I had almost forgotten it was Independence Day. For traveling for months from one side of Europe to the other, the days had begun to blur together a bit, with a decidedly American holiday pretty far off of anyone’s radar screen.
We were, in fact, much more concerned with how to get yet another load of banned Bibles into the Communist country we were headed toward than with remembering the national celebrations our family and friends were surely enjoying back home.
That is, until we hit a roadblock. More specifically, a border crossing that was temporarily closed, leaving us stranded for several hours in a no-man’s land between the Free World and the fabled Iron Curtain.
Faced with an unexpected delay in our schedule, we improvised a little. We found a balloon, blew it up and let it squeal and fly all around the inside of the van as we let the air out of it. We lit a few matches from our camping supplies and ran around outside the van, waving them over our heads as “fireworks.”
And of course, we sang all the patriotic songs we could remember, from “God Bless America” to “The Star-Spangled Banner” (a truly forgettable rendition, I should confess) to “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” which my two companions from Northern states found only slightly amusing. (I made them do the clapping part.)
No doubt the border guards looking at us through their binoculars at the station ahead must have wondered a bit about the crazy folks about to arrive on their doorstep.
But then we quietly prayed, and as we did so, an enormous sense of privilege came upon all three of us. Perched on the edge of a country not yet free to enjoy such basic rights as exercising one’s faith unencumbered, we were reminded just how precious that those rights truly are. It was then that it hit us: For reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with us, we had each been born into a land of liberty, while others equally deserving had not been.
And having spent time on the other side of those barbed-wire fences and feeling for ourselves the constant stress brought on by living in an oppressive state, we came to better understand that our freedom really is a gift. It had been granted by the Providence of Almighty God, no doubt, but secured as well by the bravery and sacrifice of countless individuals who have gone before us.
All of which may explain why my own heart has remained to this day more sympathetic to the intense desire and even desperation of so many immigrants — legal and otherwise — to somehow become a part of this amazing land we call America. For even just the idea of freedom is intoxicating when all you’ve known is its opposite.
No doubt most will celebrate the Fourth this year with more than just a few matches and a balloon. But sometime during the day or night, might I suggest that a prayer would also be in order? Thank the Lord for living in this land of the “free and home of the brave,” and for those who gave their all to make it so.
And then remember as well those for whom the American dream is still only that — a dream — waiting to be realized, perhaps even through the efforts and caring of people like you and me.