Callie D. Moore: Hope in Exile
On October 10, the cover of our church's bulletin depicted the silhouette of a cross on a church steeple surrounded by high-rise office buildings in a large city at dusk. The scripture quoted there is Jeremiah 29:7, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Philip and I were out of town that Sunday and missed what was no doubt was a very inspiring message, so I picked up my Bible and read “the rest of the story” in Jeremiah chapter 29, verses 1-14. The Jews were in exile in Babylon and Jeremiah was giving them guidance from the Lord.
According to Wikipedia, exile means, “to be away from one's home (i.e. city, state or country), while either being explicitly refused permission to return and/or being threatened by prison or death upon return. It can be a form of punishment.”
As a United Methodist minister’s daughter, I’ve often felt that I know a thing or two about exile.
We moved after my freshman year of high school – a terrible time to move, second only to moving before the start of your senior year – and a total of nine times before I left for college. Now, as an adult, I recognize that this was nothing compared with what many other children and families face when they have to move and there’s nowhere safe to go, no roof over their heads, no food on the table. By the grace of God, I’m now firmly planted on a sixth-generation family farm.
And yet I often feel exiled in a way that is not well defined by Wikipedia.
Bishop Woodie White addresses this other kind of exile in an Upper Room Disciplines devotional:
There is yet another exile: when changing values, morals, and conditions in one’s own land turn a once-familiar and beloved place into something quite unfamiliar. It is when home no longer looks or feels like home. (Thursday, October 1, 1998)
In this exile, it is a challenge to love when the language of hate is the native tongue. Often it is tempting to just adopt the new ways of the “foreign” place…to succumb to the selfishness, cynicism and greed…to stop looking for the face of Christ in others…to lose hope.
But the Lord encourages the people in exile through Jeremiah: “Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you…When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from which I sent you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:8a, 13-14)
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Callie D. Moore is the Thriving Rural Communities lay contact at Hayesville First United Methodist Church in Hayesville, N.C.