Rain began falling from the evening sky as I tried to survey each drop cascading down on the 4th of July activities in Short Hills, NJ. Dusk was quickly becoming night as black clouds began to cover the quaint little town nestled just outside of Newark. My heart pounded with excitement and lingering trepidation as we walked briskly to the nearby high school. “Would the rain cancel the fireworks?” I wondered. During our last three years in Kenya, I had missed seeing the brilliant red, white and blue in the sky each July 4th, reminding me of the country that I love. Would I miss another few years of fireworks because of the rain?
Two men collecting tickets at the entrance of the high school greeted us cheerfully, despite the rain drops splattering their sponge filled sweatshirts. They saw my little 89 cent American Flag twirling in my hand and greeted our family. I exuberantly babbled something about having been away from America for the last few years, as I hastily handed them our tickets.
Walking into the stadium, the booms filled our ears and dazzling colors began filling the sky. The organizers had begun the show early for fear of rain cancellation. Relief now drowned out my trepidation, as I now knew we would see the show. For our brief 56 days back in America, this was a personally anticipated highlight that was now becoming a reality. The music played “America the Beautiful” while the reverberations of fireworks echoed off the stadium walls. Bright oranges, reds, and whites filled the sky. Occasionally, a blue would burst in the night sky, but only rarely, as their expensive design prevented frequent appearances. I surveyed each burst of color as if it was the first firework I had ever seen, trying to imprint each one permanently into my mind.
Now the intermittent rain became constant, but its chilling effort could not dampen my thanksgiving for the incredible show that we were enjoying. I squeezed my wife a little tighter as we watched the flashes of color bounce off the rain drops and disappear. Just then, one of ticket takers from the gate walked by giving us a hearty greeting. As he started walking into the crowd, he abruptly turned and shouted back at me over the detonations, “Welcome Home!” “Welcome home,” I thought, and suddenly my mind raced with a million thoughts. Like a waterfall pounding the rocks below, I could not think of new thoughts, but only submit to the overwhelming flood of emotions. The last three years in Kenya had been wonderful, but also hard. We had seen the joy of life and the harshness of death. We had relished life, school, and ministry, with all of their ups and downs in a country that we had come to love, yet was not quite home.
I tried to respond, but the lump in my throat cut off my words, and only a wave of the hand could awkwardly reply to his two profound words. Suddenly, every thought and emotion came to a piercing halt with only one reflection clearly remaining, “Yes, Dan,” I said to myself, “Welcome back home.” Indeed, I was home.
I looked to my beautiful Bride who was softly welling with tears in what she had just heard. We remained still for a moment and then began our cheers again over the booms and flashes of brilliant light. Lesli liberally sounded her deafening, two-finger whistle in a way that only an experienced cheerleader could do, as we watched in delight. But then, almost as if the moment demanded it from us, we fell silent. Enjoying the pleasant stillness of our thoughts, we reflected on the last three years, pondering how God had always provided for us, and how He had brought us safely back home. Amidst the rocket’s red glare, we took a few moments to silently pull inward, thinking about our three years in Africa. With the grand finale ringing out and filling the rainy night sky, we savored every moment as the realization of our homecoming began to sink in. We had lived in a foreign land and now, for a brief respite, we were back in the country we love and call home: America!