I had connected with a cross-cultural worker whose son was having his first birthday, and she graciously included my family on the invitation list. As I arrived with my son, I saw a hoard of red-cheeked children run by. Moms and dads and other adults mingled as fragments of conversation bonded to create an air of community as foreign as anything I had experienced in my mere months on the field. I only felt a sense of belonging at the snack table where I gazed upon a vast array of cookies, chips and dips, and other American delicacies.
Slipping into the crowd, anxiety took the place nerves had occupied in my heart moments before. While new acquaintances graciously sought to know me, I interpreted their probing queries as an interview process to determine if I fit in and if I could stay. Though I don’t think my answers had much to do with it, I did not become a permanent fixture in this particular group. Through the years, however, our family has found our own place within the overseas community of cross-cultural workers with Kingdom purposes.
We have enjoyed fellowship with people from various backgrounds, nationalities, and personalities. More than shared cultural experiences, we have found faith in Christ and commitment to Him to be the uniting factors between our family and others. Prayer and worship have taken place in living rooms and around kitchen tables as we have shared our lives together. We have swapped stories of cultural blunders, deep personal hurts, and incredible victories. These connections are an invaluable gift, and I pray we will steward this treasure to the glory of God.
With constant arrivals and departures, current issues of our home countries, and the stresses of life and ministry overseas, there is ample opportunity for division between cross-cultural workers. As we navigate how to love local people while also supporting others in edifying relationship, we have learned much about fostering unity with those with whom we share foreign field. Establishing and maintaining unity in overseas community requires a commitment to service, trust, and truth.
Commit to Serve
We come to the field knowing we are here to serve but can sometimes forget this when we are among a crowd who shares our culture. While searching for common ground, we can find ourselves in the quicksand of differing opinions, ministry goals, and methods. Temptation to compare and compete breaks trust and crumbles the foundation for friendship and fellowship before it is even built.
We can take on the mind of Jesus to serve our fellow cross-cultural workers. We can listen with the intention to carry their burdens and labor in prayer for their ministries and families. We can bring cookie platters to the potlucks and offer babysitting services and words of encouragement on the tough cultural days. By God’s grace, we can lay aside our pride to prefer one another and care with genuine brotherly love (Romans 12:9-10).
Commit to Trust
In the same way we trust the Lord for His faithful work in our families, we can trust the Lord to work out His will in the lives and ministries of our fellow cross-cultural workers. We can rest from efforts to impress, knowing He will build lasting bonds with those who will help us bring forth spiritual fruit and encourage our ministry efforts. When there is conflict, we can depend on the Lord to bring peace as we submit our hurts and misunderstandings to Him. When we come up short in the comparison game, we find power in Him to conquer our fear of failure.
Commit to Truth
Though we hold fellowship dear and necessary, we must place a higher value on truth than we place on the personal comfort of community.
As we face differences in essential doctrines and convictions, we must derive our core beliefs from the truths of Scripture. We can respect our fellow cross-cultural workers without adopting their personal views, and we can maintain peace in our relationships while retaining our spiritual convictions.
Those of us who shepherd the souls of local people must be particularly cautious to protect those whom God has entrusted into our care. We should refrain from bringing opportunity for confusion before the seekers and Christ-followers in our ministries. Clear Gospel waters may be muddied by introducing ideologies which only prove to be unprofitable for our people (Titus 3:8-9). Here we see the necessary boundaries we must put in place with the measure of wisdom God has given us.
Committing to service, trust, and truth, we will enjoy Christian fellowship within our overseas community. We can walk out our callings hand-in-hand for the glory of God—not in competition but in Christ-honoring community. As we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals who love the country we serve in and love the Lord who brought us all there even more, we will see the benefits of unity all over our lives and ministries.
What are some ways you have found to serve those around you, on your local or expat team?