The holidays are a time for being with family. As with most aspects of my life this looks different than most would think. This past week, Thanksgiving, I was alone. Because of scheduling conflicts with travel and filming, I was unable to attend a Thanksgiving meal with the other American missionaries here in Uganda. Instead, I went out to sushi with a new friend.
The rest of the day, I enjoyed the quiet of a day by myself. This solitude allowed me to think over the things I was most thankful for and the blessings that God has brought into my life this past year. The answer was loud and clear. Family.
For many this is a cliché and typical answer. For me though it seemed a little odd seeing as I was alone on this family holiday. Even more odd considering that it has been over 6 months since I saw my family, and in the past 2 years I've been with them a total of less than 2 weeks. Add to that oddity the fact that I am in living in a cultural context that place great importance on family. Your family name always comes first. When greeting people after hello you ask, “How is your family?” even if they are complete strangers. Here for many family is their retirement plan. When you grow old it is assumed that your children will provide for and take care of you. Family are expected to be involved in all areas of your life from what you do each day, to major decisions like where to go to school or who you marry.
In the past year, I've visited a lot of people. I've been welcomed into home after home filled with loving families. And then I leave. After a few days, I say goodbye and move on to the next place. I am constantly meeting strangers, working with them for a while and then parting ways. Not exactly the typical picture of family for an American or African. So how can I thank God for family when to all appearances family is not part of my life? Who are the people integral to my life? Who is this family I am thankful for?
Jesus asked and answered this question for Himself in Mark 3:31-35. Surrounded by a crowd as he taught, Jesus' family arrives to take assert their responsibility of caring for Jesus. The things Jesus has been saying have shamed and dishonored the community leaders and teachers. So His family arrives on the scene to set Him straight and resolve the conflict. When they are announced, Jesus' response is surprising.
“'Who are my Mother and brothers?' He asked.
“Then He looked those seated around him and said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.'”
In these words, Jesus has redefined family. He has expanded the word. The title of mother and brother, His blood and kin, the ones he is united to socially and economically, the ones most dear to each other, is extended to include any all who follow the command of God. He has expanded 'family' from those we have spent decades building a unique bond with and invited in complete strangers to this sacred assembly.
I'm so glad He did. It is because of that extension that when I thank God for my family I think of people who don't share the same DNA, don't have the same skin color, don't speak the same language, don't sing the same songs, don't have the same traditions, play games as varied as the types of homes they live in, live around the entire globe, and most of whom have never met. I think of
Pierre – A pastoral student in Senegal, who writes his own blog to help other grow in their faith.
Yeo & Awa Yeneyalla – the family I lived with in Cote d'Ivoire.
Ravenswood Covenant Church – This family has supported and encouraged me in ways that words fail to capture.
Bruno and Chris – Ugandan brothers who I just saw again for the first time in 5 years.
The Kendal family – Missionaries in Guinea, who invited me to come out and start this video project.
Journey Corps – A group of the craziest people ever all committed to learning, stumbling, and growing in the love Jesus together.
JIM Club – I haven't been to JIM club in 3 years, but I still consider these boys and men my brothers and fathers.
There are hundreds of others who I've met over the course of my travels. I've only spent a little time with each of them but they have been added to the weird, quirky, different, and wonderful people that I call 'family'.
My family really is the best and I can't wait to meet all the rest of them. When I do that will be a real Thanksgiving!