Where is My Home?

Kde Domov Muj?

One year ago (tomorrow actually) I was sitting at gate A37 at the Denver International Airport. I was sweating bullets. I felt physically nauseous. I was afraid that if I made eye contact with another human being I would break down crying.

I was going to study abroad…and I was terrified.

Thinking back to when I’d been touring colleges in high school, studying abroad was never something I thought I’d do. After all, I go to school 80 minutes from my family, I work and volunteer just miles from the house I grew up in, and I don’t really do…fun. How was I supposed to just leave home for four months? I didn’t want to go. Various schemes went through my mind as I sat gate A37. I wanted to run away. I wanted to get out of the airport, go home, and pretend like the whole thing never happened.

I came across a story a couple weeks ago (ironically, while on another a flight.) While thumbing through Genesis, I came across the story of the Egyptian woman Hagar (Genesis 16.) Hagar was a servant to Abraham’s wife Sarah. Since Sarah had not born any children to Abraham, she gave Hagar to him so that he could have a son. However, once Hagar was pregnant, Sarah began to abuse her so Hagar ran away.

Now just to be clear, when I went to study abroad, it was not to escape abuse (nor was I pregnant.) But the verse that jumped out to me was Genesis 16:8. At this point in the story, Hagar has stopped a well. She’s terrified. Her life has fallen apart. She’s afraid to go back, but she’ also afraid to keep going. In these moments of fear—these moments at A37—an angel appears to her. The angel says, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

The angel does three key things here (1) he identifies her, both by name and by history (2) he asks if she recognizes where she came from (3) he asks her where she is going.

In the end, I didn’t run away. As the plane took off, I looked out the window of the British Airways 777 that would carry me across the pond. I watched as the sun set over the Rocky Mountains. In a whisper, that was definitely audible but lost over the roar of the jet engines, I said to myself with a smile, “I can do this.”

From that point on, it was instantly fun! I still remember when the British flight attendant saw that I was awake—at what was 4am local time—and asked if I’d “care for a spot of tea.” The snooty look that the security officer gave me in Heathrow customs when I asked “Do I need to take off my shoes” is still burned in the back of my mind. And the first breath of air I breathed in Prague—Europe’s golden city—still fills my memory with rich joy and excitement.

Those first few weeks were magical. I toured castles, stormed churches, got lost—and subsequently chased by a homeless man—in a concentration camp. Eventually I started travelling out of the country and the adventure grew. From biking along beaches in Barcelona, to racing down the stairs of the legendary Eiffel Tower, to tasting scrumptious Bavarian treats in Munich, every day was epic.

Of course that’s not to say there weren’t moments of fear or stress along the way. Navigating the red light district of Amsterdam got me way out of my comfort zone. Sliding six stories down a bannister in an Austrian salt mine took more than a little will power. Staying with a family I’d never met before in Switzerland was, at first, an odd experience. But during all of those things, I told myself, “I flew 5,000 miles to be here. I’m never going to have a chance to experience this again. Just go for it, and see what happens.”

Which takes me back to Hagar at the well. She was clearly overwhelmed. She’d been thrust into a situation she never expected, and just when she thought she’d done was people wanted her to, the world turned against her and she had no choice but to run away. Whether it’s getting lost Europe or just navigating daily life, there are a lot of moments with temptation to run away.

In the Czech Republic, where I was studying, their national saying is “Kde Domov Muj?” Translated to English it means “Where is my home?” The saying is certainly relevant to Czech history. The area of Bohemia has been conquered by the Romans, the Franks, the Germans, the Nazis, and most recently the Communists. The current country of the Czech Republic is only a few months older than I am. The Czechs are a people that have constantly been trapped and unable to feel comfortable in their own home land, and unable to leave.

In reality, this is relevant to all of us. While we may never have been occupied by dictators or warlords, we live in a scary world. We live in a world with school shootings, and drug addictions, and random health issues we didn’t ask for, and painful relationships we never saw coming. We live in a world of routines we never thought could be so consuming and we live in a world of standards that become exhausting to chase. Like Hagar, there is temptation to run away. Like the Czechs, it is easy ask, “Where is my home?”

But the angels statement—“Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”—reminds us of 3 very important truths.
(1) We are named and known by God.
(2) We all have a history that has led us to this moment—regardless of how messy it may be, we got ourselves here and everything has led up to this.
(3) God cares about where you are going, and He will make the journey with you.

By the time my four months in Europe were over, I didn’t want to leave. As I handed my boarding pass to the gate agent, I realized, I’d been at home the whole time. Even though everything about it had scared me when I left, the world had become smaller, life had become richer, and everyday had become an adventure. I stepped into my fear and realized I could do things I’d never imagined.

In the end, Hagar doesn’t run away. She leaves the well and goes back to Abraham and Sarah. She has a son. Eventually Hagar and her son part company from Abraham and Sarah, but they receive Abraham’s blessing and a promise of protection from God. Hagar’s situation may not have been what she wanted, but she owned up to it, stuck it out, and was blessed in ways she never imagined.

As the plane touched down at DIA, I looked out the window of the Iceland Air 757 that had brought me back. I watched as the sun set over the Rocky Mountains. In a big, loud, booming voice, with tears in my eyes, I exclaimed with a smile, “I did it!

Whatever wells we get stuck at in life, may we know that we don’t have to run away. Wherever we’ve been and wherever we are going, God goes with us. All we have to do is confront the very thing that scares us most. When we do, who knows what kind of adventures we will discover!

Zach Herzog

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