The Secret Life of a Sinful Expat

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).

25 Comments

  1. Johnna October 18, 2015

    Beautiful post! Thanks for sharing. I can relate to this story. I definitely didn’t leave my struggles in the States the first two times I lived overseas. I found safe people to confess to and they helped me find a lot of professional tools and resources to specifically deal with my identity in Christ and how I just didn’t feel worthy enough or think it would be possible to be free of the sin I was entangled in and praying to get out of for more than 15 years. There are a lot of reasons why people turn to relationships for identity. Mine were related to sexual abuse and later, sexual assault, family upbringing that didn’t know how to teach dealing with emotions, low self-esteem (meaning not know who I was in Christ) and extreme codependency. There is hope for women like me!!! There are a lot of great books out there and loving communities to help us grow and find ourselves without whatever current crutch we are using. Want to write more but daughter needs me. Thank you!!

    1. Anonymous October 19, 2015

      Grateful for the opportunity to share my story on VA. 🙂 And I’m grateful it spoke to so many different people. Sin is really such an entanglement and getting out of that trap is so difficult, but there’s such freedom when we do it. I know I’m not all the way there yet and I still stumble at times, but I’m so thankful for grace, forgiveness and encouragement. Be blessed today!

  2. Julie October 18, 2015

    What a wonderful article!  I’ve been in overseas work for many, many years  and one of the things for us to remember when looking for a safe place to confess sin is that we don’t have to go to the city centre and shout it out to all the believers!  We don’t have to stand in front of our church and publicly wear our shame and embarrassment.  The Pharisees, of course, publicly threw down the woman caught in adultery  so that they could 1) expose her shame, and 2) display to others their righteousness!  But Jesus pulled his disciples aside when they needed correction!   My prayer for you and for all of us is that we can find a safe circle of trusted leaders/friends who will listen, walk through repentance with us, and stand alongside us as we again become renewed and refreshed in Christ.  You are not alone!  Thank you for your openness and vulnerability!

    1. Anonymous October 19, 2015

      I wish more in the expat community at large understood these beautiful truths. Thanks for reading and thanks for being part of those circles who seek to encourage and support those who have stumbled in the darkness, but who are now reaching for the light.

  3. Anonymous October 18, 2015

    I so identified with your post. Our sins and weaknesses are magnified when overseas. I too struggled with some sins, mostly out of loneliness and trying to fill  an empty place in my heart with attention from men rather than God. I was able to remain free of going “too far” while overseas, but upon my return I fell into deeper sin because I still had not filled myself up with Christ. I have since ended that relationship after much hurt and heartache and am reaching to fill myself with Christ, and lean on him for fulfillment, to find my identity in Him and not friends, family, or men. There was a post on here on Oct 15th on being honest with God and not bury our feelings. If you didn’t read it, I’d check it out. I’ve been back a little over 2 years now and I can say the first year to 18 months was a challenge in so many ways. I came back empty and burned out. I ended up doing some focused counseling at LinkCare in Fresno, California. It’s a place for overseas workers and pastoral staff to receive counseling. It was very restorative and started the process of healing from my experiences overseas (the director of where I was working had caused a lot of hurts to me, to nationals, and other expats. And he’s still there.) But the most important thing I’ve learned is a)it’s okay to have feelings and b)God can handle them. I was recently angry with God regarding my most recent relationship. And angry with myself, and with my exboyfriend. The best thing for me was to get it out before God. I wrote a letter in my journal. And you know what? I felt God come along side me and tell me it’s okay. Much like a parent comforting a child who is angry with the parent, but the parent knows the child still loves them, and the parent still loves the child, despite the child’s behavior.

    Since I’ve been home I’ve made a conscious effort to get up early enough to spend time reading the Bible. It has been amazing to have that time with God each morning. I now long for it and miss it if my schedule changes suddenly and I don’t get it in. I am looking to make more time for prayer because I find I long to be in His presence. I pray for your healing and renewal as you wrestle with repatriation. I don’t envy you that experience. It’s hard, and it helps knowing it’s hard, but it still stinks.

    1. Bethany October 19, 2015

      When I graduated from high school, my family was falling apart. My parents are laborers in Africa, and my older sister had an especially difficult time transitioning to life in the US as an adult TCK. Long story short, our family spent a month living at LinkCare and going through various counseling programs. We weren’t completely healed by the time we left, but we were all well on the path to restoration. I highly value the work there and recommend the facility and the mental health counselors. I’m so thankful that place exists, and I’m happy to hear that you’ve found peace and healing there as well.

    2. Anonymous October 19, 2015

      I might have to check out LinkCare. I’ve been really struggling with spending time with God in the morning and when I do, it’s been dry, stale and stagnant… the challenge is to keep pushing through and digging in, even when I don’t “feel” anything. If my faith were based on feelings (ha!), I don’t know if I’d ever read my Bible or spend time with Him. I just bought a couple more books that I’m hoping will help me dig deeper into both of those areas. Thanks for your encouragement and thanks for being part of such a great discussion on such a hard topic!

