It is easy to feel lost when you
cross cultures. Really any of the
analogies will suffice—lost at sea, stranded in a crowd, wandering in the
forest or in a new place in the dark. A
few years ago I learned how to scuba dive and the most terrifying feeling was
when you became so disoriented that you lost track of the surface of the water.
Living cross culturally can feel just like that (though re-entry can feel
much the same)—you are swimming along enjoying the experience when you’re
suddenly lost, alone and scared. Here are some of the ways to keep your
bearings when you begin to lose track of who you are, where you are and what
you’re even doing there in the first place.
1. Die to yourself, but don’t
lose yourself. You
are going to have to die to yourself daily and most of the time you won’t get
to choose the crosses. You may as well accept this. God will honor
your sacrifice. At the same time, look for ways the Lord is trying to
bless you by allowing you to be the person you were before you moved overseas.
For me, it was running and cooking. In China, I lived near the
countryside, so I could run without everyone in town elbowing their neighbor to
come out and check out the strange white girl running without being chased, but
I know other foreigners who had gym memberships and used that as their outlet.
When I lived in Africa, I laced up and ran through the village in my long skirt
at the crack of dawn. You can make it work.
2. You are not going to change
the culture, so you may as well start noticing some of the great parts about it. Anyone who has visited
China knows those aspects of Chinese culture that just grate westerners the
wrong way (no lines, pushing in crowds, never actually saying no even when you
mean no—to name a few), but what about those aspects of non-western culture
that we need to learn from? Those parts that are actually, possibly MORE
biblical, like not being so darn independent and individualistic that we can’t
ask for help?
3. Stay calibrated and keep your
bearings. Have you ever
had to “calibrate” your printer? According to dummies.com:
refers to the proper alignment of the inkjet cartridge nozzles to the paper and
each other; without a properly calibrated printer, your print quality degrades.
You’ll want to calibrate your printer when you see lines appearing fuzzy in
artwork or when colored areas in printed images start or stop before they
“print quality” is “degrading” or your lines are appearing “fuzzy,” then it’s
back to the cross with you for calibration! This is often easier said than done, but taking an hour or
two out of my day or week to sit at the feet of Jesus can do wonders for my
perspective. Do you need to spend some time being “calibrated” and
realigned to Jesus again?
Most of us are familiar with this verse (though the Message
version was new to me):
“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of
everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach
a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists,
loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t
take on their way of life. I kept my bearings
in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their
point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is
in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this
because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to
be in on it!”
1 Corinthians 9: 22-23 (MSG)
We need to keep our bearings in Christ—not our bearings in ourselves, our
culture, our expat community or even in the culture we are striving so hard to
adjust to, but our bearings in Christ first. He is our true North in the
disorienting confusion of a culture that we start to understand just in time to
be eluded by another question.
4. Lastly, enjoy the gift of
Kingdom Culture. Kingdom
Culture is that sweet spot of culture sharing made possible by belief in the
same Savior; the center of a Venn diagram where insider and outsider culture
collide into a central culture of love, sacrifice and humility at the foot of
the cross. There is nothing like the cross to serve as the great equalizer.
I finally discovered this through relationships with other brothers and sisters
in Christ who just seemed to “get” me even though our cultures collided in so
many ways. This is a special gift of grace made possible by a gracious
All that is gold does not
Not all those who wander are
The old that is strong does not
Deep roots are not reached by the
From the ashes a fire shall be
A light from the shadows shall
Renewed shall be blade that was
The crownless again shall be
What are some of the ways you have creatively been able to retain
parts of your identity even though you are living overseas? Are you
staying calibrated to the cross? What changes to you need to make to be
able to do this? How have
you experienced Kingdom Culture?
Here are a few related posts that
I found interesting:
“The Seven Lies of Living
Photo: By Jeremy Harbeck (NASA)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Labels: China, living cross-culturally, Missions, Spiritual Lessons