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An Open Table

In August 1984, Trever and I loaded up an old, green Chevy van and started a journey from Canada to California to Costa Rica to Colombia. We lived and served for fifteen years in Colombia and another fifteen years in Mexico. In March 2021, we once again packed our vehicle (not the same green van) with belongings and drove back to Canada. 

The largest item in that vehicle was a table that symbolized something special for us, something that our thirty-seven years in ministry had taught us. 

Living separated from family is one of the most difficult parts of cross-cultural life.

When we originally responded to God’s invitation to mission so many years ago, we were confident we could make a home anywhere in this wide world. Over the years, we have lived in many places and painted the walls of numerous rental houses, always seeking to make a little nest for our family, whether it was in steamy valleys or high elevation plateaus. But what about our extended family? For many of us as global workers, even the most adventurous ones, living separated from family is one of the most difficult parts of cross-cultural life.

There wasn’t one year of those thirty-seven that living far from family hasn’t felt like a chosen sacrifice. But I use the word “chosen” because we had the right to choose. We have missed out on big and little happenings within our extended family, yet we have stayed connected, even if through a phone call, letter, or message. And in the many places we have settled, we have welcomed new expressions of family—neighbours, friends, disciples, shepherds, rogues, and religious leaders, and more than a few strangers. Even enemies have become family. Though we have been foreigners in other lands, without our families of origin near us, we learned to embrace God’s family. Instead of sitting down for borscht and buns at the tables of our own mothers, we have enjoyed sancocho or tortilla soup at the tables of other mothers. God’s family is diverse and beautiful; it’s a place of belonging.

Yet I grieve the lack of family that I see everywhere. I grieve the number of children and adults living on the same streets of big cities that we lived on, walked, shopped on, parked our cars on. It is absolutely jarring to see state orphanages full of abandoned children, or ragged, unprotected children on the streets of Cali, Bogota or Guadalajara. Over the years, we’ve heard the devastating stories of far too many students in our discipleship programs who grew up as fatherless children, or were abandoned by their mothers, which to them was far worse. Even back in our “home and native land” (from the first lines of Canada’s national anthem), it is horrifying to hear stories of First Nations children being taken away from their families, only to be buried in unmarked graves at residential schools. Again, and again, this truth has seared my mind—our deep human need is for family. 

Those of us who have enjoyed the shelter of a loving family, do we see the despairing and ghost faces of the lost and abandoned all around us, yearning to belong in family? Those who have experienced the care of the Shepherd and his Church, do we see the lonely sheep who are wandering around our shelters, wanting to be included within the fold? 

When our children were growing up, we desired to teach them God’s expression of family, so we prayed together for eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to love those who didn’t know a loving Father. That desire led us into some Christmases with street-dwellers. It also led us to rent larger homes to accommodate young men from gangs who were disillusioned with family. Later, we gathered a community together to build dorm rooms for disciples. We always sought to make room for strangers, enemies, God-seekers, and friends around our table. 

We always sought to make room for strangers, enemies, God-seekers, and friends around our table. 

The table became our symbol of family. It was, and continues to be, the place where we pass peace and forgiveness along with meat and bread. It is the place where stories are shared, and we are nourished by tears and laughter and love. It is the place where we all partake of the Word of Life who brings healing to our bodies and souls. It is the place where everyone belongs.

So, it was important and fitting that, when we returned to Canada this year, we brought a table with us. It is a piece of live-edge Mexican hardwood that has become the heart of our new home. Around it, children and grandchildren, foreigners and guests, and hopefully a few rogues, will come to dwell together as God’s family. 

GO

Joan asks a probing question, “Do we see the despairing and ghost faces of the lost and abandoned all around, yearning to belong in family?” Is God calling you to engage the lost and invite them into his family? To explore opportunities in growing God’s global family, go to multiply.net/go or speak with a Regional Mobilizer at 1.888.866.6267.

 

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