In my years in Brazil, I got to know a wonderful bunch of MKs (Missionary Kids). As it so happens, one of my good friends down there had been an MK growing up, so she knew what it was like. She warned the high school MKs that they were about to go through one of the hardest experiences of their lives. They didn’t really realize what she meant until they went through it themselves: they graduated and had no choice but to move to the States and now had to spend years away from what they considered “home.” And for most of them, they would never again get to live at “home;” they would be torn away for the rest of their lives (aside from short trips).
In Portuguese, there is a word considered “untranslatable” into English: saudades. It is a kind of “missing” someone, but on a physical level… a kind of deep longing for people in a day gone by, felt so strongly that it aches in your bones. It’s been amazing watching these MKs go through the intense pain of suddenly having to leave everything behind, and then to live in a “foreign” culture (the US) without fully feeling like they belong. And yet at the same time, I’ve seen so many of them flourish — bringing incredible blessings to their communities and churches here in the USA.
What does that have to do with you and me? Well, take a look at this week’s fighter verse:
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV)
Now, the truth of this verse applies not only to the exiles, but to us. As Paul wrote to the Philippians (who were themselves legally citizens of a foreign city: Rome), we as Christians are (much like the exiles addressed by Jeremiah’s letter) strangers in this world but are citizens of Heaven. So, yes, this fighter verse applies to you. There are two ways in which we should “live like an MK:”
Feel This Simple Truth in Your Bones: This Is Not Your Home
Bowie is not “home,” Maryland is not “home,” and the USA is not “home.” Not even the English-speaking world or the Western world is “home.” Now, the exiles didn’t need to be told that Babylon wasn’t “home:” they had seen the Babylonians burn their houses and steal their possessions and torture their neighbors and kill their children and drag them away against their will to live in an idolatrous city of greed and depravity. So no, they didn’t feel comfortable living there. They knew that Babylon was the “world,” and indeed “Babylon” became a kind of a codename for any world power (in the New Testament, it appears as a codename for “Rome”). So do a heart check — do you genuinely believe that America is Babylon? It is, and it always has been. It has never been “Israel;” even back at the beginning of our nation’s history, there was still great wickedness (genocide, chattel slavery, etc.). So let your heart be like that of the exiles, or like that of the Philippian believers, or like that of an MK: you are living where you do not “belong.” But instead of longing for a different country, long for the kingdom of Heaven. Your attachment isn’t to this world. You are a stranger here in Bowie, a foreigner from an otherworldly kingdom.
Work for the Good of Your Community and Your Country
This is Jeremiah’s explicit instruction: because God has sovereignly put you wherever you live (“where I have sent you into exile”), you are called to help your town prosper. What does Jeremiah mean by “welfare?” As we heard on Sunday, the Hebrew word there is shalom — total serenity and wholeness. It is “peace” not merely in the sense of “the absence of fighting,” but in the positive, active sense of prosperity and togetherness. It is, in this case, “human flourishing.” And in the context (verses 5 – 6), Jeremiah tells them to build houses, plant gardens, get married, and have kids. He’s not talking about politicking at Nebuchadnezzar’s palace or protesting at the Temple of Marduk; he’s talking about putting down roots and contributing to the community. So living in “Babylon” (Bowie) does not mean we treat it as our enemy! No, the opposite: it means we love our “Babylon,” and we work and pray for its peace and well-being. In other words, we serve it together as the body of Christ. We are for it, not against it.
QUESTIONS TO ASK EACH OTHER:
- When we feel anxious about the country (e.g. the elections), how does this verse comfort us?
- To what extent do you “live like an exile?” How can you grow in this area?
- What are some ways you can cause your “Babylon” to prosper?
- God is not building a physical kingdom, He is building a spiritual one. The local church is His Kingdom- His city within a city. How are you building the local church? How does building the local church benefit the entire culture around us?
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR FAMILY
- Talk to your kids about what life with Jesus in Heaven (the New Earth) will be like. How will it be different and better? What bad things will be gone?
- Talk to your family about living more simply. How does remembering that we are exiles in Babylon, working for the good of those around us, cause us to put less value on “things” and “stuff?”
- Think through ways that you and your kids can help your community thrive- picking up trash in the neighborhood, helping an elderly neighbor, babysitting, throwing a block party, having a cookout, helping those in need.