3 Things I Learned From Moving Abroad

The day finally came for me to grab my bags and board the flight. I had been living with my grandparents and other relatives for more than seven years, but it was now time to join my parents and undertake my university education in the new country they called home. I did not know this at the time, but the drastic cultural differences I would face in this new country meant I had a steep learning curve ahead of me.

Early on in my new city, I had arranged to meet an acquaintance for lunch. Wanting to make a good impression, I took ample time in deciding which pair of sneakers to wear. This deliberation made me miss my bus, and I was 15 minutes late to my appointment. For all my efforts to look my best, I got a lecture about the importance of respecting other’s time.

Back home, life moved at a slow, relaxed pace. But here, life seemed to be a stack of priorities that had to be met with utmost urgency. And time was only one of many cultural differences that I encountered. I struggled to adjust, and often found myself frustrated and uncomfortable. I felt like I couldn’t be myself in this new place.

But through my struggles, God showed me a few foundational truths about what it meant to truly live for Him here on earth. These helped me stay true to my purpose even as my circumstances changed.

 

1) Culture May Change, But Living for Jesus Doesn’t

The apostle Paul was familiar with cultural differences. He made multiple missionary journeys across Asia and Greece to establish churches among the nations. In 1 Corinthians 9:20, he says, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.”

Regardless of where God sent Paul, he acted, as far as was Christianly possible, within cultural expectations. By choosing not to demand his rights or assert his individuality, Paul sought to facilitate the advancement of the Gospel wherever he went, in whatever cultural context he found himself in. For him the most important thing was always to see people called to repentance and obedience to the Gospel.

Similarly, I realized that despite the change in culture, my purpose as a Christian stays the same: seeing the Gospel advance in whatever situation I was in. That means that I couldn’t insist on doing things the way I’d done them back home, or complain about the uptight attitude here. Instead, I needed to muster up discipline that I never previously had. I had to learn to be loving to people regardless of our differences, in the hope that I might be able find an opportunity to encourage or share the Gospel with them.

So, no more dawdling around. I needed to be respectful of people’s time and customs. I couldn’t afford to be offensive over things that didn’t ultimately matter. God showed me that I had to willingly give up some of the freedoms I’d enjoyed in my old culture, so that I could advance the Gospel in my new one.

 

2) The Church is a Global Family

Mid-semester one year, university became a hard slog meeting assignment deadlines. Little else seemed to matter. But the friends that I’d made at a Bible study continually reminded me of the truths we were learning each week.

When I found myself in a tough dilemma, they comforted me by spending time in prayer with me. I realized that these were friends who had my eternal interests at heart, which meant that we were able to share a bond much deeper than any normal friendship. We could share our struggles and encourage one another in a meaningful way.

Finding a like-minded Christian community really helped me deal with the travails of moving abroad. This brought to life the words of Jesus in Mark 10:29-30, where He promised His followers that they would be blessed with “homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields” for the sacrifices that they make. In other words, those who follow Jesus would be part of a large family we now know as the Church.

The idea of family here isn’t used lightly. Rather, Jesus saw the Church family as so loving and committed to each other that it could replace one’s biological family. This means that wherever I find disciples of Christ, I find a welcoming, nurturing community committed to truth and love.

Despite our cultural differences, the shared hope we have in Jesus and His Kingdom connects me with my new-found friends. I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter that we have little in common by way of past experiences, it is confirmation enough that we are all being molded into the image of Jesus—we are family.

 

3) This is Not Our Home

One of the hardest parts about moving to a new country was going back and realizing that home didn’t quite feel like home anymore.

Though I miss the country I’d grown up in, every time I visited I realized that life there continues to move on without me. Friends grow up, graduate from university, and get married. We no longer share as many memories and experiences. It really hit me one visit, when I was hanging out with one of my best friends. Silence filled the car as we drove back home from a movie. We had nothing in common to talk about anymore.

At first, all this left me feeling a little lost. I didn’t quite fit in at my new surroundings, but the place I’d come from had lost its feeling of familiarity. I was cut adrift, with no place I could truly call home.

