I don’t have a radical conversion story. Jesus didn’t rescue me when I hit rock bottom in a cold jail cell. The decision to become his disciple was made when I was twelve in front of family and friends.
I haven’t struggled with understanding grace. God didn’t have to shake me up to realize that he forgives me and loves me unconditionally. I saw that modeled by pretty terrific parents who made it clear that they were sticking with me… no matter what.
I didn’t grow up around people dominated by evil. The Holy Spirit didn’t have to do miracles to reveal divine power for transformation. God’s people have lovingly corrected me when I’ve made mistakes.
Now with this kind of ‘boring’ back story, I sometimes wonder what I’m doing here in northern Mozambique. As I’ve detailed in other places (link) the Makua-Metto people struggle with rampant drunkenness, infidelity, poverty, and demonic oppression.
And these are not things I experienced as a kid on my cul-de-sac in the American suburbs.
Maybe that’s why I’ve found myself identifying with Bilbo Baggins.
At one point in the film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo is missing and the dwarves expect that he’s run off. In fact, our main character has considered abandoning his companions, but thinks better of it. When Bilbo suddenly reappears, the Dwarf King questions his motives for returning.
Thorin: “Why did you come back?
Bilbo: “I know you doubt me. I know you always have. And you’re right, I often think of Bag End - I miss my books… and my armchair… my garden. See, that’s where I belong. That’s home. And that’s why I came back, ‘cause you don’t have one… a home. It was taken from you. But, I will help you take it back if I can.”
On my best days, this scene captures the essence of why I’m here. Like Bilbo, I feel unqualified, unprepared and honestly, I often just want to go home. I miss my family… I miss my language… I miss my food. That’s where I belong. That’s home. Now, I know the American version of Christianity isn’t perfect, but parts of it gave me great and lovely gifts. And those sections, those places, are ones that I am glad to call home.
So, as strange as it sounds, when I’m thinking clearly, it’s that strong sense of home which makes me want to stay over here.
Instead of finding their home in the Kingdom of God, many of our Mozambican friends find themselves homeless, wandering through a land dominated by the forces of a different kingdom – one ruled by sin, death and Satan.
Like the dwarves in Tolkien’s story, the Makua-Metto people’s true home has been taken from them.
And that’s what makes me want to stay here… and do my best “to help them take it back if I can.”
Grace and Peace,