Below is a quick questionnaire about your experience overseas. Each response links to one or more people from Scripture, each of whom are profiled in the second half of this post.
Perhaps one figure will resonate with you more than others. Or, you may identify with aspects of a few different people. And hopefully, by studying their lives from this perspective, you’ll glean some new spiritual lessons.
1. How did you become an expat?
(a) God called me – it was a clear command (Abraham, Paul).
(b) I was given a great opportunity to be a person of influence (Daniel).
(c) Circumstances led me to make the decision to move abroad (Jacob, Ruth).
(d) In hindsight, I can see I was running away from something (Jacob, Moses).
(e) It wasn’t my choice – I was dragged along on someone else’s ride (Daniel, Jeremiah, Joseph).
2. What was the hardest thing about your expat experience?
(a) Missing home and my usual forms of worship (Daniel).
(b) Being far away and knowing things weren’t so great back home (Moses).
(c) All my expectations went out the door; things didn’t pan out at all like I’d hoped. Often I wondered what happened to the promises, the dreams, that God gave me (Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Jeremiah, Joseph).
(d) It was rough – I was treated like dirt and had to work my way from the bottom up (Jacob, Joseph, Paul).
(e) I struggled with my own cultural identity (Moses, Ruth?).
3. What was the best thing about your expat experience?
(a) I met the love of my life! (Ruth, Jacob)
(b) I saw how God used it for His Kingdom and His glory, for the salvation of many (Joseph, Paul).
(c) I saw how God used it to grow me as a person. God was always with me, even in the tough times, even when I messed up (Abraham, Jacob, Moses).
(d) I thrived in my host country (Daniel, Ruth).
(e) God blessed me with earthly success as well as spiritual riches (Abraham, Daniel, Jacob, Joseph).
4. What was your approach to cross-cultural life?
(a) Travel light, make yourself useful and work hard (Paul).
(b) Blend in with the locals (Daniel, Moses, Ruth).
(c) Stay true to your cultural roots (Daniel).
(d) This is a temporary thing, just sit tight (Jacob).
(e) This could be forever, let’s make the most of it (Abraham, Daniel, Joseph, Ruth).
5. What’s the single greatest thing you’ve learned?
(a) Obedience (Abraham, Jeremiah, Ruth).
(b) Humility (Jacob, Joseph).
(c) Courage/boldness (Daniel, Moses, Ruth).
(d) Perseverance/endurance (Jeremiah, Joseph, Paul).
(e) True leadership (Jeremiah, Joseph, Moses).
God calls you to leave the only home you’ve known and go to a distant land. It’s a command out of the blue – but one so clear you can’t ignore it. You pack your bags and set off, God’s promises fresh in your mind. But it’s a long journey. The experience isn’t what you expected or hoped for and often you’re tempted to do things your way to make it work (think: Hagar and Ishmael). Still, God is patient with you, sometimes gently correcting, sometimes testing you. You see miracles (Isaac!). Ultimately, you spend the rest of your life overseas continuing to trust in God’s faithfulness, that he will complete his promises to, and in, you – whether you live to see it or not.
You learn: faithfulness, obedience, patience
They select the best of the best – perhaps you’ve won a scholarship to study overseas or a lucrative posting, or a prestigious job in another country. You blend in well, adapting well to life in your host country. You miss home but this is a fantastic opportunity and you invest all your strength in your work, determined to honour God in all you do. It isn’t always easy (man-eating lions, envious colleagues plotting against you), but through the trials God is with you and gives you wisdom to navigate your time abroad. You’re well regarded by God and by men.
You learn: courage/boldness, effective witness, spiritual discernment, the power of prayer
Maybe things were good at home, maybe they weren’t so great to begin with. Either way, you or someone else (surely it was Esau’s fault!) messed up big time and staying wasn’t an option. So you leave, you run away. Some time overseas will do you good – it will only be temporary, after all. Your stint abroad isn’t easy (thanks, Uncle Laban), but it matures you, teaches you. You gain much and you come home richer – materially, emotionally and/or spiritually – and ready to face the past and embrace the future.
You learn: humility, patience, the consequences of your actions
You were sure that God called you to serve in your home country – for many years this was the case. Then things change, and abruptly you find yourself dragged overseas (to Egypt, with the rebellious remnant of Judah). Your work comes up again constant opposition, but you can’t contain the Word of God that burns like a fire in you. Your life is about declaring God’s message. It’s not easy, but God protects you and motivates you.
You learn: boldness, public speaking, godly leadership despite opposition
You never wanted to leave home but you didn’t have a choice (because your delightful brothers sold you to Midianite slave traders). And it’s rough overseas – you’re nobody, have nothing in the way of possessions or contacts. What you do have is innate leadership qualities, a way with people and perhaps a good dose of confidence. You are determined to make the most of a bad situation – well, of several bad situations. Many times you want to cry out: “This is all so unfair!” But by clinging to God, you learn humility and see how things start to improve. Then, with more hindsight, you can see how God has worked things out for the best, from the very start. Ultimately, you thrive in your host country.
You learn: humility, perseverance, true greatness, forgiveness
You’ve been confused about your identity from the start. Ethnically one culture (Hebrew), raised by a family from an opposing culture (Pharaoh’s daughter, no less). You grow up privileged, but painfully aware of injustice in the world. You long to do something, be a hero, but you rely on your own strength and it blows up in your face. So … you run away, go to a third culture (Midian) and settle for a quiet life there. And then God calls you. He wants you to go home (back to Egypt), has a mission for you. You don’t think you can do it – just look at what happened last time. You resist the call for a time, but eventually you submit and go back. You start to see how God has used your cross-cultural experiences to equip you for his work, his mission. Somehow, despite yourself, you become a leader, a godly one.
You learn: obedience, courage, leadership
You ditched your prestigious job and comfortable life (as a top-notch Pharisee) to follow the call of God. And that’s meant being a nomad. Nowhere is home anymore, you are always on the road for the Kingdom. You’re used to roughing it, and to working here and there when necessary. You try not to be a burden to anyone. Fortunately, you’re well equipped for this, connecting well with many different people in many different places. Your leadership is influential and you still manage to make disciples despite your crazy schedule.
You learn: endurance, adaptability, hard work, living simply, leadership
You fall in love with a visiting foreigner (Naomi’s son, Kilion). Whoops. That’s what sends you overseas. Even when that relationship ends, you now have strong friendships here (your mother-in-law), abroad, and you’ve embraced this new culture. So you stay. You settle down with a local (Boaz) and become an integral part of the community (giving birth to the grandfather of the future King David!).
You learn: faithfulness, obedience, trust
Now it’s your turn. Which Bible expat(s) are you?
Originally appeared here.
Hsu-Ann Lee was born in Malaysia and grew up in Canberra, Australia before being led to serve in South America. There, she was the “missionary” working with youth in southern Ecuador and the “justice fighter” sharing the stories of survivors of child sexual violence in Bolivia. Currently based in Sydney, she savours opportunities to speak Spanish, and continues to blog about faith, culture and being a Gen Y expat who doesn’t have it all worked out at http://suansita.wordpress.