12 April 2012

Alien Encounters

As some of you already saw on facebook, this week I got my official "Republic of Kenya Alien Certificate." See? Here it is!

To some of you that was no surprise, it simply confirmed something you've known for a while. (Insert smiley-winking face here.) Others of you had much fun generating responses such as, "Take me to your leader," "Live long and prosper," "Keep the probes to yourself," and "I come in peace!" What you haven't seen is the picture that is printed on this card. It seems that the goal of Nyayo House was to make me look as alien-like as possible! BUT since it would be unwise to put a full image of a legal document online, you only get to imagine the picture. I only wish you could have heard Njeri laughing as she handed it to me!

Ok, ok. All joking aside, I do have a serious reason for this post. Call me strange (I'm an alien, remember?), but when I hear the word alien, one of the first things that comes to mind is the verse from 1 Peter 2:11 that says, "...as aliens and strangers in the world...." I remember a song from when I was in middle school, Not of This World by Petra (oh, I know some of you listened to Petra too!). Some of the lyrics stated, "We are pilgrims in a strange land/We are so far from our homeland.../We are strangers, we are aliens/We are not of this world." When we choose to follow God, our true home is Heaven, so we are aliens, outsiders, in this world in which we live.

I was thinking about that this week, with all the "alien talk" and all, and I got to thinking about how my experience living as an expat in Kenya compares to living as a Christian in this world. Before I go any farther, let me say that I know there are people out there far more qualified to write this than I, both as an alien/foreigner and as a Christian. I'm just trying to draw on the little bit of experience I have to make some connections. Overall, adjusting to living in Kenya has been pretty easy for me, and while yes, there are some obvious ways I'm an outsider, I generally don't feel all that out of place.

Please don't take my statements to mean this is the case for foreigners everywhere, and I certainly don't mean to stereotype every immigrant or native. However, ten months of living here has allowed me a little bit of experience upon which to base some generalizations. Also, I don't write these things to point fingers or condemn anyone, but to shed some light on some areas where many of us need a reminder, and to encourage you to make some changes if you need to. And of course, from here on out, the term alien is used to refer to a foreigner, an immigrant, NOT little green guys with one eye. So here we go.

When you're an alien, you look different from the natives.
For this curly-headed white girl, this is very much true in Kenya. It doesn't matter how dark my equatorial tan gets, I'm such a white girl! I'm pretty easy to spot. Proof:

So how does this apply to our lives as Christians and being aliens in this world? Well, we need to look different. That doesn't mean we all have to wear black clothes, or ankle-length skirts, or braided hair all the time (thank goodness!), but when people see us, see our actions, something should be different. The rest of that verse (and the next) from 2 Peter says this: "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." They may SEE your good deeds. Looking different doesn't just have to be about physical appearance, it should involve a lot more of what others witness by watching our actions. Do we treat people, especially the poor, needy, oppressed, and out-cast, the same way as others? Are we honest when we think no one is watching? Do we serve others? Do we do our best in our work, as working for the Lord? I know I regularly fail at many of these things, but these are great reminders of how we can look different from others around us, not for our own recognition, but as the verse says, "So they may...glorify God."

When you're an alien, you speak a different language than the natives.
I've had it pretty easy here. While Kiswahili is widely spoken, especially outside of Nairobi, English is widely spoken, especially in Nairobi. But particularly during my trips out to Makutano, I've had plenty of instances where a translator was essential. While various members of our support staff here at school have attempted to teach me some Swahili words and phrases, the sad fact is that I haven't gotten very far. I'm clearly an outsider in that respect.

Just like my language as an American is different from many Kenyans, as Christians our language should be different from those who aren't. Certainly we don't have to go around saying "thees" and "thous" and "doth sayeth the Lord." But here is a little of what the Bible has to say about what we should be saying:
  • Psalm 19:14 "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."
  • Psalm 34:13 "Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies."
  • Psalm 37:30 "The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just."
  • Ephesians 4:29 "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."
  • Philippians 2:14 "Do everything without complaining or arguing."
  • Colossians 4:6 "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt..."
  • Colossians 3:8 "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips."
  • James 1:26 "If anyone considers himself religious, and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless."
  • 1 Peter 3:10 "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech."
Boy, are some of those things hard for me. But it doesn't take a lot to realize just how different our language can be if we take a little time to consider the changes we need to make.