However, one day I heard a sermon that led me to God’s amazing promise in Isaiah 65:17-19:

See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

This promise brought me comfort at a time when I felt homeless. God reminded me that I wasn’t meant to find home here on earth—but that my real Home was somewhere else. Instead, God was using my move and my sense of loss to cultivate in me a deep desire for His new creation, where we can finally be with Him.

With God’s promise in my heart, I am able to work harder for the Gospel. I can look forward to what God has in store for me, instead of getting distracted by my current circumstances.

Through the move, God has fundamentally changed my focus, giving me an eternal perspective on things. I no longer seek to cure my homesickness by chasing after comfort or success. Instead, I strive to see the Gospel advance, knowing that true satisfaction and fulfilment will come when I am in His new creation.

I am still living abroad right now, though I hope to one day return to the country I grew up in. But really, it doesn’t matter where I end up, because I know that wherever I am, God has a purpose, a family, and a home waiting for me.

 

A Call to All Women This Mother’s Day

I have a lot to be thankful for this Mother’s Day. I have two children whom I love dearly, and a husband who always plans something to make me feel special, so I truly couldn’t ask for more.

However, I have come to realize, both through personal pain and the pain of others, that while many of us joyfully celebrate being a mom each year, there are also many women who will be hurting deeply come Mother’s Day.

An example is a dear friend of mine, Sheryl, who has had a hard journey. Before we became friends as adults, she mentored me when I was a teen, and it was during those years that Sheryl shared very openly about her struggle with infertility. We shared many tears together as she modeled incredible faith and trust in God amidst great pain.

But out of that pain, Sheryl saw an opportunity from the Lord. Even though she could not have children of her own, she decided to shift her focus, and invest her time and energy in mentoring me and some other girls instead. And she did so in life-impacting, fun ways that a woman with children may not have had the time or energy for.

Years later, I struggled for a season, wondering if infertility was also going to be part of my story. It didn’t end up being the story God had for my husband Andrew and I, but in the midst of our struggles and when our grief was overwhelming, Sheryl’s example of faith and trust pointed us back to our ever faithful Savior.

A Call to Mentor

Every woman is given a call by God to invest into the lives of younger women—regardless of whether these are their own children. The biblical call to motherhood is so much more than just about having a biological child. Instead, the passages of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Titus 2:3-4 give every woman the charge to love and shepherd those in our care. These passages call us to a task beyond being a physical parent—they call us to be spiritual parents.

If God has placed any children in your path, make training them up in the ways of the Lord your personal mission. Turn everyday situations into teachable moments, impressing God’s words on them as a way of life: “…talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. . .” (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Beyond that, we also have another call, ladies. Titus 2:3-4 says, “Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good…urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

This passage in Titus calls us to be both mentors and examples. We are to be an example to all women around us—both younger and older—to teach and encourage them so that they will not malign God’s Word. We have all been given a lofty task—to draw all women to a deeper understanding of Christ so that they will honor His Word! What an exciting calling, ladies!

I’ve known a lot of people who shy away from mentoring because they feel unequipped. The reality is that if you are a believer in Christ, that fact alone qualifies you to be a spiritual mentor. Ask God to show you if there’s anyone you can encourage and walk with. God will equip you to do it well.

A Call to Comfort and Encourage

We all have different stories of joy and pain. Some of us have lost our mothers and have no one to call up this year. Some have had years of strife and a broken relationship with our moms. Many women were never able to have children, or are currently wondering if infertility is to be their lot.

Some have had abortions. God’s forgiveness truly covers that, and there is beautiful peace and restoration to be found, but the scars from abortions do linger, and for some still bring a lot of sorrow. Some single moms are without a husband and will have no one to appreciate their tireless efforts on Mother’s Day. Some have even had children die or have had miscarriages, so today is a day that might bring immense pain for these women. My sister just lost her sweet baby girl, Isabella, 16 weeks into her pregnancy. Our family will be celebrating many things on Mother’s Day, but there will also be a unique, deep wound this year for us.

These, and many more, are the stories God has given all of us. Just as Sheryl did for me, we must let our stories—whether filled with pain or with joy—motivate us to love, comfort and encourage those God has placed in our path.

