Stopping to consider the lessons I’ve learned from my opportunities to travel, my perspective on being an American has changed. I came to realize that I thought was gratitude, was actually a form of pride.
Gratitude or pride?
I don’t think it was intentional, and at best it was subtle, but this sense of pride in my heritage was misplaced, and being in another country definitely changed how I saw myself and the world around me.
Our journey to Madagascar was long–this destination was the farthest we had ever traveled from home. What was scheduled to be a 61+ hour trek turned into a 85+ hour journey. It wasn’t my first trip outside the U.S., but I knew going into it that I would gain an even greater insight about this great big wonderful world that we live in.
The moment you enter an airport filled with travelers from all over the world, you get a glimpse of the diversity of these people from all parts of the globe. Some that would never give you the time of day and others that don’t seem to know a stranger. Some kind, some unhappy or even angry–others, apathetic.
I’ve always been a people watcher (to the point that my kids have called me on it!), and the more I see of the human spirit, the more I have come to believe that the outlook we have on life characteristically shaped by what what we believe. More than physical, our spiritual and emotional connection to our Creator can place us on common ground with others no matter our physical location or position in life.
Madagascar was no different. I have seen complete joy on the impoverished face of African children and worshiped wholeheartedly with faithful believers in a thatched roof church. Worshiping the same God on foreign soil, the heart connection of those who share the same love for the God of the Bible is strong.
People are PEOPLE. It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you’ve been, how much you have or what you’ve accomplished. We are all a part of Gods beautiful creation, uniquely designed for His purpose–and what connects us more strongly than any physical similarity is a common thread: belief in the Son of God who came to save us.
While I am thankful for my heritage, and understand how blessed I am to live in a country where I have democracy and freedoms that others only dream about, I recognize the danger of my heart becoming prideful. Not a criticism intended solely for Americans, I have also seen the scowls of bitter old men, wealthy by the world’s standards, who refuse to be grateful for what they have. Age is not a determining factor, to be sure, but the longevity of life does tend to bring either more of the bitterness or quite the opposite–a comfortable sweetness that stems from a life well-lived.
“Man, am I glad I was born in America!”
Traveling to a third-world country does remind me to be thankful that God allowed me the privilege of living in a free nation. It is a gift. Nothing I have ever done earned me this right. Nothing in me deserves it more than another, and so with such a privilege, I see great responsibility. Speaking the truth in love is at the top of the list.
Instead of pride welling up inside of me, it should be humility bringing me to my knees.
Often the world sees Americans very differently than the picture we think we portray. Sometimes seen as wealthy and sometimes as selfish–and often only a distant benefactor. In our compassion we can be quick to provide physical needs, but our actions might be misconstrued, and our motive only a bandaid for our conscience. If we’re not careful, we will forget that the greatest need of our world is to know Jehovah Jireh–the One who provides so much more than temporary hope.
On our very first international mission trip to Poland, we were seen as celebrities. More than once we were asked, “Why would you come to Poland?” While the rest of the world might see a humanitarian effort, God wanted us to see it less from a human perspective and more from a eternal one. This “trip” to teach conversational English was really a perfect opportunity to share the gospel. What a privilege to tell them that Jesus came foreveryone, and that we were on mission to make sure that our students heard this truth from God’s Word.
Though I am a native-born American, I am first a representative of Christ. As a young adult I worked in the travel business, but could never really let myself dream of being a world-traveler myself. I took great joy in sending others on great adventures and looked forward to hearing their stories. When God opened the door for me to experience this great big world in a way that I could never have imagined, He gave me a perspective that will forever be changed. My citizenship is in heaven–and as the old hymn says, “I am only passing through”.
Even though you and I are only temporary travelers on this earth, what we do for Christ and how we represent Him will last for eternity.
I truly want my life, my attitude, and even my countenance to reflect the thankfulness I have in my heart for a God who loves me and has been “faithful and true.”