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How I Found A Community While Going to College Abroad

Written By Yang Ming, Singapore

Before I set off to Swansea, Wales to further my studies, I had researched a number of churches to attend. While I knew about Singapore communities in popular destinations like Sydney or London, I didn’t know of any Singaporean Christians in Swansea. I asked around for recommendations, but didn’t receive any. So my search continued on Google.

I was anxious to find a church. I knew friends who had found God through church communities when they were studying overseas. I also had Christian friends who experienced God in a supernatural way and whose spiritual life grew while abroad. Both groups shared compelling personal testimonies, and I always felt encouraged by their faith-charged stories and was eager to have the same experience. Although I made a list of churches I found online, I was still fearful that I might not find a suitable church to settle in.

But as I was spending time with God one day, I was reassured by a verse in Joshua 1:9, where God tells Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” If God was with Joshua when he entered a foreign land, surely God would be with me as well.

My first month in school was a challenging one. I had to acquaint myself with my new flatmates and classmates. I had to learn a new culture, and adjust to a different way of living, food, transport, and even communication. On top of that, I had to re-adjust to student life after having worked for five years. It was awkward not even knowing the agenda for my class!

But just as God promised, He was with me as I entered this new country. A chance encounter led me to meet Molly, who together with her husband Charles, are missionaries from Singapore serving the local community in Swansea, Wales. Molly set up the English Corner at my campus some years ago as a place where international students can come together to learn English and the local culture from native students.

Molly followed up with me to make sure that I was settling well. She also invited me to her church. When I finally had all the administrative work settled, I decided to pay a visit to Molly’s church.

I casually invited two of my flatmates—one from Italy and the other from Brazil—to the Sunday service as well, and surprisingly, they agreed to come. Later I learned that both had attended churches in their respective homes and were also looking for a church to settle in.

Molly was very welcoming to us when we turned up for service. Her church was Presbyterian, whereas back home, I worshipped in a Charismatic church. We sang different songs during worship and the services were conducted differently. Despite these differences, I felt at peace during the service. The guest speaker’s message that day spoke to me. It made me realize that what mattered wasn’t so much the worship style or how the service was conducted, but that the church was focused on God’s Word and His heart for the people.

After service, everyone in the congregation was invited to stay for a scrumptious homecooked lunch, courtesy of Molly and her husband Charles.

As time went by, Molly invited me and other international students to her place for Bible study. Since I was a newcomer, everyone tried their best to make me feel welcome in the group. Molly always cooked a hearty dinner before the Bible study, and I was moved to see students from all over the world coming together to have a meal.

Knowing we were all students, Molly always made sure there would be an abundance of food for us to pack home afterwards. Her love for the students reminded me of the verse in Romans 12:13, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Recently, I missed a Bible study session because of an important assignment I was working on. But the group remembered me and gave me a packet of homecooked food, just to make sure that I was eating well. It really gave me a sense of belonging and love.

As I made an effort to share my own life and ask about their lives, I got to know these people from different parts of the world better. They also helped me during moments when I struggled with the way things worked here. My friends helped me understand some of the idiosyncrasies of the local culture, what the four seasons were like, and also how to combat the wet and cold weather in Wales.

During the Bible study, facilitators who led each session reminded us of the importance of God’s Word. Even as Christians, it is sometimes easier to get caught up with so many things—assignments, readings, spending time with friends—that we neglect God’s word. But every time I read the Bible in depth after a long day of studying and working on assignments, I would feel so refreshed.

The time spent studying God’s Word with these people has challenged me in my thinking and in the way I understand the Bible. As we studied God’s Word together, we learned to sharpen each other (Proverbs 27:17).

This is one of the things that I am thankful for—a community where we can grow and serve the Lord together. It has helped me see what an important role church leaders and fellow Christians can play in helping newcomers and foreign students settle into a new environment by lending a listening ear, meeting their needs, and making them feel welcome in the community.

Apart from reaching out to foreigners who are fellow Christians, churches that are strategically located near colleges also have the opportunity to treat non-believers or people of other faiths well. Living in a different country is always a frightening experience. By inviting newcomers over for a meal and showing them around, we can help them settle in well. Offer community, and people will feel welcomed and loved.

This is something Molly and her family have done throughout their years living in Wales—loving people and making them feel welcomed and loved despite differences in faith and nationality. Their example has inspired me to initiate conversations over coffee and reach out to other international students who are living on campus.

As I continue my studies abroad, I increasingly see the importance of having a church community. When I go through difficult times, such as when I’m struggling with my studies, I have support from God’s family. Being part of a church community also helps us watch out for one another in time of troubles, and more importantly, pray together as a family.

One of the wonderful things about the Christian faith is that no matter we go, we are never completely alone—but are all connected to a big Christian family worldwide. My Italian flatmate now attends church regularly with me, and remarked that she felt at home in church. As Psalm 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

Through this journey, God has opened my mind and showed me what He’s doing in other nations. He has also given me a heart to pray for this nation. I hope that in the coming days, I will be able to share my testimony to the congregation during service, help to serve lunch after service, or perhaps, lead a session during the Bible study.

I Was Emotionally Attached to My Friends

Written By Yang Ming, Singapore

 

The team dynamics was great—something I had not experienced at my previous job. My heart swelled with exhilaration whenever I worked with my colleagues. They made me feel loved and wanted. I quickly became emotionally attached to my group of lovely colleagues.

But my contract was not renewed.

“You will be looking around, right?” my director remarked when I asked her casually about my job contract.