  4. Mel October 18, 2015

    Thank you for sharing your story and being vulnerable. Sadly, I think most of us have witnessed what happens when expats are caught in sin. They are often shamed and removed from their work. I’ve been witness to something terrible happening to an overseas worker couple. I am praying for your struggle and that you find the right church for you.

    1. Anonymous October 19, 2015

      Thanks for your encouragement and support. I LOVE the community that VA offers!

      You are so right about the natural reaction of the expat community to those found in sin. I wish we (the expat community at large) were more forgiving, understanding, and encouraging toward those within our communities who are struggling with any kind of sin — we are all human, sinful nature and all! Sin is sin in the eyes of God, some of it is just more blatant and the consequences more tangible than others.

  5. Karen October 18, 2015

    Thank you for this article… I can relate to it. It’s been a tough year for me, really a culmination of what the past couple years have been building up to because of my struggle with sin overseas as an overseas worker. I am thankful to say that now I am on a path of restoration but one that came because of needing to confess and face the consequences. It did lead to having to step away from officially being an overseas worker, but for the grace of God I have a good relationship still with my organization and my supporters and am on the path to returning again in the near future, be it God’s will. What I have most learned through the experience is a greater understanding of God’s mercy and grace towards even me, and the peace and restoration that comes from confession and returning to within God’s will. I only wish I had learned that peace from confession sooner when the consequences would’ve been less grave. I’m sure I will have more to learn through this process that I still need to pass through, but I can still say with joy that Jesus truly is my Savior and Redeemer and will never abandon me. God is faithful even when we have not been.

    1. Anonymous October 19, 2015

      I am SO grateful we have a Redeemer who will NEVER abandon us, no matter how far we drift (or purposefully walk away). It’s encouraging to hear that I’m not the only one who has struggled (I only assumed as much when I wrote the post) and I pray that as I walk toward freedom, you too will find freedom and release in Him! Blessings on your journey as you walk with Him!

  6. Annalisa October 18, 2015

    As I started reading this post, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had submitted a post to VA and forgotten about it.  At some point, it diverged from my story and I felt a little better that I hadn’t completely lost my memory.  I too left an ex-boyfriend (with whom I had been sinful) at the airport as the result of my move, and I too fell into that same sin (but with a local) at some point after getting into the field.

    Yes, sin is bad, but the fact is that we are all sinners.  Healthy people don’t need a doctor, and perfect people don’t need a Savior.   I don’t have a problem with my old sin anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have other issues, other sins to work on.  Being overseas workers, we face a lot of pressure (just like pastors) to be perfect, shining examples of how to live an upright Christian life.  I would feel much more able to do my job if people were to see me as a Christian, broken and shamed but with a clear vision of hope for the future…because that’s what I am.

    1. Laura October 18, 2015

      I love the last part of what you wrote most of all… Wishing people wouldn’t expect us to be perfect. So true! I think so often we hide out imperfections which only makes things worse and provides more fear, rather than help and healing if we were all just authentic with each other.

      A recent quote I read comes to mind both from reading the initial blog post and then the responses.

      ” No physician can give health and happiness to the person who enjoys his affliction.”

      It’s from the book, ” The Singer “. It’s true for my patients, it’s true for me as a Christian. None of us could/can leave behind our sinful behaviors as long as we enjoy(ed) it to some degree. We have to hate it and want change for the Physician to heal us. I’m so thankful he does!

    2. Anonymous October 19, 2015

      Ah! How beautiful your response is and how much of a blessing and a balm it is to my soul. Grateful for your courage to speak into this discussion. It’s so true how much we need Him, no matter what sin we wrestle with. We need Him because we are broken and I wish the expat community as a whole would cut ourselves a little slack, knowing we all will mess up, it just may not be seen outwardly. I pray we continue to move toward confession, freedom and healing in Christ.

  7. Joanna May October 19, 2015

    Wow! Thank you for being so honest. Reading this brought tears to my eyes. May you know in increasing measure God’s love for you, and your preciousness to him. God bless you.

    1. Anonymous October 19, 2015

      Grateful for the opportunity to speak into peoples lives and be honest and authentic about the things I’ve wrestled with and the journey I’ve been on. Thanks for the encouragement and I pray for God’s blessings on you today!

  8. Anonymous October 19, 2015

    Someone told me that nugget too – about our struggles being magnified on the field. At the time that I left America, I don’t think I believed that my depression would come back full swing and I didn’t even realize how much of a problem my anger was. A few years in, I can see both clearly. The culture I’m in draws out my anger like nothing before, except perhaps my father when I was growing up. Everything here seems so broken and I get frustrated because I just want something to work without it being a fight. I quit kids ministry about a year ago because of one specific, incredibly obstinate, rude, infuriating 11 year old child – because I was afraid I would hit him or otherwise physically hurt him if I stayed. Leaving helped only a little since he lives next door to the church and so I still have to deal with him frequently. He won’t listen to a thing I say, but if my husband tells him to leave, he will. I had no idea I could actually want to hurt a child and I feel a lot if shame about it.

