A woman is about to crossing a road

Being a Christian Is Like Being a Foreigner

Written by Rosie Yip, Hong Kong

I immigrated to Australia when I was a child. Perhaps it was because I was still very young, I quickly adapted to the way things were there.

I do remember some awkwardness in the first year of school and an awareness that I was different. But eventually, I found comfort and belonging in my identity as an Australian. I was educated there. English is my main language, and Australia is 90 percent of my childhood. It’s where I would say I feel most at home.

Recently, I returned to Hong Kong where I was born, and then moved from Hong Kong to China. That feeling of being a foreigner hit me hard. It’s one thing to visit these places for a short period of time, it’s another thing to live here. It was a huge learning curve.  

This experience of starting life in a new place has given me a new lens to view our lives as Christians, especially when I re-read the book of 1 Peter. The apostle wrote to a group of believers who were being persecuted for their loyalty to Jesus, and in the letter he refers to them as “exiles” and “foreigners” multiple times (e.g., 1 Peter 1:1-2).

As I pondered on the context of 1 Peter and relate it to where I am now—how I feel foreign where I live and how I’ve always tended to feel a little disconnected from the world in general—it led me to think: what if, we were never meant to find true belonging in this world?


Uncomfortable in an unfamiliar place 

When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I was always lost. I’m terrible with directions in general, and Google maps didn’t help because Hong Kong is full of buildings that connect to other buildings or bridges that lead to the other side of the road. 

I was also unfamiliar with the rules here, particularly in terms of how people talked and related to each other. Is it okay to act this way? Why do they talk about people’s weight so casually? Is it acceptable to ask how much someone earns? 

My own experience as a foreigner has made me feel a little small; it’s a humbling experience. Something I am beginning to accept is that I will always be different here in this new country. No matter how hard I try to not stand out, they will always see and treat me differently.  

And as a Christian, that’s the way it should be. Which is why one of the first thoughts that hit me was, do I feel my “foreignness” in the same way I did when I moved to my new home? Or have I been far too comfortable as a Christian in this world?

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”  Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:14-17)

We are born into this world, then we discover Jesus, commit our lives to Him and become citizens of God’s kingdom. It’s a brand-new world. We are changed from the inside out. Our thinking, our way of speech and behaviour are now different. 

So then, we return to the world no longer as “locals” but as foreigners. People are meant to see that we are different, in the same way the people who lived in Hong Kong all their lives could tell that I wasn’t one of them.  


Experiencing everything with curiosity 

When I was looking for an apartment in the new city I was moving into, I had the opportunity to see an amazing view of the entire city from a high-rise building. I snapped a photo and posted it on the local social media platform.

My caption was, “This city is beautiful.” After I added a few hashtags, it got some attention from people living in the city. The locals flooding my post with comments: 

“Are you a foreigner?”

“You are definitely not from here.”

This is a gritty city. Nobody really describes it as ‘beautiful’. Having never lived here and visiting it for the first time, I didn’t know this until a few months later. It was beautiful to me because I was seeing it from a different perspective, through the eyes of a foreigner.  

These moments made me reflect on myself: How do I approach my life with greater curiosity? There is still so much to discover about God, about this world and the people He has created. Unfamiliarity leads us to see the beauty of God’s creation and experience the world with curious hearts. This moves me to throw out the ‘same old, same old’ and live life as if I’m discovering God and His creation for the first time. 

Someone who often moved to different cities once advised me, “When you move to a new city, prioritise this—go out and discover what you find beautiful about the city.” Because it’s easy to find the annoying things, the ugly things, the things you hate. In life, we get weighed down by familiarity. Slowly, we become unable to see the beautiful things in our lives. 

In the midst of ugliness and pain, God’s creation boasts of His goodness and faithfulness to us. Be curious about God and His creation.


Longing for home 

I miss the array of colours that paint the Melbourne sky when the sun sets. I miss the crisp, fresh air that fills my lungs whenever I step out of the plane after returning from a foreign country. I miss the long nature walks along the suburb streets, strangers greeting me with a quick hello as we walk past each other. 

I miss the peacefulness that would settle over me whenever I saw the shadow of the tree outside my room sway against my wall as the sun shines through at the perfect angle. I miss the daily drives down roads I’m familiar with, the habit of visiting friends’ homes for a home cooked dinner, having brunch at a local cafe, doing some work at a local park.   

At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate some things in this new city I live in. One of my favourite things to do is to travel on the ferry as I cross from one side of the city to the other. I’ve come to love the energy in this bustling city. Yet even as I fall in love with this new city, I long for the home I had left behind.  

Do I long for heaven in the same way? I think I do, though not in the same way I yearn for my earthly home; I realised I don’t think about heaven as often as I do about my home back in Australia.

Sometimes when things are not great in life, I yearn for something better, but maybe because I don’t know what I’m missing, I don’t know what ‘better’ can look like.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Though I don’t know yet what awaits me in heaven, this I’m sure of: Our belonging is in Christ. This world is temporary, and our home is in heaven, where we will return to one day. I’m at home when I’m with Jesus.  

It’s not easy being a foreigner of this world, which is why Jesus spent some of His final moments praying about this for the disciples:

“I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the worldMy prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:13-19)

I’m encouraged by Jesus’s final prayer. There are all kinds of hardship awaiting us, yet there is a distinctive purpose for us: Jesus sends us out to love as He loves, to be good ambassadors for Him by sharing the Good News and advocating for reconciliation in this very broken world. Even as I long for our heavenly home, it matters how I live my life now in light of this purpose. 

May Jesus’s love for this world give us a new determination to live with greater urgency, greater discomfort, and greater love for His people.

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