Keep the worried world far away and small
When they return, may quiet fill their souls,
Dearest Lord, keep them safe within it’s walls.

May the stone be cool beneath their feet.
The canyon breezes circle soft and sweet
When darkness falls, the stars and opal moon
Find them wrapped in each other, ever warm.

May it be a refuge for their love,
A harbor for their deepest prayer.
May they come to flourish in the grove,
Grow ever nearer to You there.

Many a burdened friend in their company rises,
A heavy heart is soon released to fly.
May their table be blessed with laughter and with grace
And by the comfort of kinship be surprised.

May it be a refuge for their love,
A harbor for their deepest prayer.
May they come to flourish in the grove,
Grow ever nearer to You there.

May the cold wind blow far from their front door
May the winter rains never bring them harm
May their hearthfires burn throughout the night
Grant them sleep until morning’s perfect light.

May it be a refuge for their love,
A harbor for their deepest prayer.
May they come to flourish in the grove,
Grow ever nearer to You there.



Categories: Prayers, Updates, & Answers, Stories, News, & Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “God, bless America

  1. God bless your nation 😊

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