Global citizens and universal aliens
Our citizenship is in heaven
by Anita Coleman
One planet. 57.3 million miles of surface land. 7.4 billion people. 59.5 million refugees and displaced peoples, of whom 51 percent are under the age of 18.
Sheikh Yassir Fazaga was once one of those refugees. Forced to flee his home in Eritrea at the age of 15, today, he is a well-respected Muslim leader and a mental health counselor at Access California Services. AccessCal is a non-sectarian organization that provides human services to local Arab and Muslim Americans, immigrants, and refugees. Speaking about the plight of refugees, he has said (I will paraphrase):
Stories like mine are unusual. Many people in refugee camps are born there, and they die there. They become parents in the camp and grandparents too. The people who are able to leave the camps and re-integrate with mainstream society, often in a new country, as immigrants, asylum seekers, and citizens are far too few. To solve the refugee and other problems of the world our concern must be global, and our influence, local.
Fazaga’s story and words resonate with my own beliefs about how faith, my identity as an American citizen, and allegiance to Jesus intersect.
In Leviticus, God’s conversations with Moses reveal how God views humans: With me, you are but aliens and tenants (25:23). In the eyes of God, we are all aliens and tenants. God’s lack of distinction between the aliens and citizens living on a land is also in keeping with the apostle Paul’s pronouncement: But our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).
When Christians align with God’s view of our status on earth—as aliens and tenant citizens, whose true citizenship is in heaven—we will act and think as global citizens. Jesus died because he did not fall in line with the current ideas of Jewish and Roman nationalism. Following Jesus, we will explore how modern nation states and national citizenship(s) may be confining us in boxes with rigid boundaries that limit us spiritually and practically. Here are some fun ways, but by no means, all the ways, in which we can begin to explore our identity as global citizens:
1. Make global connections personal.
I volunteer with a group in rural south India. They are the poorest of the poor, but they love the rural hills and the land in which they were born. They would prefer not to leave their families and villages, but their job opportunities are limited and still shaped by centuries of cultural violence. I am slowly getting to know the challenges of sustainable Christian development; my childhood friend runs a rural community for peace and justice that provides vocational training there. Whom do you already know that you can join and support in developing countries—regularly, consistently, and relationally?
2. Go bananas!
Really. Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in America (and worldwide). Our desire for cheap bananas, however, fosters an unfair supply chain that irreversibly damages farmers and their families in developing countries. Our consumer dollars, which can be a good thing, have a negative impact when we focus on buying things cheaply and ignore others’ human rights. Try buying only those products that are vetted by groups and initiatives like the National Farm Worker Ministry and Fair Trade. Watch Café Justo: A Hopeful Supply Chain Story to learn the truth about economic immigration and more.
3. Start the journey to a free world by transforming American privilege into a kingdom asset.
When our primary allegiance is to God, we will recognize and acknowledge that American citizenship confers enormous privileges. The US passport allows us to travel virtually anywhere in the world and to live in almost any country we choose. Refugees, the poor, and people in developing countries don’t have these privileges or even the basic rights we take for granted such as access to education and jobs. Refugee camps are not places people were meant to live their entire lives. Seeing ourselves through God’s eyes as universal aliens, we will begin to care for the human rights of all. We will want for them the same rich possibilities and freedoms of healthy human life. t The European Union and ASEAN are examples of how nations that were once at war are now peacefully engaged in mutual trade, travel, and education across open borders. Get involved in the work of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. If you haven’t already done so, this journey can start with one small step of faith: join the local chapter of yourUnited Nations Association and commit to an event monthly. Godspeed!
Anita Coleman is an independent scholar and researcher who lives in Southern California with her husband, son, and their pet cat Smokie. Anita’s books are on Amazon and you can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @chariscol.
Originally published in Many Voices, One Church, Presbyterians Today.