Photo Credit: ladybugbkt (Creative Commons)
On May 23rd 2008, I became an American citizen. In a large gymnasium hastily converted into a courtroom, before a presiding judge and with all due pomp and circumstance, I pledged allegiance to my new country and was granted the rights and privileges that citizenship brings.
It was a surprisingly moving ceremony punctuated by patriotic songs and speeches about freedom. There were around 1,100 of us, from 85 different nations. The immigration officials several times spoke of the incredible stories—the hardships that some people had endured to gain the privilege of citizenship. I was sitting next to a man from Bangladesh who had not seen his wife in more than eight years in order that he could become an American citizen and have her come and join him legally. For me, coming from a nation like Britain, I take freedom and justice for granted, but many people were from oppressive regimes or situations where the rule of law has no sway, and poverty and injustice are a way of life. In becoming citizens of the US, they are liberated.
There were several judges and even a US senator in attendance. An immigration official had to swear on our behalf that all of us had been investigated and no just cause was found whereby we might be denied citizenship, and we all had to raise our right hands and solemnly promise that there was no reason we knew of why we should not become citizens. We were then informed of the rights and privileges we would automatically have as citizens of the United States. These included such things as the right to travel under an American passport, the right to vote and so on. We were also informed of our responsibilities including the fact that any of us could be called on to fight for our country if the occasion arose. America’s wars are now my wars.
Finally, we had to give up any loyalty that we might have had to “kings, potentates and other authorities” and swear allegiance to our new country. We pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and were all declared to be American citizens, with a certificate to prove it. Then pandemonium broke out as the court adjourned and everyone began celebrating.
I am very proud of my British heritage. My heart is still there. But now I’m also proud to be an American.
This is the second time I have changed citizenship. I was actually born into an oppressive regime that sought to marginalize all its citizens. There was no justice; its citizens frequently lived in fear, and breaking its laws carried the death penalty. At the age of 11, I had the opportunity to change my citizenship and I appeared before a judge. This time, I could not claim that I was worthy to be granted citizenship, but Someone came and stood in my place, and my right to become a citizen of this new country was based on His righteousness rather than my own. And so in the courtroom of heaven, I relinquished my citizenship in the kingdom of darkness and became a citizen of the Kingdom of light ruled by a good, righteous and just King. However, I became more than just a citizen; I was welcomed into the royal family with all the rights and privileges, not just of citizenship, but also of sonship.
Just like becoming an American, there are also responsibilities tied up with citizenship of the Kingdom. I was born again into a nation at war. Like it or not, her wars are now my wars, and God’s Kingdom is in the process of invading the kingdom of darkness. I also have the privilege and responsibility of acting as an ambassador for this Kingdom wherever I go, and of letting others know that they can be free from the oppression of the regime they currently live under. They too can change citizenship and come under the rule of a King who loves them and is longing to welcome them into His Kingdom.