Why in the World Have I Left America?
I spent the last week in California, after having lived overseas for four years, and was blown away by so many graces present there. I was blown away by the general kindness of people who would pet my parent’s dog that I was taking on a walk, who would say “bless you” when I sneezed and who did their jobs without looking for bribes. Even at the airport at 5am, the associates greeted me with a warm “Good morning!” while smiling. Instead of getting elbowed and shoved around while waiting for my luggage at the baggage claim, a man helped me get my heavy bag off the belt.
On top of that, I was enamored with the organization of America. There are sidewalks. Lanes on the freeway that people stay in. You can cross the road at a crosswalk and cars stop. People wait in what I have heard called “lines” without pushing and shoving.
What else was tremendously striking was the wealth and comfort of America. The wealth in America is like having a child who only plays with dirt and sticks, and then one day someone takes him to Disneyland. There are simply no words to describe the sense of amazement that child feels as he looks around at the beautiful buildings, the flashing lights, and the laughing Disney characters.
But what is most awe-inspiring about America are the churches and the Christians. I know there are problems there too, and yet I have abundant numbers of sincere, God-fearing, Jesus-loving friends. I went to my parent’s church and stood in amazement as hundreds of people were singing in unison “Hosanna in the highest.” The love, and particularly the Christian love, I have found in America is an almost forgotten foretaste of the love of Heaven. One cannot help but to be drawn to it.
And so, in seeing all of these graces, a question that kept lingering in my mind was, “Why in the world have I given all this up? Why not live in a place where my kids could have friends that grow up in Christian homes? Why not go to a great church and grow in my knowledge of the Word of God? Why not avoid the malaria, bugs, and intense suffering that is often at our doorstep?”
Because My Life is Not Precious
While these thoughts may be normal, I am convinced that they are not godly. Paul said in Acts 20:24 “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
My comfort, my happiness, my ease, my desire to be around kind people are simply not of any value. I know that cuts against human nature and the air we breathe in America as we hear in a million different forms, “Have it your way,” “Do what’s best for you,” and “Follow your heart.” The messages we hear from within, and from without, scream for us to consider ourselves first. These voices call us to take up our own comfort, but I do not see such a call in Scripture. The Lord calls us instead to lay it down. Paul said that the value of his life was not even on the list of factors in his decision making. He did not consider his preferences at all, but instead was single-minded focusing only on the ministry he received from the Lord.
Because the Privileged are Called to Share
Another sentiment that I felt in America was not only a sense of awe but also a burden for those who live without such luxuries. It just does not seem fair. Take for example my mom, who has (had?) cancer. She was operated on by one of the best surgeons in America who also seemed to genuinely care for her. In fact, when she read my mom’s prognosis, she started crying. My mom was operated on at Stanford, which is renowned for their cancer research. Hundreds of people prayed for her and sent her letters, some sent her flowers, and others texts to encourage her. And, in contrast, how many people in the world die of something preventable like dehydration, without one prayer offered up for them? And then many go and spend forever in Hell. Something in us ought to scream that this is just not right.
It is hard because the gifts in America are truly gifts from the hand of a kind God, given to us to enjoy. And it is hard to let go of these gifts. In one sense it feels like they are not meant to be let go.
But if some do not, who will help those who do not have such gifts? Perhaps God intends for them to receive such gifts through our hands. If doctors from developed countries do not let go of their wealth and status, who will train up doctors in undeveloped countries? If people do not leave their families who have a long, rich Christian heritage, who will teach the children who come from a long lineage of idol-worshippers? If we all stay in our own churches, who will go to the places that have no churches? The truth is that the rich will keep getting richer and the poor poorer unless the rich go and help the poor out of their poverty, whether that be physical or spiritual poverty.
And so, I choose missions all over again. I do not like leaving my friends and family who understand me to come to a place where I am not understood. I do not like leaving great Christian role models for my kids to come to a place where we can count the number of Christians we know on one hand. And I do not know if, even after a life of work, the Bakoum will even read the Bible. I do not think God is ripping these kindnesses out of my hands in being a missionary, but rather he is calling me to lay them down before him over and over again, trusting that he is keeping better kindness safe for me in Heaven. Come what may, I am all in and glad to be back.