I understand how Abraham felt when he said, “I am a foreigner and a visitor among you” in Genesis 23:4.
I have experienced the loneliness that is expressed by Moses when he names his first born, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land” in Exodus 2:22.
I know what it’s like to travel to someplace for the first time, not speaking the language, not understanding the customs, not recognizing the sign for the bathrooms, being alone.
I have been a stranger in a foreign land.
I know those feelings, that dread, fear, because that’s how I felt when I went to Cuba for the first time two years ago.
Let me tell you about that first trip:
The flight was 3 hours late, arriving at 12:30 in the morning. After going through customs and immigration, we stepped outside and saw Tony Fernandez, who had been Herald of Truth’s representative in that island nation for 14 years, waiting for us. I recognized him from pictures taken by my colleagues Tim Archer and Steve Ridgell on their previous visits.
After a very short night’s sleep in Havana, the trip to Matanzas, about two hours northeast, is somewhat of a blur only highlighted by the people we met: Ammiel Perez, who is the minister of the Havana Church; some radio listeners who had learned about Jesus from Tim’s daily program; the men who were rebuilding an old city bus to be used to pick up members of the congregation living in the surrounding country side; the visit to the farm where food is grown to give to church members; and meeting Tony’s wife, Liudmila, and his young daughter, Susana.
Then we went to the church building. I had seen it in pictures, but being there reminded me that a courtyard of a home with a corrugated sheet metal roof is just as holy as any building we have in the United States. Suddenly, I felt at home. I sat down and just thought about all that God had done there. And that tomorrow, Sunday, I would worship here.
I was both anxious and eager that Sunday morning as Tony drove us the 20 minutes from our hotel in Varadero back to Matanzas. The closer we got the more anxious and less eager I got. How would they greet me, an old white haired Yankee?
That morning I was the last of our group to enter. I, the stranger in a foreign land, was greeted with smiles, hugs, kisses; I was a distant relative returning home. It didn’t matter that all I could say was “hola”, “gracias”; it didn’t matter that I was different.
I had felt like Abraham and Moses, a stranger in a foreign land, but I was and am family.
Now, Therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
They and I are no longer strangers or foreigners. And while we live far apart, we are family! We are part of the household of God. We are brothers and sisters because of Jesus.
This last March I again traveled back to Matanzas and again worshipped with my Cuban church family. We were united physically and spiritually.
And I thanked them for welcoming me home. They and I would like to welcome you home as well. If you don’t know where that is, or you’ve lost your way, or you don’t think you can go home again, I can help. Write me at email@example.com or join our blog conversation at hopeforlife.org. You don’t have to be a stranger or foreigner any more.