This Mother’s Day, even as we celebrate the women in our lives who have mentored or loved us as mothers, let’s also draw near to those who are hurting. Let’s give them an extra hug, pray with them for comfort and be aware of what they might be going through. And let’s continue to offer our stories and lives to the Lord as a sacrifice—allowing Him to use them each and every day to bring others closer to Him.

Can We Have Jesus but Not the Church?

“I love Jesus, but not the church.”

This is what someone recently told me, and it left me puzzled. The person continued, “Can’t I watch a sermon online in my living room? I’ll never leave Jesus, but I’m done with the church.”

Is it possible to have Jesus without the church? What role does the local church play in personal transformation? Can one grow spiritually without participation in the local church?

In conversations like this one, I sense grave confusion concerning the doctrine of the church, especially regarding the nature and function of the church. As a pastor, I am convinced that we need to rediscover what the Bible says about the church.

 

1. We Attend Church For Ourselves

God Himself is a Trinity of persons living in community. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit live together in perfect fellowship, harmony, and unity. Since we are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), we are also called to live in community as well. Church is a community built by God, for us.

Even though the church by definition comprises a body of believers, the local church is not merely a man-made system. Jesus Christ promised, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18), and He does so by calling His people to Himself. The writer Luke also tells us that the growth of the church came not by human effort alone, but was the work of God each day (Acts 2:47). Today, God continues to build the church for our sake, and for His glory.

My own church once went through a difficult time. There was great division, and accusations were flying back and forth. We were convinced that we would ultimately split into different churches. Instead, God intervened, and with fasting and prayer, our church grew in unity and maturity. God alone deserves the glory for growing our church in that difficult time.

Our God is a gathering God. In the book of Deuteronomy, we see how God longed to gather His people together and make them His own even though He scattered them to punish them for their disobedience (Deuteronomy 30:1–8; 28:64). One of the main purposes of the church is for us to gather and worship. In Colossians 3:16, Paul tells us to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” In Ephesians, Paul says that we are elected by God “for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:12).

What we see in Scripture is that God shapes us in pretty profound ways when we gather to worship. Worship is fundamentally a posture of the heart. We can only worship if we acknowledge that we lesser beings are in the presence of a greater and awesome being. We are sinners deserving of wrath in the presence of a holy and righteous God. It is only by the grace of Christ and the mercy of God that we are forgiven and prepared for His kingdom. So in fear and trembling, and in love and gratitude, we bow down and worship our King. All of life is lived in worship. When we bring this mindset into our gatherings, our hearts become fertile ground for the restoring work of God. This might not be felt weekly, but we know that God is working through our ordinary gatherings.

When Paul advised Timothy in leading the church, he told him to be diligent, and to watch his life and doctrine closely, so that through perseverance “[he] will save both [himself] and [his] hearers” (1 Timothy 4:13-16). We too, are transformed by God when we are diligent and watch our own lives closely—when we worship in song together, hear the Word of God together, break bread in communion, and serve one another.

To put aside church on Sunday morning is to forfeit God’s design for spiritual growth.

 

 2. We Attend Church For Other Believers

Before His death, Jesus told His followers to “love one another” (John 13:34). One primary way we can obey this commandment is to be part of a local church.

As the church, we have an obligation to nurture those who are already believers and to build one another up to maturity in the faith (Colossians 1:28). For this purpose, Christ established the apostles to be the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20), and He built it up with prophets, teachers, pastors, and ordained men (Ephesians 4:11–13). The author of Hebrews urges us, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17). These are leaders that God uses to help hold us accountable and help grow us.

Under these biblically prescribed offices, we are all united in fellowship for the gospel mission. Though not all of us are pastors or teachers, all of us are in Christ, and are knit together by a supernatural kinship (Ephesians 2:19). In the book of Acts, we see a beautiful picture of the church, where all were devoted to the apostles’ teaching. All shared in fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and prayer. All shared everything in common, including possessions and goods as each had need. (Acts 2:42).

This too, is how we are meant to live. It is impossible to read this passage of Scripture and come away with the idea that Christianity is a “just-me-and-Jesus” sort of religion. Instead, your burden is my burden, your joy is my joy, and your life is my life. God uses us all in the lives of one another to continue the work of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

My friend from the beginning of the article had initially stopped coming to church after his complaints. But the church came along him—visiting and praying—when he went through a difficult time of illness and family struggle. Slowly, he began to realize that it was not right for one to neglect the church by neglecting the assembly of believers, and so came back to church.

