Smores bonfire Sitting around the campfire, making s'mores with the Rockies in the background, laughing about our similar cultural faux pas.  This was the scene for my family and me a week ago, attending a workshop for families who are transitioning from a cross-cultural life.

There were young couples in their twenties, thirty-somethings with rugrats underfoot (like us), families in the throes of sending teenagers off to college, and empty nesters. 

We represented recent stints from Africa, southeast and central Asia, the Middle East, and South America.  Some lived in our host country for two years and were moving back; others for thirteen and are still going strong.  Most of us were American citizens, but Canadians and an Indonesian were there, too.

We didn't have that terribly much in common, but what we had in common really mattered.  We all follow the teachings of Jesus, and we've all recently lived in a country different than our passport's.

Differences aplenty, with more to come in each of our lives.  But all of us instantly felt connected because we got each other, when most other people around us don't.  When we're slammed with re-entry and culture shock and feel totally alone…  Being together reminds us that we're not alone in our strangeness.  (We don't mean to be unusual, of course, but because of God's unique call on our lives, we sorta turn out that way.  No need to explain yourselves when you're gotten from the get-go.)

Tateandasia-small Our kids also instantly connected because they were all TCKs and understood the nomadic lifestyle.  They each knew what it was like to say goodbye to homes, friends, and belongings… again and again and again.  They've all had to deal with unusual food, strange languages, and cultural oddities.  They, too, were gotten by each other.

This gottenness made us a tribe, a community, if only for a week.  We were unified by this understanding of what it's like to live in a different culture than where you were raised, then to be different in that foreign country, only to come back to your original culture and always be different.  Our differences united us.

So we fellowshipped for a week, enjoying s'mores, cool summer breezes, and good conversation, knowing that after just a few days, we'd all pile back in our respective vehicles and move on to the next thing on our agendas.  It's all okay when you know you're part of a much bigger Family, and that because of our brother and sisterhood, we're united.

Christ does this, as a Body.  He unifies us in sometimes the strangest, most unexpected ways, and with the most unexpected people.  He builds up His people as a community for our own sake (fellowship, encouragement, iron sharpening) and for His (glory on Earth and in Heaven).

When has God surprised you with community?  Who are some of the unexpected people in your life with whom you've felt united?

By Tsh Oxenreider of Simple Mom

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  1. 1

    Funny that Tsh should mention the generational differences. I’ve always sort of been drawn to those that are (shall we say) wiser than I. Even growing up, I preferred to spend time around adults – made me very strange in a way but was part of who I am. God can put aside any differences to use us to fulfill his will and create a bond stronger than any we’ve ever known.

  2. 2

    I LOVE this!! I am an MK and I have felt that connection with people in specific seasons of my life when I have found myself with people whom I have NOTHING else in common except the knowledge of what it is like to be different from ALMOST everyone around you in a foreign country AND what it feels like to NEVER live in a place with everyone you love at once.
    Once in college, I sat with a group of MKs and we sat for 2 hours reading a book “You know you are an MK if…..” While none of us had identical experiences, we understood each other and when one would get quiet, we knew that we had been transformed back into a world filled with languages unknown and cultures diverse, so we quieted to give that person a moment to reminisce or share.
    I LOVE this post!!

  3. 3

    A dear friend is a woman I met while overseas on a short-term missions trip when I was 17 (I’m now 26). She was in her late 60′s/early 70′s at the time, and had begun traveling all over the world in support of missionaries and their work since her husband had passed away some years before. I remember our conversations on that trip, and that she spoke with me like I was an adult – probably not how I was viewed by many at the time, and certainly not how I viewed myself! She was deeply interested in my stories and points of view, and made me feel so valued.

  4. 4
    Michelle says:

    Not to long ago I had a huge falling out with someone I considered my best friend and I was heartbroken. God surprised me by bringing back into my life to wonderful women from my childhood. We were able to rekindle our friendship and it’s been like no time has passed.

  5. 5

    As a woman still in the middle of the overseas journey and missing the feeling of being “gotten”, this was exactly what I needed to read today! God is good.

  6. 6

    In high school, I remember a kid defending me in front of the entire class. We weren’t really friends. He did things on the weekend I sometimes didn’t even know the definition of. But he stood up for me and made an impact on my life forever. He’s part of the reason I stand strong today. Not expected but truly appreciated.

  7. 7
    Anna B says:

    In my current church, I felt such a sense of family when I arrived (although I didn’t know a soul!) It’s a very community oriented Mennonite church, and it’s been awesome in this ‘me-culture’ to be embraced by people who truly care, will help you move, roof your house, or just cook meals for you if you’ve been ill. It’s amazing. :-)

  8. 8
    Stephanie says:

    I relate so much with this post and with Laura. It made me want to cry! Living overseas in mission work the past 8 years has been challenging and rewarding, but the lonliness and different-ness is one of my biggest struggles. I love how she acknowledges that even going home now for visits we’re still “different.” I never knew it would be that way… like a permanent nomad without a true country or a place to truly call home. But through it all I have a greater revelation of Jesus as my center– my home. For that I’m thankful.
    I wish I could have a time with people that understand. Thanks for the encouragement. God can provide in His way and time.

