Three Gifts of Cross-Cultural Living

K   |   May 5, 2023 

I love the story of Ruth and Naomi, not only as a story of love, commitment, and God’s inclusion but also of women who, like me, live in a culture other than their own[i].

The story begins with Naomi’s life uprooted by famine and fear. She leaves her home behind and moves to Moab with her husband and sons, hoping for a better life. Though Moab wasn’t far, it was different. As an economic refugee, Naomi would have faced the challenges of a foreign language, a culture based around the worship of a strange god, and the knowledge that she was living among Israel’s enemies. It couldn’t have been easy to build a new life, but she did, learning to do the daily tasks of life in a new place. Over time they settled, their sons marrying local girls. I wonder if Naomi was disappointed; had she hoped for Israelite daughters-in-law? Had she hoped to return home and settle back in the land of her birth?

Then the story turns, and Naomi is left a widow, and this time it is Ruth who is the foreigner, the stranger in a land not her own. As Ruth begins her new life in Bethlehem, she must learn how to live in this new place. What was safe for her to do, and where was safe for her to go? Who would welcome her, and who would treat her only as a stranger?

Reading Naomi and Ruth’s story prompts me to reflect on my own journey and the challenges and blessings of living cross-culturally. While much is written about the challenges of a cross-cultural life, I think about the gifts that living this way has brought to my life.

The Gift of Homelessness

One of my struggles continues to be with my not having a permanent home. My parents have aged and moved into a retirement community, so I no longer have a “family home” to return to, and my stay in my adopted land is still temporary, approved one year at a time. As challenging as that lack of permanence is, it helps me to remember that, like the Israelites in the desert, I am on a journey home. I am on a journey of waiting for the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1-4) where God will live among His people and sorrow and tears will be no more. When I long for a permanent home, a place where I belong, it is this eternal home that I am truly longing for, and my current homelessness reminds me to put my hope in God rather than in four walls and a roof.

The Gift of Not Belonging

It is obvious that I am different; my skin is a different colour, and even after decades, my accent has a nasal twang; there are words that I just cannot get right; I even walk differently from the people around me. And being different means that I am always on guard, always expecting to be singled out to be told I don’t belong. Don’t mistake me, God has filled my life with good friends who love and welcome me and sometimes even forget that I am not from here, but most people see me simply as a “foreigner”.

That sense of foreignness is familiar to most of us who follow Jesus. When we enter His Kingdom, we enter a new culture, with new behaviours and beliefs and a new worldview, making us different from the world around us. Jesus says in John 15:19 that we, as His disciples, are “no longer part of the world.” As one living cross-culturally, I live out that foreignness in a way that constantly reminds me that God intends me to be different from the world around me.

The Gift of Vulnerability 

There is a vulnerability in living cross-culturally. Initially, it comes from not knowing how to do simple things, like buying bread or catching a bus, from not understanding the language or how to eat the food that your host has placed in front of you. Later it comes from misunderstandings, missing cultural cues, and innocently offending a friend with a comment out of context. Living cross-culturally means embracing that vulnerability, knowing that there are things that, even after decades, won’t make sense to you and that there are people who will always see you as “other”.

But the very vulnerability that a cross-cultural life brings is good for me. In vulnerability, I learn to have a heart dependent on God, not my efforts, which challenges my independence and requires me to ask for help more often than I am comfortable with doing so. Vulnerability opens me up to create space for others both because I need them but also because I recognise that same vulnerability in them, and I learn to embrace bearing their burden and allowing them to bear mine as well (Galatians 6:2)

Whether you live in a place different from your birth or still live in your childhood home, as a follower of Jesus, you are a stranger in the world around you. Your heart does not belong in this world comfortably, and God is preparing you for an eternal home with Him.

What is your foreignness in the world around you gifting you today?


[i] Globally, one in thirty people is an international migrant and in India, one in three people lives in a place other than where they were born



Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

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K is an Aussie transplant who has lived in North India for the last two decades. Her biggest buzz comes from being able to help others to learn and to enjoy a deeper relationship with Jesus. K can frequently be found in one of the cafes in her adopted home city drinking hot chocolate since real decaf coffee has yet to make its way to India.

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2 comments on “Three Gifts of Cross-Cultural Living”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your heart and perspective—not only does cultural relevancy matter in fully understanding the scriptures, but it does with regards to understanding the world around us as well. To truly know one another means to strive to understand where they come from and their experiences as well. I appreciate your transparency!

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