Victor Chininin Buele
We were driving down one of the main streets in St. Louis the other day with my wife and children. I will tell you later more about the circumstances surrounding what happened. But for now I just want to say that somebody shouted at my wife. This older lady yelled at my wife with all the passion she could find within her. She said to her, “Go home, deplorable.” So, I started having what I’m calling my buyer’s remorse about being a United States citizen. I found myself earlier this week high above Chicago at the Federal Building applying for my U.S. passport, and as I overlooked the most important city in my state, the question kept bothering me, “Why am I, then, an American citizen?”
There are so many things to be thankful for. A while back, my pastor asked us to be more thankful. So, I start our meals at home asking the children and my wife a simple question–what are you thankful for? So, I ask myself the same question now in light of my bigger question.
I am thankful for a grandmother who sold the work of her old age after being left destitute to give me the money to start my adventure in the United States. You probably don’t have a context to understand this, but this most honorable woman did work most of us would never do to urbanize a section of Loja so that many people could have a place to live. She never got to build anything in that land. Years of backbreaking labor. She sold it. For me. And that’s just the icing on the cake. If I were to tell you all she has done, this would be a whole book.
I am thankful for a grandfather who taught me to read and to think even now that I don’t remember much about him. He died when I was only five. But somehow it’s as if he has always been there.
I am thankful for a father who always cared that I would know how to think and that I would know what the Ecuadorians and the Americans and the Soviets were thinking. He didn’t want me to just swallow what others said. He wanted me to know. I’m thankful for the many times he carried me in his shoulders home when I should have been walking. I’m thankful for the times he took me out to play soccer while still wearing his black dress shoes. I’m thankful for how he would train me to go to the army school. I still remember the first time I ran 2 kilometers in preparation for the admission test. Instead of discouraging me for being like 30 minutes past the required time, he never stopped encouraging me. I remember seeing his face when we went downtown Loja to call Monterrey asking for the cost of a life-saving surgery for my sister. I remember seeing in his face both the desperation of knowing we could never pay for it and the courage to say that one way or another we would make it happen.
I am thankful for a mother who nourished me into life in the midst of great difficulty and sorrow. I am thankful for the way she has bravely cared for and protected me. I am thankful for how she taught me to never take no for an answer. I am thankful for how she let me come to the United States without a big speech about all the dangers that I could have easily fallen for. She just let me go. When I see the pictures of the Ecuadorian mothers letting their children go out of the country in the late 1990’s, I see what my mother must have hid in her heart from my eyes–that deep sorrow of the surrender of a son to the unknown. Unless the seed falls into the ground and dies, it can bear no fruit. I am thankful for the watch she bought me–which I still wear–back in 1991 with six months of her work. She worked a special project at the university, and she took me to the corner of Bolívar and Colón St. and bought me that watch, the watch that has been with me ever since through the shameful moments in army training, through life in America, my adventures for work in the Americas and Asia.
I am thankful for an aunt who bore so much of the care and responsibilities of my childhood. I am thankful for the little car and the little cat toys, for the Smurfs outfit to turn around a sad birthday long ago. I am thankful for the ways she taught me I shouldn’t be careless in speaking in public. I am thankful for the way she would tell me that we could do much more than we dared to think or imagine as we would walk on Quito Street from the hospital to our rented apartment. I am thankful that she never let me drown in the sinking sand of obstacles–she always encouraged me to find a better way. Upon defeat she would encourage me to remember that it is about endurance, not about speed. Little did we know how important that lesson would be for life in the Kingdom.
I am thankful for two sisters. Analí was the gift of God that changed our lives forever, and I am ever so thankful for her. I am thankful for the way she is living proof of joy in the midst of unbelievable suffering, living proof that God works wonders, marvelous wonders, in the things we as humans really do deem impossible. I am thankful for every day of her life–a living testimony that what is impossible for man is really not all that impossible in light of greater things. Anita is not really my sister as you know, but we have said so many times that she is, that she is. She really is. She has been by my side one way or another since the moment she was born. She has been the victim of my get-rich-quick childhood money schemes, my official-sounding fake FIFA soccer rules always to my favor, and my not-so-honest bigger half schemes.
And then we get to America. I remember running through the Houston airport, desperately looking for gate C-15, lost as I could be, unable to really communicate. I remember getting to Kansas City International Airport in the middle of the summer heat wearing a flannel long sleeve shirt and black, wool pants.
