My family moved around a lot while I was growing up. One year we'd be on the aptly named Emerald Isle complaining in true British fashion about the amount of rain. The next we'd be in one of the arid provinces of Mozambique complaining in a universally human fashion about the temperatures that topped 40 degrees centigrade. Perhaps the hardest thing about such a nomadic lifestyle was the frequency with which I had to say goodbye to my friends. When the average duration for living in a given place is under 2 years, bonds just start to take shape before they get shattered. No matter how good the new place may be, no matter how infrequent the power failures, how clean the water, how likeable the neighbours, or how plentiful the chocolate, the absence of Ron or Mike knocks it several dozen steps away from idyllic. It's worst at night; something about the cold, lonesome darkness simply devours hope and joy.
One of the hardest questions that I've encountered as a Christian takes this problem to an extreme. How can heaven possibly be paradise if your neighbours and friends aren't there? It may have gold paved roads and orchards of life-giving fruit trees, but in loneliness all that would quickly grow stale. The oasis of life may be marvellous, but the memory of those lost in the desert sullies it with sorrow.
In my own story, every time we shifted country there always one factor much more important than chocolate or power cuts. Each time I got on an aeroplane, my family was coming with me. Throughout our wandering life one point of consistency was that we always had each other to turn to. My younger brother and I enjoy a friendship deeper than many brothers, and far deeper than with the annual crop of "friends." He also knows the pain of having friends torn away, and we both know that we can rely on the other for anything. Often his presence made the difference between settling into a new home and slipping into reclusive despair.
When it comes to heaven, there is another point of consistency that trumps the gold roads. In heaven, in a way far more perceptible and far more wonderful than on Earth, we will live clearly in the presence of God. Our creator, our perfect loving Father, will personally wipe away the traces of our tears before we even know we wanted to cry. His love will be warmth of joy in the night, his smile the light of hope, his very being will ignite the fires of love. As I have faith that the love of my God will accept me into heaven, so I trust that he will make it heaven to me.
This is enough, but it is not all. There is another lesson that I have learned on my travels: fatalism is a lie. Even moving to different countries does not have the power to break a friendship when the friends are resolved to keep it together. In the modern age one might even suggest it's easy. Services such as Facebook and Skype mean that even international phone tariffs aren't a barrier to holding conversations or sharing a smile. While many of my friends are thousands of miles away, some could be a mere day of travel away from a particularly special occasion. People can and do keep their friends if they put the effort into it.
In many ways the celestial situation is much the same. While I trust God to look after me at the end of the day, I certainly do not want to leave my friends behind. The good news is that they can come too. More than that, God has already borne the full cost of the reunion. This is exactly why I invest such time and effort as I do discussing these issues. I want to invite you to the Oasis. Come out of the desert. Choose life!