Wednesday, November 3, 2010

At Home at the Crossroads

This is a repost. I think it is worthy. We are now in our 7th year in Abu Dhabi, still profoundly surprised and amazed.

Abu Dhabi--Crossroads of the World
When in 2004 Curt accepted a transfer to Abu Dhabi, I wasn’t sure whether I would smuggle my Bible in a brown paper bag, figure out how to plug myself into a circumscribed expat[1] lifestyle, find a job to fill my days, or immerse myself in local culture and learn enough Arabic to befriend a few nationals[2] and get involved with Islam. Turned out to be “none of the above,” but something richer, more challenging and more satisfying than my wildest imagination.[3]

After 26 years in Alaska, Abu Dhabi sounded like the edge of the world. Turns out to be anything but: glitzy island city, architectural dream, and capital of United Arab Emirates (UAE)—that wealthy, booming Islamic state on the Persian Gulf. Not an edge, but a crossroads, a transitional center of the world. A million people live and work here. Some 85% of them are from someplace else—expatriate to their home countries. Every “tribe and nation[4]” is gathered to build and maintain this oil-producing giant.

Crossroads of Life
People come to Abu Dhabi for a few months, or a year, or five. Some stay 30 years and raise children who barely know their home country. Expats work in every job from street sweeper to corporate manager, even in high government posts. Some, like Curt and me, come for the adventure. Most come for the money. Some bring families; many more must leave family behind to take the jobs no one wants. These sacrificial souls subsist in overcrowded housing without privacy, community or personal time, all to send home every dirham they can in hopes of a better life, a future for parents, siblings and children.

Abu Dhabi is a place to feel displaced, or even misplaced. Transient. We live at a stop on the way to someplace else—a stop chosen with the hope that staying awhile here will mean better choices on the way out. A demographic crossroad of the world peopled by those at a crossroad of life, a between-place of opportunity, risk and impermanence where new people come and good friends leave, and nobody knows or understands your roots. All that is familiar is far away, and everyone is “alien and stranger,[5]” even the nationals, I think, who find themselves a tiny minority in their own country.

At a crossroad, people ask questions. The obvious: “which road will I take from here? But other biggies like “why am I here?” and “what am I doing with my life?” and “what is important to me?” and “Am I important to Anybody Else?” The pervasive publicness of Islamic worship puts people in the way of God. “Is there a God?” “What is He like?” “Does He know or care about me?” “Would God hear me if I pray?” At this crossroads of the world a searchlight turns on the eternal Crossroad, [6] that “between” place of heart-certainty that we are not just random chemicals and energy, and that this world we can see is but a junction on the way to someplace else.

At Home at the Crossroads
Abu Dhabi surprised us with its variety and opportunity and freedom and suffering; with its piercing questions that leave people open and vulnerable. A crossroads compels people running headlong through life to pause and ponder. Whether they are bemused, or weary, or terrified, pauses and spaces of safety, refreshment, listening encouragement, and direction bless them. Far from home, homey welcome can be life-giving.

Four years have passed. We’ve made a home at the crossroads, and delight to invite “the multitude”[7] and welcome whoever God brings to our door from whatever nation, language, or station in life. And they have come--from every continent and social background, sometimes 15 nations present at one meal, or six living in our household. Cleaners, diplomats, mechanics, teachers, executives and clerks. A miracle of God’s grace that feels to us like a foretaste of heaven[8] even as we puzzle and experiment with mixing cultures in the between-space of this fallen world.

Nothing big, no clear program, definitely no titles—just “people who have time” to make place and give ear and prayer. We’ve learned and stretched and been pushed on. Maybe we’ve cracked open a little more. Our sense is that this lifestyle of giving space and welcome to the world is a call: that Jesus would have us continue to welcome whoever He brings and offer refreshment, play, quiet, listening and prayerful loving, with a measure of teaching and nurture thrown in.

Welcome to the Crossroads. Let’s talk. I’m glad to find you here.

[1] “Expat,” short for “expatriate,” here used as a noun to describe one who lives temporarily in a nation other than one’s own, generally for reasons of employment.
[2] “National” –noun. A citizen or subject of a particular nation who is entitled to its protection.
[3] Ephesians 3:20
[4] Revelation 14:6
[5] Hebrews 11:13-16
[6] Jeremiah 6:16
[7] Joel 3:14; Revelation 7:9; 19:6
[8] Ephesians 2:19; Revelation 7:9

1 comment:

G&C said...

Jeri - I love this - it really resonates with me and your hospitality. Thanks for writing and reposting it. Looking forward to your return so we can catch up again. Cristina