Let me tell you a story about the moment I realized how much I valued my American citizenship. In 1991 I traveled with a group from my church to work on restoring a three-story building to be used in ministry in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. There were about 15 of us men and women, all willing to lay tile, repair plumbing, dig trenches, and paint walls - whatever it took to make the place livable. We spent two weeks there - a time when the Yugoslavian civil war was breaking out. It was summer and hot. To get food, we had to walk daily to a local store to buy whatever food we would eat for that day only. It was a culture shock but we were young and thought of it as an adventure. As Americans we wore bright t-shirts and laughed and chatted as we walked. The oppressed people around us wore drab neutral colors and glanced at us with solemn faces. Some even glared. Looking back, I am sure we appeared arrogant and rude, although we were really just innocent and confident in all that our birthright endowed us with. We walked through a park on one outing and were told later there were snipers in the trees. We could have been killed. Another day we visited the town square and saw a black cloaked woman sitting on the ground completely shrouded by her garment, but for her maimed hand that shook a cup begging for coins. Our guide told us her parents most likely maimed her themselves because as part of a lower cast system, being a beggar would at least give her a way to make a living. Maiming her would make her more pathetic, and evoke sympathy and financial aid from those who saw her. I had no words for how I felt about this. In the middle of our time in Zagreb, we took a quick trip to Austria for the weekend - a little break from our hard work. As part of our trip we took a train through Germany in the middle of the night. As we slept in our berths our train came to a stop. Soldiers boarded the train. For whatever reason, they singled us out, demanding our passports and ticket stubs. Then they began yelling that we had not paid enough. We were told that if we did not pay what they demanded, we would be put off the train. I looked outside. We were in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Our group leader paid the soldiers, who then exited the train. We were safe, but shaken. I remember thinking they can't do that, we are Americans! And my very next thought was but you aren't in America.What a sobering thought for a young American girl. As our two weeks came to a close, and we boarded our plane to fly home, I was more than ready to get back to the absolute safety and comfort (a bottle of Coke and a glass of ice) of my beloved country. As we were flying over the Atlantic ocean and back into America, our pilot's voice came over the speaker and announced, Ladies and gentlemen, we are now crossing into America, the land of the free. Big tears filled my eyes and rolled down my cheeks as I watched the land appear below me. America...gulp, home.
When I returned to my little drafty house that I always complained about before my trip to Zagreb, I bent down and literally kissed the ground and thanked God for my many, many blessings.
My prayer is that my children and the youth of today would hold dear the truths and principles on which this great nation was founded, that they would comprehend their birthright and stand strong and proud to protect it. It saddens me that so many Americans know more about the Kardashians than they do the Constitution. There is no greater place in this world than the United States of America. I say this not in arrogance but in humbleness. May God always bless America.
Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!