My heart was broken. The thought of being separated from my colleagues left me completely distraught and I didn’t know how to deal with the gamut of emotions I was experiencing. To prevent myself from becoming overly attached to people again, I closed my heart. I stopped letting people into my life. I set up arbitrary boundaries around my personal life and made sure no one stepped over them. I used to be a cheerful person, but I became reserved. Even my walk with God was affected, and gradually, my ministry suffered.

Eventually, I moved on with my life. I found another job and forged new friendships with my colleagues, but still, I didn’t open up my heart to them. I learned about their personal lives, but I hardly ever shared about my own. As a result, they knew what was happening in my work life, but knew next to nothing about my family. I was a one-dimensional character to them. And I was fine with it.

It wasn’t until last year that things changed. I was again working at a new place and met new friends there. We were like-minded individuals who enjoyed the arts and other literary pursuits. We talked about our interests over lunch, and I began to share more about the things I loved.

Over the next couple of months, a phenomenal change began to take place in my heart, and I slowly began to open up my heart again. I eventually became comfortable enough to share my personal stories and aspirations.

My new friends and I shared a deep connection, and I felt a sense of belonging with them. Just as it was with my previous colleagues whom I loved dearly (and am still in regular contact with), our mere work relationship blossomed into friendship. It was a breath of fresh air after the past two years of closing my heart

But unknowingly, I had become emotionally attached to my new friends. I was hit hard when everyone left for greener pastures. As happy as I was for them, I was stuck in an abyss of emotions. Once again, I suffered the pain of emotional attachment.

During this time of affliction, I was angry at God for taking away the people I had learned to love and wrestled with Him. Ironically, the only way for me to cope with this pain was through prayer, as I knew I had no one except God.

 

How I Became Entangled in Emotional Attachment

So how did this happen? Why did I keep allowing myself to become entangled in emotional attachment?

You see, God created us as relational and emotional beings. However, one of the consequences of the Fall is that our emotions have the tendency to become misdirected. Instead of submitting them to God, we begin to attach them to the things in our lives. As a result, we hold on to things or people dearly, and became unwilling to let go for fear of losing them. Children have their soft toys or figurines, and I had my friends. Even temporary detachment could at times cause a tinge of heartache.

People who are emotionally attached are terrified of losing what we love—and therefore losing our purpose and identity. With all our human strength, we try to hold on to these things or people. In order not to lose my close and new friends, I spent copious amounts of time with them for fear of having too few memories. The looming end to our gatherings greatly distressed me.

When I finally left my job, there was a sense of loss. The same sense of loss and loneliness lingered in my quiet moments. Even though I was attending church and cell group regularly, there was still emptiness in my heart.

As time went on, I began to indulge in my emotions. Some days, I spent time relishing those good old memories, which rendered me to tears. Some nights, I cried myself to sleep. Initially, my emotions seemed validated; they made me feel better temporarily. However, over time my emotions of sadness, disappointment, and hurt increased instead of going away.

That was when I decided to share my struggles with my cell leader. We spent some time praying for healing and restoration. However, after a while, I stopped sharing about my struggle, since it didn’t seem to get any better. There was something lacking in my heart, which I couldn’t explain.

As my friends were busy with their work and I didn’t want to bother them, I didn’t know who to confide this to. I was becoming spiritually exhausted from this struggle, and I was sick of feeling depressed all the time. To put an end to it, I decided to turn to God and rely more on Him.

 

Finding Comfort in God’s Word

I started spending a lot of my time poring over God’s Word for comfort. It dawned upon me that all these years, the reason I had been so emotionally attached to people is because I based my value as a person on them. But once I looked to Jesus as the author and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2), I realized that my identity should be in Him alone.

I failed to understand that God is the giver, and the people I love are gifts from Him. While God’s gifts do enrich our lives, we are not supposed to hold on to these gifts so tightly.

As I read through God’s Word, I began to see that even though Jesus loved and cared for people during His ministry on earth, He never became emotionally reliant on anyone. I realized that while I cannot control my circumstances, I can control my emotions, as difficult as it may be.

In the beginning, it is hard for us to let go of things that we hold on to emotionally. We feel a sense of uncertainty as we face changes in our lives. But letting go of my emotional attachment to my friends doesn’t mean that I won’t see them anymore; it means trusting that God is the one who’s in charge of my friendships and my life. Jesus loves us more than we can imagine and He knows exactly who we need in our lives at any point. We can trust that He has our best interests at heart.

When I surrendered my emotional attachment to God, I felt less anxiety about the way our lives have taken us down different paths. But I would try to keep in contact with them, understand their needs, and bring them before God in my prayers. Slowly, my heart was at peace. And even though I can’t control the paths of my friends’ lives, I can take comfort in the fact that God will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Through my quiet time, God began to work in my heart and reveal to me that I’m worthy in His eyes, and I can never experience perfect love from other people, only from God.

Today, I still get to hang out with my friends after work. We share joy and celebrate each other’s milestones over a satisfying meal. Instead of looking to my friends to satisfy my needs, I want to be a blessing to them as much as they have been a blessing in my life. I won’t deny that there are days I still struggle with my emotions and the strong attachment that lingers in my heart. There are still times where I feel uncertain, lost, fearful, and less valuable as a person. It is at these moments that I realize that I am again placing my own desires before God in my heart.

When that happens, I need to ask myself: What is my heart’s intention towards my friends? Is it to gratify my selfish desires?

As I was processing these questions, God reminded me of Psalm 62:1-2, which says, “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

These verses reminded me that I can make a choice: either let my emotions take over me and make irrational decisions—such as working at a company near my ex-colleagues’ office, even though I do not believe in the company’s vision—or let myself be led by God and find my rest and satisfaction in Him alone.

I choose the latter.