Refugees and Ambassadors

Note from Rebecca Ribnick

This summer, a long-anticipated vacation sparked thoughts about living for the eternal (you can catch that post here).

That same trip provoked another deep thought, albeit upon my return instead of my departure. While snaking through a long line at passport control, I observed two men enter a vacant line, show their passports to officials and move through customs in a matter of seconds. Conscious of the 20 minutes behind me and the 40 or so ahead of me, I wondered how they could fly through the checkpoint with such ease. Just then, my line moved forward and I saw that theirs was marked, “Diplomats.”

As I slowly shuffled along, I began thinking about the differences between diplomats and those with standard passports, as well as the difference between those who are sent by a nation and those who are fleeing one.

I am painting with broad strokes here when I say that a refugee’s story is frequently one of escape and survival. For refugees, the term “home” is laced with emotions and meaning, many of which are painful. Assimilating into their new culture, learning a new language, and finding their identity outside of their roots presents many challenges. Pockets of refugee communities often form where the native language is spoken, old customs practiced, and traditional foods eaten all of which provide a harbor of familiarity in a foreign sea.

On the other hand, ambassadors are sent from one nation to another as a representative authority of their home government. They do not change their citizenship yet they learn the language, engage in activities common to their host nation, and even send their children to local schools. Home for an ambassador refers to the sending nation, never to the one in which they reside.

As I considered the difference between refugees and ambassadors, I once again thought of our eternal home. As believers in Jesus, we are citizens of heaven yet we dwell in the nations of this earth. And we get to choose if we behave like ones fleeing this world or sent to it.

Let me illustrate this in a slightly different way by highlighting two familiar people from Genesis: Noah and Abraham.

Noah is commanded by God to build an ark to escape the coming divine judgement. Noah obediently builds his boat, which becomes a safe place in the midst of the evil world. When the flood waters rise, Noah and his family have a refuge from the storm.

Contrast this with Abraham. Abraham is told point blank of Sodom and Gomorrah’s coming judgement and instead of accepting their fate, he pushes back. Abraham argues with God to spare the wicked for the sake of the good. And God listens.

God speaks of judgement to Noah and he builds his boat.

God speaks of judgement to Abraham and he intercedes for humanity.

Now, I’m not trying to throw Noah under the bus (or in this case, boat). He was obedient and trustworthy. But it makes me wonder. What it would have looked like if Noah had interceded for his culture instead of insulating himself from it?

The truth is, we are sent ones, heavenly ambassadors commissioned by Jesus to speak into our culture and bring heavenly transformation (see Matthew 28:18-20). We have the choice to insulate ourselves from American culture and recreate a world that’s home for us but foreign to those around us, or actively engage culture without compromising our heavenly citizenship.

We can build our boats and flee danger or we can learn the language, find value in the culture, represent our Kingdom to this world, and intercede for it with genuine love.

Regardless of the issues that loudly shout at us from news headlines or division emphasized in election debates, this is the world that God so loves. Let’s ask Him for that love and actively find opportunities to bless it. Let’s learn to speak with words others can understand. And let’s believe and behave like the divine ambassadors we are.

In Him,