Europe is currently the epicenter of the Coronavirus. People are experiencing a myriad of feelings, both expressed and unexpressed, during these days. For most, the reality of the severity of this virus causes concern and understandable anxiety. After the governmental instructions were communicated, and even though there remains an atmosphere of some unsettledness, one can also feel the spark of unity among the people as they prepare together for an unknown situation.
Prior to the shutdown, one could find people scurrying from store to store trying to accumulate all the needed supplies for the next weeks ahead. People were standing in long lines outside the stores in order to take their turn to enter, all the while trying their upmost best to keep an adequate distance between themselves and the people around them. (Social Distancing has become a key phrase nowadays.) However, with all the tasks needing to be completed before the deadline struck 12, one could actually get lost in the overwhelming process that was in front of them. With the shutdown looming and the potential sickness all around them, people seemed to be coping best by keeping their head down and just completing the tasks in front of them in order to prepare sufficiently for what is about to occur.
Unfortunately, these are all too familiar experiences for the peoples currently living and working in Europe. But for the expatriate living abroad there is another stark reality that is quickly sinking in. They have a choice to make which can be reflected in the title of a 1981 English song, “Do I stay or Do I Go?” For if the expat chooses to remain in the country where they are studying or working, they are hit with the reality that their attempts to reach out and tend to their families’ possible future needs during this crisis would be near to impossible as the border crossings begin to close. The expat is closed in (for understandable reasons) along with the entire national population but, they are also closed out from their family ties during a world crisis - unable to get home to give help or to personally receive comfort from those they love. Feelings of loneliness, loss of control, and fear are normal feelings which we are finding people are wrestling with, including ourselves.
But as we speak truth to ourselves and to those christians around us, we remind ourselves that God is still on the throne. He is a God who sees. He is a God who hears. He is a God who heals. And He is a God who is present, amongst an infinite list of other character descriptors.
In our ladies bible studies, we had been studying about the names of God. As God began to reveal Himself to humanity, how did He describe Himself? What names did He call Himself to help to communicate His character to a needy world? Our thesis was that as we study how God describes Himself we would then be able to know God and His character more and more, and as a result, cling to and walk in the truth of Who God is.
As many of you know, I am not the preacher in our family. However, perhaps these words can be of encouragement to either the expat struggling with being quarantined in a foreign country and cut off from the physical support of family OR to those who are struggling with anxiety during this global crisis. God is present. God sees. He hears. He acts. That is how He has described His character. My encouragement to myself and to others during this time is to cling to the God who has revealed Himself; trust in Him who pursues us with a faithful love and then praise Him as He continues to draw all men to Himself. Over and over again in Exodus, God communicated to Moses these words, “… so that you will know that I am the Lord your God.” During this time, may our roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love and may we have the power to understand, as all of God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep is the love of Christ. (Eph. 3:17-19)
Do I stay or Do I go? My answer? I will remain rooted in these truths whether I live quarantined in a foreign country or if I work through this virus living next to family and friends. For me … You will find me clinging to the Vine, allowing my roots to soak up His truth in the midst of a chaotic world.
When one steps off that airplane and begins his new life in another country, whether it be for education, work or retirement, the changes that are about to occur in his life are unknown to him at the time. Life around him at times will be so totally different from anything he would have ever imagined. As well as, at times those experiences might not actually be so different from home after all, causing in him a potential unsettling in the mind as he makes unconfident decisions on a daily basis. Each new day can be filled with both successes and failures. However, without a doubt, those days will be filled mostly with large doses of needed humility in order to survive. But survive they will. Adaption to a different culture is needed anytime someone ventures to live abroad.
But take a peek into what happens to the christian who desires to continue to worship in an international church while living in another country. The experience is extremely profound and yet can be quite unsettling for most. For as we desire to begin living abroad, we cannot deny that we bring “who” we are with us to that new culture, even from our own church background.
The United States is often seen as a “melting pot.” Peoples from around the world came to the US in years past and struggled to make this new country their home, all the while assimilating to those around them. Amidst all the change, they still retained “who” they were to some degree. Greek Town, Little Italy, Chinatown - these pockets of immigrant societies sprang up around the country in the US helping to retain a small portion of the immigrant’s culture and way of life.
In the church as well, we have church cultures and traditions that we grow up with, even if we are unaware of them. We have denominational traditions, ways of “doing” church, church dress codes whether they be stated or unstated, as well as, christian vocabulary that we don’t even think twice about until we leave our church culture and begin to try to assimilate into another church in another country all together. It’s at this point that the expat christian can begin to feel uncomfortable because their cultural “cues” are no longer in their new place of worship. International church ministries at times can be quite unsettling for the expat.
However, it’s at this point an international church has the potential to bring such spiritual life to any christian! As people come to an international church from all around the world, they bring with them their church expectations and traditions. They bring with them their church culture, just like any expatriate going into any country around the world would do. Global diversity in the church can breed a plethora of noise, leading to possible chaos. Yet, one of the greatest joys of international ministries is the stripping back of all the extra cultural verbiage and ways of “doing” church in order to reveal the bare essentials of the Bible. An international church does not have the luxury of some of our various cultural traditions, because they would not be understood by all of the congregants. Each Sunday morning one will find cultural diversity literally between every seat. The ONLY thing that binds this mélange of peoples together is the blood of Jesus Christ and His gift of redemption in which an international church has to cling and stand firm in.
It is very easy and normal for an expat to long for the homogenous church culture of times past in their own country. But the fact remains that an international church has the, at times, unsettling position and yet extreme joy of stripping back all the traditions of man and seeking to be faithful in proclaiming the pure Gospel, revealing the only thread that binds such beautiful diversity in the first place - the very Word of God. That is our starting point. That is our finishing point. What an unsettling, yet thrilling way to worship - bringing diverse people groups from around the world together to worship the Word of God and standing firm with our hope fixed on only His grace. #heaven.
Wife, mother, teacher & friend who loves to "do life" alongside others as we journey together in seeking to know God more fully and deeply. Feel free to join with us as walk through a few "French fields" ...
Join us on the journey