Les Sillars: A stranger in a strange land

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, July 16th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. WORLD Radio’s Les Sillars says that when he was growing up in Red Deer, Alberta — way up north in Canada — his town had eight months of winter and four months of bad sledding.

But when he returned home this summer, he found the weather was about the only thing that was the same.

LES SILLARS, COMMENTATOR: Abraham lived as a “stranger in a strange land.” So do my wife and I, in a way. We’re from western Canada, but we’ve sojourned here in Virginia for 17 years now. 

We came here after spending six years in the republic of Texas. You could say I’ve lived in three countries, but I digress.

Even today people say my accent gives me away. You know, the whole “oot n’ aboot” thing.

As a good Canadian, I’m polite about it. Canadians are so polite, we say thank you to ATMs. And being awash in American books and movies has left us a trifle insecure about our national identity. 

Years ago a Toronto radio station supposedly ran a contest to come up with a slogan to match, “As American as Mom and apple pie.” The winning entry: “As Canadian as possible, under the circumstances.”

Still, Canada will always be home, perhaps because I had a happy childhood. We lived on an acreage. I had a collie, a motorbike, a basketball hoop, and a dad who would ask me to play catch.

Our house overlooked a broad valley, 20 miles across. Think hundreds of acres of sun-yellow canola covering rich, black soil in summer. In fall I watched combines three miles away inching through clouds of chaff. 

In October massive, black clouds swept across the valley from the west promising the first snow of the year. That night from our deck I’d watch the lights of the city, five miles away, fade behind a swirling curtain of flakes. Inside, Mom had baked apples with sugar and cinnamon.

Winter mornings the sharp, white edges of the Rockies, 70 miles away, rose from the blue haze of the horizon. Hoar frost turned the jagged, leafless branches of poplars in our back yard into white lightning against a deep blue sky. The snow stayed until April, when I could hear the trickle of melting snowdrifts running down our driveway.

I miss that place. A lot. But it isn’t truly my home. “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return,” says the writer of Hebrews. “Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”

Red Deer has grown a lot since I left, with new roads and malls and housing developments. I guess that’s progress. When we visited recently, I drove around for a while, lost in nostalgia. Mom and Dad live in town now. They sold the acreage years ago. 

Mom has late-stage Alzheimer’s. Dad does a great job looking after her. But it hit me again: “You know, you really can’t go home again.” Things change. We change. And then we’re left longing for a better country.

So maybe it’s better that we live like Abraham, as a stranger in the land. He had a promise, and he “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

We have that same promise, that God is building a final home for us, “a hope of future glory.” That’s our true home. And that’s where, eventually, we’ll be free.

CHRIS TOMLIN: Home (chorus) I’m goin’ home / Where the streets are golden / Every chain is broken / Oh I wanna go / Oh I wanna go / Home / Where every fear is gone / I’m in your open arms / Where I belong / Home

For WORLD Radio, I’m Les Sillars.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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