Strangers In a Foreign Land

By Charles C. Andrews

It was the week of Thanksgiving, 1974; my wife, Patti, and I were in the midst of our second Nebraska winter. For a Florida native the “thrill” of seeing snow was short-lived. We had only been married and away from the “Sunshine State” for 18 months, and we were suffering from a terrible case of homesickness. To make matters worse, my immediate supervisor, Sgt. Umholtz, had just informed me on the day before Thanksgiving, that I would probably spend the rest of my four year Air Force enlistment right where I stood at that moment, on the flight line at SAC HQ, Omaha, Nebraska. I was desperate to leave Nebraska!

The following Monday, I made my way (through three feet of snow), to the Consolidated Base Personnel Office where I filled out a new “dream sheet” (really a request for a permanent change of location, but since you rarely went where you wanted too it was truly a “dream”). My request was simple, “World-wide, any tour length.” What I was telling the Air Force was, “Hey guys, I’ll go anywhere you want me to go, for any length of time, just get me out of here! ” And, to my astonishment, the Air Force took me seriously (be careful what you ask for, you may get it, is the moral of that story). In less than two months I had orders to Incirlik Air Base, in Adana, Turkey, a city of 300,000 people, some 15 miles east of Paul’s old stomping grounds, Tarsus.

In May of ’75, 1 left the U.S., and in less than a day I was 10,000 miles away, standing on Turkish soil. In July Patti joined me there, and thus began our year-long pilgrimage together in a foreign land.

The Air Force told us that as strangers among the Turkish people certain things were expected from us, and others were not. We were required, for example, to obey Turkish laws and submit to Turkish authorities. Unlike diplomats, who have immunity, if we were involved in a traffic accident then we would be subject to the Turkish version of traffic court. And I can guarantee you that Judge Wapner does not preside over Turkish courts!

On the other hand, we were not expected to learn the language, even though it was helpful to do so, nor were we required to adopt the customs of the Turks, After all, we were strangers!

While we were in Turkey, we spent countless ” hours talking about home. Remembering, missing and longing for the good old U.S.A. Even a “Big Mac” sounded good after being deprived for a year. We marked the days off on a calendar, and very few military personnel could not tell you, to the day, how much time they had left before they get to go “home!” Finally, our day came. It was in August of 76, a day we will long remember and cherish!

Christians are to view their life on this earth in much the same way. We are pilgrims in a very real sense. Peter said in 1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” W.E. Vine tells us that a pilgrim is one who is “sojourning in a strange place, away from one’s own people . . . used . . . of those to whom Heaven is their own country, and who are sojourners on earth” (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. W.E. Vine, p. 183).

We sing in the song that this world is not our home. We also sing that we are just straying pilgrims. Is this true? Why does Peter call us such? Because we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people” (1 Pet. 2:9). But siniply, we belong to God now, no longer to the world. We have been adopted into the family of God (Rom. 8:14,15) as God’s sons (Eph. 1:5). Through our obedience to the gospel of Christ we are not only saved from our past sins, we also change addresses (1 Pet. 1:17-25). That means that, although we live on this earth, we are not really at home here.

Therefore, as pilgrims and strangers certain things are expected of us, and others things are not expected. We live in the world, but we are not to be of the world (1 Cor. 5:10). We are to submit to the laws of the land and obey those who rule over us (1 Pet. 2:11-17), but we are not to love the world (1 Jn. 2:15-17), conform to the world’s standards (Rom. 12:2), or set our minds on the things of the world (Col. 3:2). We can’t even be friends with the world without becoming the enemy of God (Jas. 4:4). Consequently, we should not learn the language, wear the fashions, adopt the standards of behavior, nor accept the customs of those around us. After all, we’re strangers here.

As pilgrims and sojourners we are here for a very short amount of time. Our thoughts, speech, behavior and hearts should be set on the things above, in our heavenly home, where our Father is.

We must avoid becoming so enthralled with the foreign land that we don’t want to leave it. While we were in Turkey we made friends with a sergeant who had married a local Turkish girl. Even though he was an American, he had already extended his initial stay there some 10 years, and he was planning to retire and live out the rest of his life in a foreign land. He even thought about giving up his American citizenship and becoming a Turk! How sad it is when a saint turns his back on the one who died for him, on the one who sent his Son to die, to give up his heavenly citizenship and return to live in the world.

Patti and I enjoyed (?) our stay in Turkey, but we cheered when the plan touched down on the runway at J.F.K. Airport. We were finally home, back to the place we longed for such a time. Shouldn’t we all feel this way toward heaven, our real home?

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 14, p. 430
July 20, 1989