Salvation is not personal or private. It connects us to God and His people. It is through this biblical framework of church community that we continue to grow to full maturity in Christ.

 

 3. We Attend Church For Non-believers

In committing to a local church, a local portion of the body of Christ, we make a statement to the world about what matters. People around us see how we spend our time and our energy. Imagine what we tell people when we choose to sleep in, attend a sports event, or mow the lawn instead of attending church! We all know people who are too ready to single out “bad Christians” as the reason for not pursuing the faith. You and I might also know that person who subtly ridicules our choice to tithe our resources as foolishness. But the message of the cross is the power of God to those who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ is a beautiful picture to the rest of the world.

Take me as an example. I came from a broken home, and by age 12, was spending time with gang members and living a sinful life. I was angry and depressed. Above all, I hated God, and Christians were a bunch of self-righteous, hypocritical, judgmental people.

When I was 15, however, I met a pastor, and soon realized that he was somehow different. I saw the love and respect his church had for him, and he had for the church, and I asked him, “what’s the secret?” That was when he first shared the gospel with me. A year later, I decided to give my life to Christ.

Of course, we are not perfect. There are cracks and there are things that ought not to happen in the church. After all, the church is made up of a bunch of broken people! But somehow, God uses us to work in one another’s lives.

By God’s grace, our love for one another and submission to one another shines out in this world. All of us, Christians and non-Christians, are made in the image of God. All of us, deep down, desire real fellowship with other humans, and real fellowship with the Trinity. By God’s grace, our love as a church shows the world what is possible. God has chosen the local church as a vehicle to display His glory to the nations.

 

Church is not optional

Church is not simply a meeting to attend, or a building you enter. The roles we play in the local church form a big part of our identity in Christ, and this identity shapes the whole of our lives. The Bible recognizes that God puts certain structures in place for our growth and through which we love one another. By being a part of the church, we declare our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom!

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24–25)

6 Ways to Take Your Relationship Deeper

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

When my family and I moved across continents, our lives were stripped down, and being in a new place made everything about three steps harder. I realized in those situations how desperately I needed friends. Real friends, who would plop down on my back porch while our kids got muddy, and who would swap their hearts’ stories with me. I needed friends who would show up when my husband had malaria or put an arm around my shoulder when I wasn’t there for my grandpa’s funeral.

God knew that we needed friendships that loved intrusively. It’s how Jesus loved us—setting aside His status (as God!) to get dirty in our mess. He swapped a throne for a reeking stable, put on diapers, went through puberty and single adulthood. Then, He took what I was carrying, and made it His own (Philippians 2:5-8). After all, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Is that what should characterize our friendships? As laying down our own lives?

This is vital. Wherever you are.

But to reach that stage, I needed to build my friendships from scratch. And here are a few things I found useful to deepen my friendships:

1. Ask good questions and be willing to share

One of my favorite questions—though admittedly it can occasionally sound cheesy—is, “How’s your heart?” It’s my way of saying, How are you, really—on the inside? What are you wrestling with in there?

Of course, sometimes we simply want to be the one to whom people tell stuff; to be the confidante, the counselor. But love doesn’t let us get away with always being the giver in relationships. In the Bible, Peter had to allow Jesus to wash his feet (John 13:8-10) and Jesus allowed a woman to bathe his own feet in expensive perfume, and wipe them with her own hair (Matthew 26:7-11).

When I find myself slipping into that role of “always the giver”, it can help to be straightforward with friends: Hey, I tend to let my friendships be a little one-sided, because I get uncomfortable when people ask me questions. So I’m telling you this so you can call me out on it, and keep pursuing me.

 

2. Ask how you can pray for them

Praying is one of the most intimate forms of love. We’re fighting for someone, about their most intimate desires, fears, and concerns. I want to get into the spiritual boxing ring of prayer (like Jacob, who wrestled with God) alongside my friends, for them and the ones they love. I want us to at least get to the level of, “What would you ask God for right now? What matters the most to you that you’re wrestling with? What’s sitting on your heart like a big elephant?”

