Post graduate life in the present day sees a lot of transitions. It is not uncommon for my classmates in medical school and me to move around the United States in search of a school, rotations, and residency interviews. It can feel difficult to feel rooted in any one particular place because of the way the American medical educational system seems to structure itself around positional flexibility. Also being a minority in post Christian America can add further challenges in forming healthy social relationships with local peers.
Having grown up close to the San Gabriel Valley, I took for granted the large Asian American community. Having at my disposal many Hawaiian poke bowls, Vietnamese pho, Taiwanese hot pot, Korean BBQ, Japanese ramen and sushi, Chinese dimsum, boba milk tea, and many other Asian supermarkets and restaurants felt normative. In moving to other states, I found that I lived in areas that do not have as many Asian American restaurants available, or if they are, they are relatively out of the way for me to go on a consistent basis.
However you can still usually rely on some common American companies being present: Rite Aid, CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Taco Bell, Chipotle, Starbucks, Panera Bread, McDonalds, etc. Yet I also find that many states have their own regional specific restaurants and supermarkets such as In n out and Stater Bros in California, Culver’s and Publix in Florida, Tim Horton’s and Wegman’s in Pennsylvania. Thus you get the feel that even within the same country, each state has their own personality.
The Bible sees Christians as “sojourners and exiles in the world.” (Leviticus 25:23; 1 Peter 2:11)
The LORD called Abram out of his country and his kindred and his father’s house to the land that He would show him. He would be the vehicle of blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-2). The LORD later tells Abram his offspring would be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years (Genesis 15:13).
Joseph, the son of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, was sent to Egypt after his brothers sold him into slavery by Midianite traders (Genesis 37:28). Jacob and his family move to Egypt to survive a famine (Genesis 45:9-11). God sent Joseph to Egypt and in his stay there he blessed the house of Potiphar, blessed the house of Pharaoh, and provided for his formerly estranged brothers, and reunited with his father.
Even the plagues that God inflicted upon Egypt for Pharaoh’s enslavement of His covenant people was meant to have an evangelistic purpose. After the 10th plague, the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked (Exodus 12:36). Also a mixed multitude went up with the people of Israel (Exodus 12:38).
Then many centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah writes a letter to those in Babylonian exile: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
Daniel is a great example of this instruction. He stayed true to his Jewish heritage, resolving that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank (Daniel 1:8). Even so, Daniel and his three friends sought to bless the Babylonians and submitted to their educational system: to learn the literature and language of the Chaldeans (Daniel 1:4). His steadfast loyalty to YHWH led Nebuchadnezzar to praise his God as the King of heaven and the Most High (Daniel 4:34, 37).
Throughout the Scriptures, God has a number of ways of sending His people to the nations to bless them: calling them out of their homes with Abraham, letting them be sold into slavery like Joseph, drawing them into Egypt through a famine, sending them out after great plagues of judgment on Pharaoh, exiling them into Babylonian captivity.
In the modern era, people still move around for similar reasons: war and famine. For others, we could move around places because of jobs and education. But no matter the reason, for Christians, our purpose is to hold fast to the LORD and bless the people to whom God sends us.
Abraham, Joseph, the people of Israel before the Exodus, and Daniel did not have the temple to which they can travel to offer up sacrifices and worship God. But they held fast to their faith and submitted and interacted as best they could to the local authorities without compromising their faith.
Jesus is the ultimate example of a sojourner. He enjoyed the worship of thousands of angels, but left His throne in heaven to tabernacle among the people He made in His image. Even though He was the God who created the heavens and the earth, He submitted to the Sanhedrin and the Roman government insofar as it was obedient to the Father’s will. He did so to bring many people to glory with Him.
Likewise, in light of all this biblical insight, I need to embrace my identity as a sojourner and exile in this world. I do my best to find a local church who hold a high view of Scripture and desire to stay faithful and obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ, and fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. The local culture of the places I find myself in may be quite different than the one I was born and raised in, but I learn to adapt to them.
I can be flexible in my external circumstances because I have God is my rock, refuge and strength. In other words, you can deal with variables when you have a constant you can fall back on. Thankfully, Bible reading and prayer are portable actions, so I can do these things wherever I go, and these two means of grace should inform and shape the actions and decisions I make. In addition, social and communication technologies such as Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, phone calls, and emails help compress the world, so distance is not always an obstacle to staying close to home, but the priority should be placed on focusing on the local people.
Since the United States is a multiethnic, multifaith, and multigenerational country, there are quite a different number of cultures and backgrounds that we will interact with. It definitely helps to be confident in your own culture enough that you know how to engage with the cultures of others.
Every now and then, I would have some colleagues or patients ask what is my heritage. Sometimes the way the question is asked makes me feel like I’m an alien in a foreign land, even though I was born and raised in the States, but other times, I can hear that the question is just a curious inquiry to help make conversation. I cannot control how other people think of me, but I can control the way that I react and converse with them. The attitude I strive to maintain is to seek the good of others, even when they may not always reciprocate that kindness, knowingly or not.
I have met people in the LGBT community in my medical school, and I have met people who are Zoroastrian and Muslim. I always welcome hearing their stories and their struggles, and I do my best to model the gospel through these relational channels. I build relationships with my peers as best I can, but if the activities involve alcohol or drugs, I am more reluctant to participate. Sometimes it is difficult to show peers that rejecting these activities is not rejecting them as friends, but they can still take the rejection personally.
In the Christian walk, it is difficult to maintain that balance between faithfulness to Christ and building friendships with others. Many times, you can be as friendly and as welcoming to others as you can be but your faithfulness to Christ can and will drive others away while it also draws others in.
Staying close to Christ while being away from home is difficult, but possible. It involves knowing your faith well enough that you can stand on your own. Joseph and Daniel are two examples of this. They were relatively separated from like-minded peers in a community that was alien to their faith, yet they held fast to YHWH and blessed their peers. The Spirit should be reshaping your desires such that you want to please and honor Christ in all that you say, think, and do. He does this through Bible reading, prayer, and the local church. The primary purposes of these is to relocate your local experiences in the context of a covenantal relationship with YHWH. Christians live under His reign and seek to proclaim the glory of His name to our neighbors. I can stay close to Christ wherever I go, because He is with me wherever I go. I can face the variables of life because He is my constant.