When you're an alien, you occasionally feel out of place.
It's true. Sometimes, no matter how much you want to fit in or blend in, you just don't. And that's ok. For some of the reasons I stand out here in Kenya, there is nothing I can ever do to change that, and I don't need to. As Christians, there are many times we'll feel out of place in this world. And that's ok. Different verses in the Bible allude to the idea of being in the world but not of the world, and this hard, especially in our day and age. But as Romans 2:12 reminds us, as Christians our command is, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..." and in doing that, we might feel a bit out of place.

When you're an alien, you're sometimes labeled incorrectly.
Even that Alien Certificate has me labeled incorrectly. It says I work at Pislyn Academu (Rosslyn Academy), and my passport number is incorrect. Besides those errors, there have been a few instances here when people thought I was a certain way simply because I'm an American. Sometimes I might fit the stereotype more than I want to realize, but not all the time. I read a newspaper article the other day that implied that all Americans thought a certain way about a certain issue. No, we don't. I was actually appalled at the situation to which the article was referring. The same occurs to us as Christians--we occasionally get mislabeled. Sometimes it's because others don't understand, sometimes it's because of the actions and words of other Christians, sometimes it's because other people are full of anger and hurt and they just need someone to blame. Sometimes it's because of mistakes we've made in the past. Again, it's ok. Reading through the Easter story last weekend reminded me how many times Jesus stayed silent while he was being falsely accused and mocked. Often that needs to be our response as well as we realize that the world is not going to see things from the same perspective, so they might not see us for who we really are.

When you're an alien, you have to learn to do some things differently.
Guess what? The way you do something isn't the only way it can be done! Shocker, I know. Ha! Some of the things I've had to learn to do differently in Kenya are: drive on the right side of the car and the left side of the road, pre-pay for cell phone service, deal with frequent internet outages, filter water before drinking, use a lot of words to order water to drink at a restaurant, measure metrically, check the bathroom for geckos every morning...the list could go on, but I won't bore you. When we decide to follow Jesus, there are some things we have to learn to do differently: love unselfishly, serve wholeheartedly, sacrifice our will for His, be honest in business deals, have patience, demonstrate self-control, be faithful in marriage. Again, the list goes on, but I think you get the point.

When you're an alien, you long for home.
You know, I became a UK basketball fanatic this year. While I've always enjoyed watching games, in the States you'd never catch me getting up in the middle of the night ONCE, let alone three times to watch a ball game. But now that I'm not there, I suddenly wanted to be sure to be a part of something big that was happening at home. No offense to those of you who are from there, but I never thought Winchester, Kentucky would be a place I couldn't wait to return to! Yet, here I am, counting the weeks until I head back home. I can't wait to see horses and stone fences, UK t-shirts and FRIENDS, taste some beer cheese and pollo bandido. I almost look forward to the first time I hear someone say "They was" or "Krogers" (almost, I said. haha!). When we're away from our home culture for a long period of time, most of us will start to miss it, perhaps in surprising ways.

The same is true many times when we consider our spiritual home, Heaven. Of course none of us has been there yet, but we have a teeny tiny idea of what it will be like. Maybe we know more of what it WON'T be like, and for a lot of people, that's its appeal. I'm not a country music fan by any stretch of the imagination, but a few years ago I was in a friend's car one night when Brad Paisley's When I Get Where I'm Going came on the radio. I don't remember the particulars, but it was during a time when I was really struggling with something, and nothing sounded better to me than to just "get where I'm going." Sitting at that stoplight, that song reduced me to tears because of the ache in my heart to just have the problems go away. While we might not all long for Heaven all day every day, Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that "He has set eternity in the hearts of men." Deep down, we all know there is something better, and when things in life on this earth make it seem like we're getting farther and farther away from eternity, from our true home, we might just start missing this place to which we've never been.

Well, there you have them. Reflections on my life as an alien. I pray God can use something in here to bless you, encourage you, and challenge you. As I said in the beginning, I'm not the expert on any of this, and I don't have it mastered. I simply wanted to share what He put on my heart this week. (Insert alien sign-off quote here.)

For further kicks and an early 90s flashback, listen to Petra's Not of This World on YouTube. :)

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