WANTED: Christian Ambassadors, not Tourists (Part 6)

This piece was originally published at The Christian Post on September 17, 2012.

Much of my work revolves around the themes of diplomacy and advocacy. I sum these up with the term “ambassadorship.” In this series of posts titled “WANTED: Christian Ambassadors, not Tourists,” I am unpacking what it means to be an ambassador for Christ. If you’re just jumping in, begin by reading part 1part 2part 3part 4, and part 5.

Tourists often have a country to which they can return. The same goes for ambassadors. Ambassadors for Christ only have one ultimate kingdom of origin—the kingdom of God. Everywhere else, we are guests. Many Americans and American Christians treat foreigners as freaks rather than as friends, forgetting as Israel often did and does that they were once aliens in search of the Promised Land (“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” Exodus 22:21). We have much to learn from Hawaiian culture, where hospitality is offered to those from foreign lands, not simply paying tourists.

Hawaiians have a lot of experience dealing with tourists. Among other things, Aloha is something to which many tourists are drawn. The Hawaiian spirit of hospitality is very special. In a world awash with intolerance and hostility, hospitality is hard to come by.

Recently, I was speaking with someone who lives in Hawaii, but who is from New York City and who has also lived in Portland, Oregon, where I work. She told me that in Portland you are generally viewed with suspicion until you prove yourself, whereas in Hawaii, you are generally welcomed until you prove that you’re a jerk. What she said kind of reminded me of what has been the experience of many people with immigration in the States: you are generally viewed as guilty until proven innocent; in Hawaii, you are generally viewed as innocent until proven guilty.

As I stated above, tourists often have a country to which they can return. But even if they do, many feel like strangers in their own homes and lands. Many of them need homes away from home. Even people who are locals, neighbors of ours, may feel like tourists. Perhaps they feel lost and in need of direction.

God loves these tourists, indeed, all tourists, and he calls us to be ambassadors for Christ on a shore awash with tourists from abroad and those who live next door. We who are followers of Christ are ambassadors called to set up embassies for the kingdom of heaven here on earth. We are citizens from another country, heaven (Philippians 3:20), and like our Lord we have made the long journey to this far shore. The embassy becomes a home away from home, a haven of rest, a shelter from storms. People visiting from our homeland come to us, as well as those who want to go there. We represent to all those around us what our country of origin is. We are the only kingdom of heaven citizens some may ever see. Take time to visit with them and welcome them home.

You cannot package hospitality. You cannot put a price tag on it. To those who are ambassadors of Christ, you are called to provide the opportunity for people to experience intimacy. Intimacy is not something pre-packaged, or that can be manufactured quickly. It takes time. But tourists will never take the time to wait if you and I don’t show them love. Be prepared to help them along and look for intimacy. Be prepared to show them that what Hawaiians call ‘talk story’ is far more than sound bites and bumper stickers; it involves sharing deeply from one’s life journey and opening one’s heart to another. Show them that table fellowship cannot ever be associated with fast food. Sure, there is a price to gain intimacy, but tourists will find in the embassy suites church that what they gain in return is priceless.

Many years ago, one of our children said to my wife, “Mom, let’s go home,” when we were living out of suitcases thousands of miles from America. My wife cried. We had no home at the time, no job, only suitcases. We had travelled thousands of miles with the very strong prospect of a job in my wife’s homeland, only for the job to elude our grasp at the last second. All we had to hold onto was one another and our suitcases. It was such a destabilizing feeling.

Many of the tourists you come across may be living out of suitcases not simply physically, but also relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. Perhaps some of the locals are as well. As an ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), Paul proclaimed reconciliation with God. He also proclaimed reconciliation involving one another. Relational alienation is a far worse sense of transiency than one should ever endure. Be that embassy of heaven to others and to one another as Christ’s people, showing them what the Aloha of heaven hospitality is all about so that together we can finally return home.

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