I am thankful for the generosity of so many. Space will fail me to recognize them all. People who had no opportunity to profit from interacting with me gladly and abundantly overflowed my life with kindness, smiles, food, money, places to stay, encouragement, wisdom, direction (and directions), recommendation letters, English lessons, life lessons, American slang and cultural crash courses, enchiladas (thinking that would make me feel more welcome).
I am thankful for those two special band teachers. Those who didn’t see a kid way over his head without a home but opened their basement room to me. Those who emptied their little girl’s dresser drawers so that I may have a place to put my clothes on. Those who fed me when I had no possible way to repay them. He who wrote to the school board fighting for me. He who faced teachers for me. She who learned to be very patient with me. She who did everything for me even when her plate was so full not just of things to do but also of difficulty and heartbreak. They gave me the honor and the privilege of calling them my mom and dad. And so they became. And so they are. I rode the bicycle they provided for me. I still sit on the couch they gave to me. I am ever so thankful for him pushing me to read that Harry Potter book. You see, I was so ashamed that I couldn’t read and type as fast as I did in Spanish. I’m thankful that they let me sit in their basement for hours using the old typewriter sending applications for admission and scholarships to anyone who would take them. And I gained the most wonderful sister–who was the first one to publicly point out that I do have a big nose–and the two brothers I never had. I’m thankful for what God has allowed me to see in their lives and the lives of our extended family. I became an Ecuadorian man with Iowa and Nebraska roots. A lover of apple pie.
And I could go on and on.
I am thankful for the man who wrote a business case that would ultimately give me the opportunity of my life.
I am thankful for the tall man who taught me what tolerance and freedom are. That he let me put my idols on display and follow my foolish heart. But he who also spoke with great kindness and power the message that transformed my life and made me truly rich.
You see, I came to America to become rich. I came to America to overcome so much.
But I am not rich. At least not the way Donald J. is. Or appears to be.
Yet I am far richer than I ever dreamed of. I am a citizen of heaven. I get the joy of working with people from all over the work every day from my little corner of the world in Southern Illinois. I get the joy of traveling to distant places to bless them through my work, to show them the works Jesus prepared for me to do. I get the joy of pastoring a church and living life with those under my care–the joys and the sorrows, the pain and the struggle, the conflict and the peace. All in Jesus.
So, how can I have buyer’s remorse? I had asked the question looking out of the window. And the next thing I read in my book was part of the story of Tom Carson, a pastor in Quebec. His son had asked him why he was staying in a place where he was seeing so little fruit. His response was simple. “I stay because I believe God has many people in this place.”
So even as somebody who does not know me or my wife and calls her a deplorable, I choose to stay.
I choose to stay because a fellow American born in Somalia invited me for lunch after knowing me only for 15 minutes while waiting at the passport office. I choose to stay because when we choose to put flesh to our ideas things can only get better. I choose to stay because the message of the gospel is the only hope and the only truth that can truly revitalize and revolutionize our nation. I choose to stay because though I may be thought as the dumbest and most ignorant, I know that if you would love me and allow me to love you, you would get to see the love of Jesus, even in my moments of sin or anger, frustration or backsliding. And I know that God has many people in this place. So many of them welcomed me, the stranger, with open arms and open wallets. I have slept in places where the only payment the host would expect is that payment of the Hospitable One saying to them one day yet in the future, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
You see, we are living in the most exciting time in American life. We could either go down the cliff at an accelerated speed towards our own collective stupidity. Or we could run to the cross and see the power of God set a light burning through our country and its people.
The story of the gospel is after all the story of what America has been to me–the outsider is brought in, adopted, despite being without merits of his own and without any hope of being able to afford the payment for the sheer goodness dumped on him. Lavish grace.
The story of the gospel is after all the story of what this nation is supposed to embody – E Pluribus Unum, out of many one. If you ever question whether the New Heavens and the New Earth will be glorious, I invite you to go to the passport office. We are not all alike. We are so different. Yet we are one. That’s a Trinitarian reflection. And it would make no sense without God.
The story of the gospel is after all the story of surrender and death. Death of self so that others may live.
The story of the gospel is after all the story of God’s sovereign grace–He who called us is faithful. He will surely do it.
I am an American citizen because this is also my home. And I want to seek its welfare. And I want to bless as I have been blessed. And I want to give as much as been given to me. To whom much is given, of him MUCH is expected.