Living my life overseas while exemplifying Christlikeness entails many complexities that God continues to use in order to make much of Himself and less of me. I often think that God brought me halfway around the world to work on my own heart more than anyone else’s. For reasons unbeknownst to me, He does love me that much for this not to be out of the equation.
A significant heart lesson the Lord is currently showing me is the beauty found in being authentically vulnerable to God, myself and others. The complexities involved with facing another culture seem to somehow sift the need for more heart exposure to the surface of my soul as I see my flesh for what it really is. At times, I find myself getting angry when my language-blunders find themselves at the center of the local’s jokes. I get defensive when I’m told my cultural awareness isn’t as savvy as another’s because it should be my area of expertise by now. I see my pride when I foolishly think a native’s technique is ludicrous when finding out it actually works better than my own method. I find myself falling into fear as my mind reels through the numerous emergency scenarios that may occur with my family in a city that is well below par on the medical scale. Some days I don’t know if I’m more suited for the western toilet or the eastern squatty potty! I sometimes wonder if I can handle one more person asking if I’m a foreigner when they obviously see something is off kilt with tan hair (what’s left of it) and green eyes. Some days I question what my purpose is in being here, knowing so many others could do it better. My patience runs thin when I walk the streets after five years in this city and still get stared at like an animal in a zoo. If I’m honest, the cultural differences sometimes leave me with more questions than answers.
Then, when I return home, family and friends seem to expect a prophet and a preacher who can share groundbreaking spiritual epiphanies rather than a tattered-up soldier returning from battle with very few elaborate victories to draw from the bag of overseas stories. This life isn’t the fantasy I once thought it was, but He is doing much more in me than I could’ve ever imagined, and hopefully, that is undergirding all that our ministry is composed of.
The fear, pride, lack of patience, defensiveness and doubt are all uncovered by merely doing life (cross-cultural ministry for me) and reveals the desperate state my heart is in and its need for exposure. A year ago, I wouldn’t have come close to identifying these heart-level issues, much less laugh about them. I have in no way arrived, but I am growing in what Paul calls: “boasting in weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This process strips me of everything I may boast in myself and positions Christ in His proper place, all the while giving me an accurate perspective and joyful heart. In other words, I’m learning how to find joy in what Christ is doing (even if I look and feel awkward and quite foolish doing so), rather than in what I cannot do myself. As I sink my roots deeper into Him rather than my own straw house, I’ve seen myself grow into more peace and freedom, being completely real with the Lord, myself and others.
Self-exposure is uncomfortable at first, but it ultimately allows us to be real with those vital to our heart’s growth while inviting others to do the same. It sets the stage for authenticity in who we are and how we live life. I’ve grown up in church and know the strategic theological answers. However, being genuine means there’s no room for constructing a façade regarding who I am. Truth be known, I’m His. I’m not yet glorified, and therefore, I’m still weak (Romans 7:21-24). My flesh wants everything that is not of God, and my heart is so deceitful I don’t even know why I do certain things (Romans 7:14-15). Praise God that He has invaded these areas, resides in my heart, and is cleaning out the clutter that has been lying around for years. For me, the transfer of head knowledge into authentic heart-level truth is crucial in my ability to be bare before my Lord, myself, and with others. There’s something beautiful about removing the layers of self-promotion built up over the years and exposing who I am now in Christ (Revelation 19:11-16).
—JCB (East Asia)