After my second year of seminary, I took a year off to travel overseas. I taught for two months at a Bible College in Kenya, then studied for eight months in Israel. Travel came next through Europe. Then I joined a team with Operation Mobilization in Eastern Europe. I decided to finish up in England. I was on my way to the most famous archeological museum in the world, but I said, “I’ve seen enough museums. I want to go home,” and I headed for the airport with my open ticket. I arrived at LAX two days later and went through customs. The customs officer looked at my passport with multiple pages stamped and said, “Welcome home.” I got so choked up I could barely eke out a quiet, “Thanks.” Moments later I was met by family and thirty friends who sang the doxology in the terminal.
Our son Gabriel served in Iraq in the Air Force. He returned to American soil on his mother’s birthday. He came home to Minnesota two weeks later. There was no little emotion when we met him at the airport. People knew what was happening. When we drove into the driveway, he could read the huge sign spread across the garage, “Welcome home, soldier.” His grandfather, who had served in Iwo Jima, got choked up when he read it. When we had an open house, three WWII veterans were on hand, and they said, ‘Thank you, soldier. Welcome home.”
My wife grew up as a missionary kid in Japan. Sociologists call her a “third culture kid.” When her parents returned to the States on furlough, they told the kids they were going home. But third culture kids don’t quite know where home is. When she was asked in college, “Where’s home?” she wasn’t sure how to answer. “Do you mean ‘home home’ or where I grew up or where I sort of live now?” They thought she was weird. But home was more Japan than the States, and furlough was leaving home, not going home. Some missionary kids or children of diplomats struggle with this lack of definition all their lives. They feel like vagabonds. They literally don’t have a place they can call home. But this is true of us all. Peter calls us “aliens and strangers in the world” (I Peter 2:11). And he says, “Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (I Peter 1:17). When we are truly home, there will be no more painful goodbyes.
Much of life is waiting. We wait to be born, to walk, to go to school, to graduate. Then we wait to get a job, then to retire. Then we wait to die. In heaven–no more waiting. Missionaries were returning on a boat that included some famous people. When the ship docked on the east coast, the explosion began, with people shouting their praises to the celebrities. The missionaries, who had given their lives overseas, were saddened that they had no one to receive them, to applaud their work. When they asked the Lord why not, they heard Him quietly answer, “You’re not home yet.” When we pass through death to endless life and walk through heaven’s door, the words will be more wonderful than ever: “Welcome home!