Sometimes, friends are too weary to pray for themselves. They might feel too afraid or alienated from God. They might feel grief or concern that overwhelms any words. They might not know what to say. It is such a privilege that I can pray for them.

Who do you know who might not have a lot of people praying on their behalf? Practically speaking, consider calling to check up on how they’re doing, or sending a text message or note in the mail to let them know some of the verses and thoughts you’re praying for them.

3. Tell the truth

I’m challenged by the simple words of Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Reality is, I have not always treated my friends as if they are members of my own body, communicating like my own body does with itself.

I am not false—not in the intentionally lying sense—but I am not always intentionally truthful, for the sake of “kindness” or my own security. I am not always faithful to speak the truth or say what someone might not want to hear. I may not love enough to be courageous.

If a friend is, say, caught in sexual sin—then I should care enough to quietly say, “I think I need to tell you what you probably already know. This is destroying you. I think you could dream a lot bigger—for a faithful, forever relationship that really valued you, and where you value them back.”

Honestly, when I’m not truthful with a friend, when I’m holding back, I can feel that between us. My friendships will only grow as deep as we both allow them to go.

 

4. Be vulnerable

Vulnerability takes so much security—first, in our vertical relationship with God. I find a direct correlation between my own humility and my ability to be transparent with other people. Humility says, I’m weak, a flawed sinner. That’s who I am. But God loves me. And that’s who I am. God’s love gives me the courage to be vulnerable and risk rejection.

Sometimes a lack of vulnerability may be because someone isn’t trustworthy. But more often it’s from self-protection; from a fear that if people know who I am, I’ll be rejected. Honestly, I used to wait for others to pursue me as a display of their concern for me—and sometimes still do. But knowing I always have God’s love gives me the courage to be vulnerable with others. And recognizing my own weakness before Him helps me acknowledge my own need for others to shoulder what I’m carrying (Galatians 6:2); that it’s not good for me to be alone (Genesis 2:18); that I can’t say, “I don’t need you!” to those God has given me in community (1 Corinthians 12:21).

Jesus is our ultimate example of vulnerability. He put Himself in a killable, dirty-able human body; He died naked, shamed and broken. Talk about vulnerability! I’m not saying we trust anyone with our most intimate, painful areas. After all, Jesus had his own concentric circles of friendship—His intimate three, then 12 disciples, then 72, then the crowds. But friendship is rewarding proportional to the courage and intimacy we’re willing to extend; and the bar that Jesus set—love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34)—is one that will take the rest of my life to pursue.

5. Be relentless

Not in a “I’m your friendly neighborhood stalker” sort of way, but in a kind of way that doesn’t look to our own interests, but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).

Our current society does not seem to encourage true community well—for relationships that go the distance when it’s inconvenient, unhappy, sweaty, and generally uncomfortable. Thanks to social media we may still be in touch with people from high school—but we may also have 580 “friends” who assume they know us because of our status updates.

For relationships to go deeper, we need to be willing to tirelessly pursue them. Social media, of course, can also be a way to simply care for others more than ourselves; to love well, now that we know what’s going on. I’ve got to be willing to initiate, to crowd my calendar with people rather than just events. . . to be secure enough that friendships aren’t all about me.

6. Be aggressive about forgiveness

Forgiveness is easy to elude, right? It’s easy to choose blame, a hard heart, an alienated relationship. Forgiveness goes against all that’s natural in us. I’m amazed at how petty I can get about small “insults” from a friend—ways he or she seemed thoughtless and didn’t read my mind, things that seemed “obvious” because of my unique composition (which is why I need a friend in the first place), ways that someone didn’t return a kindness.

Friendships squeeze me into the discipline of returning a blessing for a perceived insult; of loving extravagantly. I’ve had to return in my own friendships with “I’m sorry”—with my own need for their mercy and graciousness. I am fascinated by this thought from American pastor and scholar Ligon Duncan that tells me a lot about relationships in general: “People don’t fall out of love. They fall out of repentance and forgiveness.”

After all, our affections follow our ability to extend and receive grace in imperfect relationships.

 

You can see that a lot of these ideas begin with a common, perhaps unexpected trait: humility, fastened tightly to love as the motivator in our relationships.

This year, may your relationships press into the next level of loving as Jesus loves us.