Family is a big deal in the area of the United States where I grew up. Whenever you’re introduced to a new person, inevitably you’re asked about your father or mother and sometimes the last name of your maternal grandmother. Heritage is a bridge to connection, so it’s always good to know something about your people, as we say in the South.
Having no connection to a people of the area virtually guarantees you’ll remain on the outside looking in.
Being connected by a common heritage takes on a whole new meaning when you leave the home you know to live among a people you don’t. These are not your people, and they will most likely let you know it.
Why would God call us to be outsiders? Because the treasure we carry must be shared—even at a cost. For this reason, many who serve cross-culturally for the sake of Christ struggle with growing homesickness. They are unable to find that connection that came so easily among their own people. I felt this way after a sudden move to a new country due to security issues. I was pregnant and miserable and unwelcomed in this new place. That’s when God used my favorite moaning prophet to help. His people were going into exile, but this is what God said:
Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.Jeremiah 29:5-7 CSB
If God made a way for the Israelite exiles to survive and thrive, then he was certainly able to do the same for me. Through the years of my exile and for all my years among people not my own, God helped me to find several ways of being at home among a people not my own:
- Find out what makes this people group tick. Where do they like to gather? What are some of their basic characteristics as a people?
- Learn their culture, not just their language. Ask questions about how they do everything, from making friends to burying the dead.
- Find out their struggles. I think you will realize their struggles will be some of yours.
- Watch how they relate to each other. What’s their view of women? Do they treat the elderly with respect or disdain? How do they greet each other?
- What makes them happy?
The more I understood the people I served, the more I could connect, despite the physical differences between us. My husband asked a local couple one time to try to figure out what country I was from. Because I spoke their language and carried myself in a way that fit well within their cultural norms, they struggled but finally decided I was obviously Greek!
Where are you from? Who are your people? That’s Greek to me, but might be right at home to those you seek to serve when you make an effort to be all things to all people for the sake of Christ.
Grace and Peace
Find out More about connecting with your people group in my new book Not In Kansas Anymore: Finding Home in Cross-Cultural Service available in e-book and paperback formats.