Resident alien

I feel at home in this foreign country.

I know -- Canada doesn’t really count as being foreign. But it does have money with strange plastic windows implanted in the bills. And its popular dessert/snack is a butter tart. (Though, as a big fan of the treats, I have to say that when you start to wander from the original recipe, you’re simply making little pies.)

Our return to my cousin’s cottage in Ontario aligns nicely with a small detail in the life of Moses, which I recently read in my devotional time. While living in exile, Moses named his first-born son Gershom, which is a pun: ger sam in Hebrew means resident alien.

This holds some valuable truths for us.

First, can we stop calling puns “dad humor”? Ahem: they’re biblical. Perhaps, to be factual, we should call puns “patriarch humor.”

Second, Moses wanted to be reminded daily of his status as a foreigner.

This hits home with me. Not because I’m a foreigner here (which I am). But because my parents, who moved to the U.S. after their wedding, lived as resident aliens for most of their marriage. They had green cards for forty years. Forty years! My oldest brother should be glad he wasn’t named SouthoftheBorder.

Being an outsider is a defining experience. I would argue that it’s fundamental to the way God wants us to view ourselves. For it embeds empathy in our hearts for others who are newcomers, who are isolated by their status in or knowledge of the prevailing culture. Look how God puts this to the Israelites:

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 19:34)

I have attended many churches in the last year where hardly anyone spoke to me. Could it be that our institutional lack of friendliness stems from spending too little time as outsiders? Or perhaps we didn’t let that experience shape us.

Time at the cottage is a good reminder for me. My entire extended family is Canadian. Our little American branch of the family tree is the outlier. Visits here help to remind me that I am a man of two worlds: America is my home; Canada is my heritage.

We are all sojourners (another translation of resident alien). We should seek out experiences that remind us that as wonderful as this world can be, we don’t fully belong here.

Only in the discomfort of that truth will we be welcoming to other outsiders.

You call us, Father, to remember our true country. Your kingdom is our home. We don’t ever want to be so comfortable here that we forget that we are just resident aliens. Imbed this truth in our hearts so that we will be empathetic, compassionate people.

Tell me about the ways you have experienced being an outsider. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if you liked this, please use the buttons above to share it.

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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