    I thought that I had dealt with my anger toward my father as well, but that came crashing back recently. I witnessed an instance of domestic violence in the church. An alcoholic man whose wife had left him came to get her. The men of the church dealt with him immediately, but it was the daughter’s weeping that broke open my own pain. No daughter should have to be afraid of the man who should be protecting her. My father has changed so much that the man I was afraid of doesn’t exist anymore, except in the broken places of my heart where I find that I am again asking where God was when I was crying out to him as a child to make my dad stop being so angry and just love us.

    I know that I’m supposed to be leaning on Jesus and not relying on my own strength to make it here. But I don’t know how to do that.

    1. Anonymous October 19, 2015

      I can relate to the anger…where I was made me prone to anger in ways I never thought possible. I realize now some of it was untreated depression, but some of it was just not dealing with other feelings I was having. I just wanted things to WORK, but they didn’t, or at least not how I thought they should. I have since found that be best thing is to admit those feelings to God. Even those feelings you have towards the 11 year old boy. I can imagine how that must frighten you! I was recently in a relationship where I had thoughts of wishing he was dead as it would be a way out of the relationship…I never thought I would have such thoughts, and it shed a lot of light on me and the healthiness of the relationship. We broke up and he is very much alive, but how I wish I had paid attention more to those feelings as a sign that we should not be together. (It was very selfish too, as he had told me he had put his life insurance policy in my name, and I have significant student loan debt. Oh man I can’t believe myself. I never wanted to hurt him or anything, but there were times I couldn’t get a hold of him and I worried something had happened to him, and these thoughts would cross my mind! Now I know he likely never did such a thing as I found he was lying about so many things-where he was, who he was with, etc etc. It’s hard to sort through what was true and what was not.)

      So I find relief and healing in just being completely honest with myself, no matter how shameful the feelings, and with God. Through being honest, I am able to actually deal with these feelings. I pray that you are able to do the same and find hope and healing. I pray God will meet you and heal those broken places of your heart.

      1. Anonymous October 19, 2015

        Thanks for being open and honest about your own struggles. I’m grateful for the authenticity of this community and for the safety and security we have to share. I struggle so much with being completely open with God (even though I know He knows me better than I know myself!), and I’m constantly moving toward a more open honest relationship with Him, because I know He can handle my feelings and loves me despite my failings!

    2. Anonymous October 19, 2015

      Wow! What a journey the Lord is bringing you on and it’s incredible to see the ways He has met you in your brokenness. I pray that you continue to find wholeness, healing and strength in Him as you battle through each day when temptation arises. I myself am not perfect… I definitely still struggle with temptation and I’m not always victorious, but I’m grateful for our Redeemer and His love and forgiveness. Keep leaning on Him, even when you don’t know how. I pray that His love and the VA community is a balm to your heart. Praying for you!

  9. Kay Bruner October 19, 2015

    The post, the discussion–everything here–I love it.  The honesty and vulnerability is a beautiful, beautiful thing.  So much gratitude in my heart for Velvet Ashes right now!

    1. MaDonna October 20, 2015

      I was thinking the same thing…it is just beautiful to see God working in and through people, especially when it is all done in love and grace. Thanks for your vulnerability here.

  10. Another anonymous October 19, 2015

    Thank you so much for this! Is there any way to contact the author of this article more privately?

    1. Anonymous October 19, 2015

      Glad it was a blessing! I’ll be in touch! 🙂

  11. Anna October 20, 2015

    Thank you for your article.  I’m sure it was hard to share, even anonymously.  I strongly agree that the sins we have go with us to the field, and often the pressures of life there lower our resistance to them.  For me, it was the more “acceptable” sin of people pleasing.  Even though many people accept in and encourage it, it’s still wrong to put anything in the place of God.  But you get positive feedback about “serving” and “being available” and pressure to do more.  I had to learn that I was fearing people more than God.  It’s still a work in progress.  But I wonder with things like that if I ever would have changed if God had not taken me to a point where I was under so much pressure and aware of my sinfulness.

    Another problem is that we generally don’t support one another in ministry as we should.  People are afraid to share any struggle, whether it’s sin, or mental health struggles, because they are afraid of judgment and condemnation instead of loving support.  Once I shared a relatively minor struggle at a women’s Bible study (all overseas workers.)  I stated that in the past I had realized I liked to buy things to feel emotionally better, and that was still a temptation.  The response from that made me realize that sharing wasn’t safe.

    But that is the overall structure.  I had wonderful friends & colleagues who were supportive & loving, and I could be real with them about struggles.  That give me hope that there is another way of doing things, and with God’s grace, we can develop that type of community.

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