I still recall my first step toward making this place feel like home. With a financial gift from friends in hand, I invested in a floor lamp and several golden hued incandescent light bulbs to warmly light up one corner of the apartment I was sharing with others at the time. This step away from having only the sterile overhead fluorescent tube lighting was one marker of the end of a pilot-project mindset for me.
Somewhere along the way, the initial plan of coming to serve in East Asia for 2~3 years on a pilot project morphed until I’ve now resided in the Orient longer than I have lived at my “permanent address” near the little village of Orient in my home state. No matter where, 30 years is a long time to reside in one place and – for some – it’s especially hard to imagine why I would choose to continue living in East Asia for so long. Truth is that this has never been so hard for me to imagine, primarily because it fulfills a message the Lord pressed on my heart years ago: He created me in a way that adjusts to cross-cultural living for Him with relative ease.
My initial impetus for coming was obediently saying “Yes, Lord” in response to an opportunity He opened up to work with others serving here at that time. I came with a passion to yield to God, but not with a particular passion for the people of this place. Within the first couple of years, I realized that I needed to ask for that, to hunger for His Spirit to give me a heart more like that of Jesus, one that beats with love and longing for these people to be transformed in His love.
Along the way, the Lord has taught me that while passion for Him and passion for these people are both quite important, passion for Him always trumps. It’s only His passionate love that provides all I need, binds up my brokenness, keeps me from getting burnt out, fuels passion for people, ushers me through repeated farewells, and energizes me to continue learning new ways and strategies.
In fact, I recently read results of a study [The Rise and Fall of Movements: A Roadmap for Leaders by Steve Addison] that strongly emphasizes how important it is to guard our hearts for abiding in Christ: “The life of Christ in us is the key to leadership at every stage of the life cycle. Remaining in Him is the key to the rise of movements. Abandoning Him is the key to the fall of movements.” Not just in regard to movements, but for life in general, it’s all too easy to get over-focused on certain tasks or goals to the point of spiritual myopia or even to the point that we drain and drop. Abiding in Him is His wisdom for living.
Somewhere after year 10, I stopped ‘going home’ from East Asia to the Midwest. My trans-pacific travel pattern was not affected; rather I found myself thinking differently. I began going from my home here to spend time in my other home – the one where my family of origin resides. In other words, both ends were homecomings!
It’s hard to describe the joy that friends here expressed when a message from me announced that I’d arrived back home in ‘our city’ here. Besides having a place to lay my head and cook my meals, being at home here is an acknowledgment of being integrated in community here, feeling comfortable in the language and culture, and treasuring the ‘family’ in this location who contribute to the texture of life and hold me accountable to keep learning and be a good citizen of heaven in this place.
In no way does this mean that there are no challenges to overcome. As happens in expatriate life, those I have been closest to have mostly moved on to other places and new seasons. Our forces here have dwindled, severely limiting choices for friends who share my cultural background and heart language. Sometimes, that is lonely. As a single woman, the loneliness is sometimes unrelieved.
However, one advantage I treasure as a single is the ability to fit more fluidly into many others’ lives. I can become friends with local singles or accept invitations to be included in local families’ lives and activities without as many considerations as an expatriate family might have. What a treasure local friends are, with whom I share years of recent history and who are willing to go the extra mile to bridge deeply across cultural and language patterns!
As my family of origin includes just my younger brother and myself, residing overseas for so many years has been especially challenging as my parents have aged and endured health challenges. Family events and holidays are often bittersweet for my mother in particular, as my absence is strikingly obvious.
The preferences of my family in the Midwest and my ‘family’ here in East Asia are sometimes in distinct tension with one another. Much as Internet technology helps bridge the distance, frequently neither my god-daughter here nor my mother there are truly satisfied with weeks or months of not being together in person. It is likely that gap may only be closed in heaven! Until then, I must leave that in Father God’s hands, thankful for being ‘at home’ with Him, no matter where!
What have you been learning about being ‘at home’ where you are called to live now?