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Fly Away Home

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At 5.30 this morning I put my eldest daughter on a coach for the airport, as she heads off on the first leg of a year of volunteering overseas before starting at university next September. It was a sobering moment, with – yes – a tear in the eye.

I vividly remember how I felt 28 years ago when my parents left me, a nervous 18-year old, at Heathrow. The world was different then. My one experience of flying till that point had been 30 minutes in a two-seater plane with the school cadet force, whereas my daughter is familiar with the protocols of international travel. I was headed for Swaziland, and the cheapest way to get there was with the Soviet Airline, Aeroflot. This also meant I avoided getting a South African stamp in my passport, which in those days of apartheid seemed important. My route was circuitous, with stops in Moscow, Aden, and Mozambique. It was a communist flight, in a communist world. Aden was then capital of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, and Mozambique was still locked in a brutal civil war, playing proxy for East-West tensions. Africa was the centre of geo-political conflict back then, not only in Moz, but with Cuba and South Africa slugging it out in Angola. My daughter is headed for a country in the Middle East, which is where the action is now. Conflicts shift, but conflict remains.

I arrived (eventually) in a Swaziland over which Mswati III had recently been appointed king – the last absolute monarch in Africa. Mswati is just a couple of years older than me, and, later on, I found myself at university with someone who had been at school with him in Dorset. Mswati may have attended a British school, but his rule is solidly traditional: he currently has 15 wives and 30 children.

One of the significant impacts of Christianity is the manner in which it creates societies in which the expectation is that one man will marry one woman, and together they will raise their children. So ingrained in our thinking and societal structures is this shape of doing things that even the introduction of something as oxymoronic as same-sex marriage apes it. It is a way of structuring things that encourages parents to invest heavily in their offspring, and is oriented towards future generations – in contrast to societies in which honouring ancestors is the primary concern. This creates the conditions in which our children are most likely to thrive – but also means parents find it hard to say goodbye when their 18-year olds leave home!

It is not only the Christian pattern of marriage that is decisive in how we understand our children: central to our faith is the knowledge that we are spiritually children of our heavenly Father. The remarkable news of the gospel is that Christ took on flesh and blood in order to rescue us children from death (Heb.2:13-15). This knowledge provides a model for the sacrificial love parents are to demonstrate on behalf of their children; but more than that, it gives us the confidence of knowing the love of God who has rescued and adopted us.

Our children grow up, they leave home, and we want the best for them. All the clichés are true, and it passes in the blink of an eye. Perhaps in another 28 years there’ll be another 18-year old Hosier waiting nervously in an airport to begin a life-changing year of adventure. I hope so.

But however the ongoing circles of my flesh and blood family develop, I’m grateful to be a child of God. Georgie is going to be in three different settings these next 12 months and in each case will be with other Christians who we know and love. Our family is so much larger than our biological one. It’s even bigger than that of a Swazi king. Yet each one of us is known and cherished by our Father. Sometimes that knowledge brings a tear to my eye too.

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