How Moving Abroad Helped Me Re-think Missions
Written By Sonja Chua, Singapore
When I first moved to Israel for work, the busyness of adjusting to life in a foreign land helped keep my mind occupied. However, as I started to settle into daily life and got used to the place, loneliness and homesickness began to sink in.
On weekends when my Israeli apartment-mate left to visit her family, I came back to an empty apartment—the silence and stillness unsettling to me, since I was rarely alone in Singapore. The shock of different working styles, a new culture, and the language barrier hit me hard.
It didn’t help that in the Middle East, I stick out like a sore thumb. I do not look like a local, neither do I speak like one. This is a constant reminder that I am not in a familiar place where I can easily fit in.
When I lamented about my struggles to my church’s missionary in Cambodia, she pointed out that this experience wasn’t much different from what new missionaries go through in the field, as they too experience culture shock while adjusting to new environments.
I also quickly learned that whenever my appearance and accent give me away as a foreigner, it almost always leads to questions about where I’m from. This opens up an opportunity for them to ask me questions about Singapore’s weather, the food, and various other things. While I admit I do not have a Wikipedia-page knowledge on Singapore, I have learned to memorize certain key facts in preparation for these questions, and do enjoy the opportunity to represent Singapore the best I can.
The conversation with my missionary friend, and the new realization that “sticking out” can lead to opportunities for sharing, encouraged me to think about my time in Israel from a new perspective. I realized that in many ways, I am like a “missionary” sent to Israel. All Christians, whether we’re called overseas to missions or for work, or to various other places or occupations, are always called to represent Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul writes that Christians are to be representatives or ambassadors for Christ. Jesus called all His disciples to be salt and light for Him (Matthew 5:13-14).
I’ve realized how great a responsibility Christians have for our lives to reflect the faith that we represent. As much as my face and hair and speech seem to tell everyone around me that I’m not from here, my words and actions as a Christian should do the same. After all, we have been set apart from the world (Romans 12:2). Recently, I have been considering how I can apply my life to be more dedicated to the call of ambassadorship on behalf of Christ. Here are two observations I’ve made.
1. It’s not enough to “look” Christian
It’s not enough to wear a cross, tell others you are a Christian, or attend church regularly. Being salt and light in the world means that others must see something different about our lives that is good, flowing from the faith we subscribe to. The way we live our lives and perceive the world around us should be different—through the lens of the gospel and eternity.
A simple way that I’ve been living that out is by practicing Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Being in academia, I find that it can be easy to get caught up in the rat race and be reluctant to share information such as experimental tips or unpublished research with others out of fear that they might steal your idea. Though it’s tempting, I personally do not subscribe to this rationale. While some of my colleagues have called me naive and too trusting in helping someone troubleshoot their failed experiment or even sharing study notes with a fellow student, I believe it is a simple way I can love my neighbor.
2. We can be missional with our words, too
When we are intentional in living out our faith, we are bound to get questions about the God we believe in. While no one can claim to know everything about Christianity, our willingness to engage with these questions can open up opportunities to share more about what we do know.
Once, while working in an international lab in Singapore, my Chinese colleague asked me what I did in church and why I would sacrifice my Friday evenings for Bible study even though I was tired at work. She also asked me whether I would ever “force” her to convert to Christianity.
This conversation caught me off guard, and I didn’t feel prepared to give a good answer. However, I was able to offer my colleague honesty and sincerity as I pieced together a response that I hope communicated how studying God’s word is life-giving after a long day of work and that Christian evangelism isn’t about “forcing” converts.
Since then, I’ve learned that what’s more important than having the “right” answers, is being ready to discuss people’s doubts and criticisms with them in a loving and respectful way (1 Peter 3:15). The other person is a fellow image bearer of God and how we respond to them says a lot of about the God we represent. In the midst of the discussion, if we get stuck, we can always say we do not know the answer and engage them later after we have researched a little more.
I am still learning to be an ambassador for Christ. Through various situations and conversations, I’m discovering that there are many opportunities for us to share about our faith with others. Recently, I got to speak to a Jewish student about the gospel of Matthew and share about a resource called the Bible Project—and I look forward to more of such conversations where I’m able to apply all I’ve learned and continue to grow in being salt and light to those around me.
These experiences have challenged me to think about how we, as Christians, are representing Christ where we’ve been placed. Do people notice us as being different because of our Christian faith? My prayer is that God will use us as His representatives to bring others to Christ wherever He has placed us to be.
Honestly written with an open heart..One can understand how a new resident in a foreign land can feel misplaced and unassimilated yet having to adapt to the different culture n way of life. The dependence on God n in Christ alone is so necessary. May this article inspire and encourage others..God bless you.