Abiding in Christ is the Only Way to Survive Cross-Cultural Transition

As I walked out of the government building after yet another failed visit, I unleashed my accusations on God. “We sold our home,” my silent protest began. “We sold most of our earthly possessions, gave away our cars, packed up my pastoral library, even kissed our adult children good-bye!”

Certainly, I had caught God’s ear by now. “Does this country have to be so frustratingly uncooperative?” I muttered. While I’m sure he was listening, I don’t think God ventured to make a reply, except for maybe a passing chuckle at my foolishness.

The Small Sufferings of Every Missionary

Disappointment and Suffering Can Yield Fruit in Missions

We had already been to this office before, now two months deep into becoming residents in our new home country. We had already been turned down on numerous occasions. But this time I arrived well-prepared, complete with proof of an eye exam, my passport, copies of my visa, extra passport photos, my resident ID card, and my US driver’s license. That’s when I heard the sentence that my foreign ears had already begun to understand.

“Sir, all of your paperwork looks fine, but you are missing one thing.” It was the reply that shook me and sent me striding out of the office and straight into God’s presence.

By now we should have had all of the bureaucratic requirements down pat. But no, one more time I would be forced to leave the government office to collect one more meaningless piece of paper. This time they wanted a letter of permission from my sponsor.

Missionary training is both helpful and necessary, but nothing can completely prepare you for all of the details involved in becoming the resident of another country.

For new missionaries like us, seemingly endless challenges like this one—week after week during our initial transition to the field—could deter our faith. These aren’t the challenges of persecution or physical suffering. In some way, those almost seem as if they would be more palatable. No, these are the small sufferings of every missionary—the challenges of unmet expectations, frustrating new processes to learn, the absence of trusted friends, and unexpected complications in what were simple tasks back home.

Missionary training is both helpful and necessary, but nothing can completely prepare you for all of the details involved in becoming the resident of another country. Without Christ, we could easily become casualties of our transition and be consumed by trivial tasks. Some days it does seem like it would be simpler to give up our time with God in favor of cutting through the red tape by our own efforts. But in the midst of these difficulties, we seek refuge in God’s Word and find hope in his Spirit—even if we sometimes barge into his presence with more complaint than thanksgiving.

The Small But Crucial Daily Habit of Every Missionary

More than ever we are convinced that abiding in Christ is the only way we are to survive. Never have our daily appointments with Jesus and his Word been more critical for our spiritual well-being. To go at this alone would undoubtedly plummet my wife and me into spiritual chaos and even deeper despair.

Even though we share the same transitional experience, the way we are processing it is anything but the same. We are two people living in the same apartment and walking through this together, yet leaning into Christ with unique personal needs.

My wife teaches school every day with a curriculum and schedule similar to the one she had in the United States. But some administrative processes are different, and she has a totally new team of colleagues. Not to mention she is figuring out how to grocery shop, how to do laundry, how to do virtually everything.

Meanwhile, I am almost totally out of my element vocationally. No church to pastor, no office to administrate, no midnight calls to the hospital, and no staff to lead—I find myself robbed of an identity. Which has actually exposed my unhealthy dependence upon it. Then, of course, there are the language barriers and blunders, and the never-ending bureaucracy. How can you begin to describe the constant feeling of being uprooted?

Never have our daily appointments with Jesus and his Word been more critical for our spiritual well-being.

In all of this, we are discovering what we already knew was true. Yet it’s somehow truer now. We cannot live without drinking daily from God’s Word, abiding in Christ, and spending much time in prayer. Just being part of a Great Commission team is not enough to calm our anxious thoughts. Simply attending a gospel-centered church does not adequately strengthen us for everyday tasks.

Only the constant assurance of Christ’s presence and the Spirit-infused wisdom of Scripture protect us from being crippled by the rigors of international life. One day at a time, one relationship at a time, one witnessing encounter at a time—even one trip to the government building at a time—God’s plan is unfolding for us. We choose to rest in him because as we abide in him we are at peace.

Gene Lee and his wife are self-supporting professionals serving as mobilized Christians with an IMB team in the NAME affinity after pastoring SBC churches in Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee for 33 years.

Disappointment and suffering—painful as they are—may be used for the glory of God and the good of his people and those he is calling to himself. Here is one such story. Here is another article, as well, that addresses common costs of a life on mission. Our faith promises suffering and persecution; here’s how to prepare.