We’ve lived (are living) in some incredible places in our 14 years of marriage. Since we first met in 1998 we have traveled to some places most people only dream of. Our first major trip together was our internship in 2000 where we traveled with 6 other people backpacking in Nepal and Northern India. Since we lived in Europe for the past 10 years, we’ve been thankful for how cheap it is to travel once you’re there. We’ve been able to travel to Germany, Holland, Finland, Spain, the U.K., Italy, Estonia, Russia, Panama, Siberia, Turkey and now reside in Mongolia. Our kids have been to most of these places as well making their life experience fuller than they realize. It has been incredible.
We are foreigners in these places. When we have met people, struck up conversations, and tried to go off the beaten path to the “local” places, most conversations stick to surface things. However, if we are there long enough, conversations can tend to dive deeper into thoughts, opinions and perspectives. We’ve been asked a lot of times what we think of their particular country, language, cultures, politics or political leaders, etc. And we have asked the same of their thoughts. The politics question is almost always the question that can cause a breakdown in any conversation.
I went to university in the Southern United States. That was a cross cultural experience from where I grew up in the Northern Midwest. Almost half my life has been lived in a cross cultural context. A foreign one. We have tried to assimilate by learning the local languages, eating their food and trying to fit in. But we only do this to a point. There are parts of
our my personality that I would have to give up or hide in order to fully assimilate. There are parts of my past that I would have to lock up, never to speak of again if I really wanted to fully become one with a foreign culture. And there are things that if I engaged in them, would completely break my relationship with God.
The other day, I quoted Walter Bruggerman that we as followers of Jesus are “in transit.” Not “transition” but “in transit.” It’s a different way of calling us “foreigners” or “aliens” as we are called in 1 Peter 2:11. I resonate deeper with the phrase “in transit” because it is an active intentional phrase. It’s a phrase of continual motion or action. Not simply a title, but a word of movement. If we are in transit or foreigners in this world and on this earth, what does that mean? For me, it means to do what I have done before-try to learn the local language, try to understand the culture the best I can, be respectful of those who live here as they are part of God’s creation to. However, there are also things that if I engaged in them, I know it would break my relationship with God. At the very least, it may break my relationship with other fellow believers, which is not honoring to God.
In the Church in the States, at least, politics is one area that we seem to engage in more and more with each election that is divisive and ends up tearing the church a part. Expecting people who have no relationship with a Redemptive God to live as such. It seems that our “rights” as citizens of our particular country tend to trump the rights granted to us by God. There are other examples I could bring up, but these are the hot topics right now from what I can tell. And I wonder, is this what living like a foreigner looks like? Is this living in transit?
There are two extremes that I have seen in people who live overseas. The first is complete lack of assimilation. These foreigners have no desire to assimilate at all. They either ship in food from their home countries or go to stores that only sell things that they are familiar with. They have no desire to learn the language and usually, from experience, have a complete disdain and arrogant attitude toward their host culture. We could compare these to sects or groups of people in the States who have nothing to do with modern society. The other group are people who have “gone native.” These are the people who have completely blocked all of who they were/are from their past to fully embrace everything about their host culture. From what I can tell, these are ones who are trying to run away from something in their past and so they suppress it and embrace this new way of living.
In the Church in the States, I have seen both. And it’s painful to watch. It seems that the Church, at least in the regular and social media, is playing the part of the latter, going native and embracing our political system as the means for Christ’s salvation to come, as opposed to living a life modeled after Christ. Making this place our “home” settling for second best forgetting that our eternal home is far greater and better. Beyond what we could ever hope, think or imagine we’re told in Ephesians. Why? Maybe because it is something we can touch, feel, smell, hear, see. Our eternal home is not as tangible as of yet and therefore out of sight out of mind might rule. Whatever the reason, we are not living as foreigners carrying the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control that we are given, to the host culture that we are in..that is the culture of this world. And that is hard. It is sad. It is painful. It brings grief and mourning to my heart. I wonder if it does to others.
My encouragement is that your mindset be as a foreigner-our eyes set on the hope and prize in Christ Jesus, and living like Him here in our host culture. Blessings be on you.
What does living as a foreigner, in transit men to you? How do you see this being lived out practically? What have you learned from others you’ve seen live this way? Thanks for sharing your stories as we journey together.