Imagine being born in city in a faraway country, leaving it to move to another country across the world before you are one year old, and then returning to your birth place as a young adult, decades later. That was the situation I was in a couple weeks ago when I flew over the Pacific ocean to visit the beautiful country of New Zealand.
I was born in this country’s largest city, Auckland, a harbor city (harbor and skyline shown at right) with a diverse population of around 1.5 million residents, sky scrapers, the tallest free-standing tower in the southern hemisphere, sail boats, great food, dormant volcanoes, and even sheep. While walking around the city with my brothers one morning, I got a taste of what it might be like to live in a populous city with mass public transport and tall buildings and a fast-paced life style.
I had to keep reminding myself that this foreign city is my birthplace as well. From
looking at all the wandering, aimless people around me as I walked through the city, I couldn’t help think about what my life would be like had I permanently stayed in New Zealand after I was born. It reminded me of all the shepherd-less sheep I had seen while driving through New Zealand farmland, somewhat purposeless, not knowing a reason for existence, feeling lonely in the huge expanse of hills (see Matthew 9:35-26)
Though there were times that it was difficult to know how to feel about the “home country” that I have never lived in, I somehow still felt very welcomed and comfortable in New Zealand, as if there was a special reason for me to go visit. My parents and brothers and I spent a lot of time with my dad’s parents during our stay. This really impacted me. Both of my grandparents have many siblings, so there were a lot of my dad’s aunts, uncles and cousins to visit, as well as my Aunts and Uncles (including my dad’s two sisters, shown at right) and cousins. There were many “limbs” of the family tree to go see and get to know. We really hit it off – with many of them it felt as if I could have known my whole life.
My grandad and his siblings published a book about their family history and legacy a couple years ago. After
reading it on my own, it was great to come see my grandad and some of his siblings and their children in order to put names to the faces and hear about their lives in person. They certainly did not seem aimless, and their passion to share their stories caught my attention. It was really neat what I experienced by spending time with them and listening to them.
Both of my grandad’s parents became Christians before they started a family, and so they passed down to their children the message of redemption and eternal hope that they found in trusting and following Jesus in their lives. My grandad and his siblings have all continued in the Christian faith and have shared this with their children, who have in turn shared it with their children, like me.
It’s like passing the baton in a race. Hebrews 11:6 says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” You can’t make someone have faith. But you can model it for them, and you can pray for them, that God would open their eyes to Him. You can give your life away to the God who has revealed himself by sending His only Son Jesus, the first and only perfect human, to earth to tell us in person about his Kingdom and bridge the gap between us and Him. I believe that humbly showing the people around you (your kids, your coworkers and friends) what it looks like to invite God into your life to be at the center is what Jesus meant by: “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13)
Yes, we all make mistakes. There are blots on every family tree. This is not from just a few “rotten apples;” we’re all to blame to some extent because of the brokenness, selfishness, pride and sin that we each contribute to our family. As my grandad told me, “you can either get better or bitter.” That is why I praise my God, the God of my parents and grandparents, the Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, who has saved so many of my family members from eternal death and hell without knowing God. He has brought healing and second chances and equipped so many of my great Aunts and Uncles and my parents and grandparents to both share the story of what Jesus has done for us and show with their lives why it really matters.
While in New Zealand, I loved and appreciated all the prayers, the games, the encouragement, the bible lessons, church gatherings and games and laughs and stories and meals. These interactions – the “passing of the baton” as it were – greatly challenged me to assess my own life, to treat my younger cousins with love and my elders with respect and to ask them questions. I am moved to humbly offer myself up to Jesus, warts and all, so that HIS message would continue to be made known through my life.
I have not have grown up in the country that I was born in, and this does cause some confusion about where I truly belong when I go back “home” to visit. But maybe I had to move to the other side of the world to see that where I truly belong is not on this world at all. Spiritually speaking, I started out one way: without God. And the “old me” without God and who I was on the inside and where I was headed was not pretty. I was in love with (and with God’s help am still being weaned off of) the world and its culture and ways and was therefore corrupt along with it. But now by faith in Jesus I am headed to the place where I truly belong – heaven, the place where all God’s family, those purchased by the death and resurrection of God’s precious Son Jesus, will live with Him forever.