As a 21-year-old soon-to-be college senior, I packed by bags and flew across the ocean to Berlin, Germany, to serve with a church missions team. I was committed to stay for the entire summer, doing children’s ministry, community outreach, and tutoring. I even preached my first sermon ever to an entirely German congregation one Sunday through an interpreter!
There are parts of that experience I will treasure always, and many experiences and people I will never forget. I am still connected through social media to several of the people I met there, and I have pieces of the actual Berlin wall on my shelf that I chipped off myself! It was an amazing adventure, a wonderful educational experience, and it helped me take leaps and bounds in my faith.
But although it was a life-changing experience, it was difficult to be immersed in a completely different culture for 2½ months! Of course the language was a huge obstacle. I’d had 3 years of German in High School, but I was not at all prepared to function on my own in a foreign country. It’s unnerving to know someone is talking to you, or about you, but you can’t understand them. I remember going to the bakery and to the post office my first week in Berlin, scared to death. I had memorized a sentence or two, but didn’t know what I’d do if the conversation veered away from my script. By the end of the summer I was tutoring a small class, using a lot of the German I’d learned, but it was a long haul to get to that point. I learned more of the language in a couple months in Berlin than I’d picked up in all of High School.
The food was another big difference. I mean, I thought I liked bratwurst and all, but they ate it a lot! Actually, the food was pretty good, it was just different. There were dishes and seasonings that I wasn’t accustomed to, and it took some getting used to. And I couldn’t get much of the food I was used to in the States.
One other difference revolved around the use of water. I was used to showering at least once a day, each shower taking about 10 minutes or so. We learned after we arrived that not only were our hosts not used to showering daily, but they used very minimal water when they bathed (picture: rinse…water off…lather…rinse…done). I think the time the water was on for an average shower was 90 seconds. It was quite an adjustment!
There were other things, like no ice in the beverages; and they don’t drink tap water (it’s all that sparkling stuff); and I slept on the floor…
Although it was a great experience, my heart was still in my home country.
The main reason that I made it through that summer in Berlin without too much homesickness was that I knew it wasn’t permanent. No matter what differences there were or problems that came up, I knew that at the end of the summer I would be home, where I belonged.
Followers of Jesus have some of those same feelings that I had in Berlin, or at least we should. We are here in this world for a short amount of time, and it’s not our home. As the Apostle says, we’re “citizens of heaven…”
Philippians 3:17-4:1 “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!”
Living as citizens of heaven instead of belonging to this physical world should be evident in how we live. It should be obvious to others that we don’t belong here. I guess what I’m saying is that our citizenship determines our conduct, how we act.
We live in a world that is anything but heavenly. In addition to the pain and problems we endure, we live among people that Paul described in as “enemies of the cross of Christ,” destined for destruction, following every whim, drive and desire, and glorifying shameful things. The most important things in their lives are earthly and temporary. That describes the world where we live. But that’s not where we belong… As believers in and followers of Jesus, we are citizens of heaven, and our conduct should show it!
When I was in Berlin, it was obvious that I was American. I stuck out. I learned enough German to buy bread and mail a letter, but it was obvious to everyone, and especially to me, that I didn’t really belong there.
I wonder if someone was watching your life, would they know that you are a citizen of heaven? Or are you fitting in too well, your “mind set on earthly things?”
“The problem for many believers is not that they are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good; it’s that they are so earthly minded they no longer create a hunger in others for heavenly things.” – Chuck Swindoll