by Jessie Finn
After graduating from the University of Missouri, Jessie headed overseas to Southeast Asia for 5 years to share about Jesus Christ with people who never heard of Him. While there she discovered her passion for biblical literacy and emotional intelligence and how they work together. She now lives in her hometown of Dallas, Texas, to pursue a degree in Biblical Counseling and serve at her local church. Jessie loves working out, dogs, and a good mystery novel.
Five years ago, I was packing my bags and making every pound count. I could only bring two 50 pound bags and a carry-on as I hauled my life to the other side of the world, so each item had to be carefully considered. Many people had given me advice to prepare me: always carry your own water bottle, remember your manners, never skip the bug spray, and always try the local food. I rarely questioned the advice I was given and felt ready to take on the world!
The first couple years I was overseas were pure honeymoon bliss. There were some bumps in the road, don’t get my wrong, but I was mostly just excited to share about Jesus and experience new things. However, as time went by, there was more “wear and tear” living overseas than I was expecting. People didn’t always speak my language and I didn’t speak theirs. The power would go out for hours and we’d have to sleep in hot, still rooms with mosquitos. People nodded when I would shake my head and would shake their head when I nodded. I had to repeat myself slowly and change my accent for people to understand me, and vice versa. Even the way some of my best friends in my city would talk and think were completely foreign to me—literally! Their movie and TV references were lost upon me and I once had to explain to them who Spongebob Squarepants was. What was culturally “normal” for them was completely confusing to me. As much as I tried to understand them, ask questions, be a good listener, and assimilate as much as I could, I couldn’t help but be who I was — an American from Texas who never grew up in Southeast Asia.
I was relieved when we were headed back to the U.S. in the spring for some rest, family time, and opportunities to meet up with friends. I naïvely expected that everything would be the same as when I left it. Some things were, but I certainly wasn’t. I found myself having the same frustrations at home as when I was in my host country. I got frustrated using a fork to eat rice and insisted eating it with my hand was easier. I would say “When will you reach?” instead of “What’s your ETA?”, “Then you will come to know” instead of “You’ll find out”, or “washroom” instead of “bathroom”. I even bobbled my head back and forth like the people in my host country! I didn’t realize how I had grown accustomed to their mannerisms and culture.
In some ways this was encouraging! In others, it was frustrating and led to me feeling misunderstood by my family and friends. I had all this new experience, fun memories, and adventures that I could tell them about, but they wouldn’t really get it unless they went themselves. By no fault of their own, I just didn’t fully belong in my own home culture anymore. Of all the advice I received before leaving, no one had mentioned this.
I began talking to a counselor and she helped me realize that my frustration wasn’t unique to those who worked or lived cross-culturally. She used the analogy that I grew up as a “red person”. I talked red, I thought red, my friends and family were red, our money was red, and our jokes and mourning were red. But when I went overseas, I was surrounded by “blue people”. They talked blue, thought and felt blue, watched movies and bought groceries blue, and prayed blue. As I spent more time with the people there, listened to them and grew to love them, part of their blue rubbed off on me. As time went by, I was growing more purple. I was still red like my home and nothing could change that. Even so, their beautiful culture, people and hospitality had mixed in to me so deeply that I won’t ever be completely red again.
I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders because it sounded familiar. Hebrews 11 is often called the “Hall of Faith” as it names people like Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Sarah who were faithful all their lives. Hebrews 11:13 says “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” (NIV, emphasis added). Verses 14-16 go on to explain that people who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own — a heavenly country.
Now I am certainly not equating myself with Noah and Abraham, nor do I think what they were asked to do and my sacrifices are the same thing. However this scripture came to life in my circumstances. If you have put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you do not belong to this world anymore (John 15:19). Pain, suffering, mourning, hatred, prejudice, murder — those things weren’t meant to be here but they are because of sin. Once we trust in Jesus as our Savior, our home is in Heaven where there is no pain, suffering or mourning (Rev. 21:4). Nevertheless, we have to wait in dissonance of the “not yet” — knowing we are in the midst of a world we don’t belong to but are awaiting our forever home. In a way, we are all purple people.
How will you steward being a purple person? For me, I can offer patience, hospitality, empathy and understanding to a group of people from the other side of the world that I’ve grown to love and cherish. For all of us, we can embrace being a foreigner in our own world by telling people about the new one, practicing compassion and selflessness to those in need, and being faithful in the waiting to return home.