Having lived outside America for 36 years in Christian service, my relationship to my country has been affected by that time abroad. Part of it is identity. It is very common, if not completely normal, for individuals everywhere to identify themselves, in more than any other way, as being of their nationality. They’ll say “I’m Chinese” or “I’m German” or “I’m Brazilian”. And certainly for Americans their sense of identity is strongly fixed around being Americans.
For me, it’s not totally the same. I am American; my relatives came here in 1650. But my years abroad brought me to where I think of myself more than anything else as a person of faith in the God of Abraham, and specifically as a Christian.
I suppose most people want to be proud of their country. For Germans, their attitude to things like that has been altered by two world wars. Still, they have a lot to feel proud about. Even people from small countries feel proud of their country. But for Americans, to be proud of America is a major element of the national culture. I haven’t always totally felt the same. But I’ll tell you two times while I was abroad on the mission field that I really did.
The first was around 1996 or 1997 when I had returned to Budapest, Hungary after living a year in Moscow. What happened was that a former President of the United States came to Budapest. There was no 21 gun salute, no military parade, no fly-over of fighter aircraft.
This former US president and his small team traveled north of Budapest to an area near the town of Vac, not far from where I’d lived before. They were there to start building low cost housing for the many “Romani”, the Gypsy population which make up a large minority of Hungary. Almost all live in deep poverty. He had his hammer, he was working on building houses, this former US President. He was Jimmy Carter. That was one time when I really felt, “Well, son of a gun, there’s an American and some Americans I can feel proud of”.
The other time was a little more than 8 years later. I’d been living in Indonesia for around 18 months when the Asian Tsunami of December 2004 struck. The worst hit city of all was Banda Aceh, the capital of the province of Aceh, at the northern tip of the island of Sumatra.
As it turned out, 3 friends and I were able to make it to that city 8 days after the tsunami struck, when aid workers were only just beginning to arrive in the isolated, war torn area. Within a day we were in a large refugee camp to the north of the city, assisting some Korean doctors who needed translators and trauma councilors to work with them. There were thousands of people in the makeshift camp, the weather was very hot and there was nothing there that wasn’t brought there by trucks, no water, no food, nothing.
Suddenly an unmarked helicopter circled overhead. Everyone noticed and watched. After it looked over the camp, it landed a few hundred yards away and began throwing out aid before taking off again.
It was a US navy helicopter, coming from the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln that had steamed to the area to see how they could help. Refuges from the camp brought the boxes back to the camp. They were marked “US AID”.
“Doggone”, I said. “There’s something I’m glad to see: using my country’s vast resources to genuinely and freely help people in their desperate time of need, even people who are Muslims.” In the next weeks the US navy became one of the only ways that my friends and I could travel south of Banda Aceh to the even more seriously destroyed towns and villages down the south coast where the destruction was the worst. Every single bridge was washed out and the only way to reach people was by helicopter. The US forces worked eagerly and tirelessly with aid groups to help people in that time and to do medical emergencies on the ships off shore as well. It was a great time to feel good about my country.
Speaking of pride, someone has said that, of the 31,000+ verse in the Bible, there’s not one that speaks well of pride. While in this world, pride is extolled and honored, in God’s eyes it’s not. “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5) So I don’t think too often about feeling proud of my country. But I’m sharing here some times when I felt really good about my nation and how they were “going everywhere, doing good,” (Acts 10:38) like Jesus did.