When you are a missionary, the question "Where are you from?" or "Where do you live?" gets very complex. This year, it's even more difficult for us. In 11 months in the US, we will "live" in Tennessee 3 months (but gone half the time), Arizona 2 months, Michigan 2 months, Colorado 6 weeks, and Baltimore 4 weeks.
After arriving home, we bought ourselves a sturdy little car to get ourselves around this year. I called up the insurance company to get all my ducks in a row, and explained that we had just returned from living abroad. The agent asked if I would be needing homeowner's insurance or renter's insurance. My reply: "Well, you know that CR-V you just insured? That's our home for this year." His response: "Well, I'm sorry to hear that, sir, and I do hope that things improve quickly for you." Serious and tactful to the point of funny.
We are functionally homeless. We depend on the generous hospitality of others. We have bedrooms and maybe a bathroom, but not a home. One day (on the road), Maggie asked, "Where is our home?" Silence ensued. We will not have our own home this year, other than our car, pictured below, packed to the hilt.
This can definitely be challenging. When you lose something, it is gone. We unpack and pack a lot. We are always a guest.
Jesus once said that "foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." (Matthew 8) In fact, for a long time, various segments of the church have chosen to describe Jesus as "homeless". The Franciscans in particular, for a very long time, engaged in long dialogues about whether Jesus even owned the cloak on his back (the idea of his being homeless being a foregone conclusion). Anyone would agree that he traveled light. ("take no bag for the journey or extra shirt" he told his disciples.)
And yes, since Jesus emulated this, there is a virtue to be found in this. I thought that is what I was feeling all of those times when I would go off with a single backpack, containing everything I needed for the next two months. And maybe it was, sort of. But I still had a home to go back to, at the end of the journey.
At one point in our journey, Rachel and I concluded that:
- Yes, we are living "like Jesus" in our homelessness, BUT
- No, Jesus did not carry all these loads of stuff around with him everywhere he went
And thus the joys of "traveling light" are not ours. We wonder about this. Should we just trust that, wherever we show up will have a place for Ben to sleep, and thus the pack-n-play is unnecessary? Should we just trust that Maggie will have clothes waiting for her when we get there? Or maybe we'll just show up under-dressed to every quasi-formal event for the next year on the grounds that we will only travel with 3 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, 1 sweater, and 1 coat?
It's funny, because our lives in Africa have led us to reduce our possessions pretty dramatically. And it continues to do so, as we know that we are not in a position to be acquiring much of anything. I mean, there's no room in the car.
And yet, "the stuff" still has an element of burden to it. We still feel how it creates a gap between us and the life of Jesus. That doesn't mean that it doesn't also serve as a benefit in other ways, but the benefit is not without burden.
And so, oddly enough, we look back to our apartment in Kenya, full of hand-me-down furniture and borrowed kitchen utensils, as well as looking forward to a student dorm apartment in France, for a sense of home. Not in the "home culture" or "friends and family" sense. But in the "place to rest your family in their own space" sense. And in the meantime, we will keep moving across this beloved homeland of ours, pursuing what we believe God has called us towards, incredibly grateful for the homes of others, opened to us as we sojourn on.
(Below: Ben jumps into the sneaker-car at a McDonald's in Gallup, New Mexico, during a pit stop, showing that he can never get enough of the open road.)