Someone told me before I moved overseas that the things that I struggled with in the US would be magnified tenfold overseas. I laughed and said, “NO WAY!” You see, at the time, I was struggling in a sinful relationship with a guy who grew up in the church, but had drifted. I knew he wasn’t moving with me; actually, we were breaking up as a result of my move. Thus, my natural thought process was that the sin would stop as soon as I got on the plane. I scoffed thinking how that struggle with sin could follow me so far across the ocean. How wrong I was!
My first year overseas, I got involved with another expat who lived in a different city, which was a slippery slope with no support when I’d go to see him. Somehow, I ended up back in that very same sin that had haunted me in the US. I remember waking up one morning, next to this guy, thinking about those words of how those sins that I struggle with would follow me.
At that point, I was in too deep (or so I thought). I couldn’t confess to those in my community, because I was afraid I would lose my job. I couldn’t confess to friends, because the ones who could help lived too far away and the ones around me might report my actions to those who would kick me out of my job. It was a nasty vicious cycle. At some point that first year, I stopped caring. I thought to myself, “It’s just __________. I’m not doing X, Y or Z.” I had slowly succumbed, and I had no way of getting out, so I just rationalized and decided there were worse things that I could be doing.
Fast forward to year two overseas. Somehow, by God’s grace, I broke free of the relationship and ended it. Year two was a bit better, but at that point, my walk with the Lord had stagnated as a result of the sin I had been living in the year prior. Over the last year, I had spent a lot of time wrestling with my faith and had walked away pretty jaded.
I grew up in a very conservative Christian home, and after being exposed to so many different things living cross-culturally, the answers didn’t fit in a neat little box like I thought they would. Things just didn’t line up and I began to question my faith – I wrestled with doubts and I struggled in my walk. I secretly loathed myself. On the outside, I said I was a strong Christian – going to Bible study, attending church at least once a month, and listening to Christian music in my classroom – but really, on the inside, I was dying.
It was in the beginning of year two that I met my VelvetAshes small group and slowly, I began to climb out of the hole I had dug for myself spiritually. While I still had lots of questions and doubts, I began to remember that really, at the core of it all, my faith was simply about Jesus. Nothing more. Nothing less. While many things didn’t have neat answers and fit exactly as I hoped they would, I began to find freedom. I still struggled with sin that second year, but I struggled more with doubts surrounding my own faith.
I returned to the US completely changed from the person I was when I moved overseas, a bit skeptical of the US Christian church, and frankly, burned out. Since coming home, I’ve struggled. I’ve been looking for a church (and not having much luck), but it’s been tough to find one with the global perspective I long for. I work six days a week (because money was so tight moving home) and have been so overloaded that my Bible is now collecting dust on my shelf next to my prayer life. I still have a lot of questions about my spiritual walk – I’m not nearly as conservative as I once was both spiritually and politically (much to the chagrin of my parents). I’ve struggled with the question, “Am I even a good Christian?” I guess living overseas did change me – my perspective on the world was broadened and as a result, my faith is a lot different than it was ten years ago.
I feel that the expat community expects us all to be perfect (well, we may not think we do, but deep down, I think we all put those expectations on ourselves). If we struggle with sin, we hide it, for fear of being exposed to a community of wagging tongues and shame (or so we think).
I wish I had stepped into the light when I was living overseas surrounded by a community who I know would’ve cared enough to help me. I wish I had found freedom from that sin, because two years later, I’m still struggling with the same things. I am still shaky in my faith, but I know at the end of the day, God is still God. My faith is simply about Jesus, nothing more, nothing less. I need to hold tight to that as I ride through this experience of repatriation, reverse culture shock, and adjusting to life at “home.”
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has wrestled with these things. The comments can be a safe place for us to share and encourage each other (you can do so anonymously if you want).