  9. 9

    He surprised me with two extraordinary weeks – traveling along my nation with a couple of dedicated pastors, a sweet singer, a very rocker pastor from south Africa, an intercessor i called Guardian Angel and a genius musician. What a mix! and how we felt united in that tour! Different nations and languages, and Jesus with us.
    He makes the difference!

  10. 10

    My best friend and I have realized we don’t always get each other in “that moment”, BUT we keep staying around, working through, and learning each other until we do.

  11. 11

    I’d have to say it’s with the younger women in our church. I didn’t expect God to open doors to mentor or get close to the younger moms, but because I have a younger child He opened that door. Even though I’m an “old” grandmama I feel community with these sweet young ladies.

  12. 12

    My recent friend is about 25 years old than I am, I met her at bible study. She is a kind lady and I am sure I am going to learn things from her.

  13. 13

    God continues to surprise me with the people he places in my life. Most recently, it’s been with a random group of friends that has come together to choose one thing to fast from each week. The bonds the Lord has strengthened in us through this are astonishing.

  14. 14

    I’ve always felt drawn to the older ladies in my church. Maybe it’s their wisdom…I don’t know, but I love to be around them!

  15. 15

    Its not the travelling or passports that brings me and my friends together. Its the family of being parents of children with severe special needs. We undertake the never ending battles with drs, consultants, hospital stays. The continous whirring of the washing machine due to endless changes from vomitting to inconstience. Its not a life we chose but a life we love.
    For me this community is slowly slipping away as i have joined another, one of a bereaved parent. The club nobody wishes to join.
    When you really understand what the other is going through a bond is forged forever

  16. 16
    jackie s says:

    my soon to be sister in law has been a great inspiration for me to look at things more positively and I needed that so badly! jmls09@aol.com

  17. 17

    I love hearing everyone’s stories here! So cool how God is working in your lives.
    @TNT – Your story touched me! What a small but powerful thing that happened in your earlier years. I wonder if he has any idea that you remember his impact?
    @Stephanie – Be encouraged that yes, you will always be “different,” but God will do SO much because of your differentness! He will bless people and encourage people and embolden people because of your strange lifestyle. And Lord-willing, He WILL bring kindred spirits along the way to journey with you. I understand, sister…

  18. 18

    Each time we’ve moved to a new military base, I’ve been surprised by community. Neighbors reach out so quickly knowing your “stuff” may not arrive for months after you do – always willing to share whatever they can. What a blessing to receieve and to give. I think the people that have surprised me in the way we are able to connect is other moms who homeschool in very different ways. I’m finally starting to see those barriers come down and people with differnt ideas more willing to accept that we each are called by God to be who He has called us to be and train the spcial children He has given us in the way He has directed. We aren’t cookie cutter people so we have to accept each other as God made us.

  19. 19

    Feeling like you belong with a bunch of folks that differ greatly wonderfully reflects heaven to me.

  20. 20

    It is wonderful to be part of a community – whether virtual {(in)courage} or actual {in church}

  21. 21

    Being a stay at home/work at home mom, there’s often a lack of community, but the online has provided a lot of that for me.

  22. 22

    TCKs have the best of all worlds – and the worst of all worlds. I remember that feeling of never belonging anywhere vividly. At 30, for the first time in my life, I am beginning to feel comfortable in my own skin – and in my own home and with my own family.
    Thanks for this post :)

  23. 23
    Marilyn Lisenbee says:

    I especially like the relationship that God brings togehter. They are the best.
    Great post.

  24. 24
    Pamela says:

    Now. My life looks so different than I thought it would. But he has been surprising me with a wonderful community. I haven’t had one like this in a long time. I love it and am very, very thankful for each unique person he sends me. I am blessed.

  25. 25
    Nichole says:

    While I don’t have experience with cross cultural community, I have a sense of community with all walks of life. I still have friends from grade school, college, and my adult life. I think it is so important to keep relationships alive no matter how old they are.

  26. 26

    Although we were only overseas for a year, transitioning back to life in the US definitely can make us feel “different.” I have been surprised and blessed by some new friends who make me feel connected and loved.

  27. 27

    this one made me grin – it’s how I met my husband! we were both teaching in Eastern Europe and became friends, and the rest is now a wonderful bit of God’s story for us. :D
    Community is a vital part of our lives, but I think that it’s the “unexpected community” that really shows us God’s love.

  28. 28

    God has suprised me with a community in our local youth leaders. We are often able to sit down with on another and find that we are going through the same things or that we can help one another because we have gone through that same thing.
    Always we are able to lift each other up no matter what the struggle is, and help each other along the path.

  29. 29

    I feel that college was a meaningful time of relationships for me! I grew up in a very small; somewhat prejudicial community. Sometimes, I felt as if I didn’t belong there.
    Whether it was chance encounters, studying for exams or meeting in the Union Hall, I formed wonderful and meaningful relationships
    with many people. Thanks, Cindi

  30. 30
    Inez Fasold says:

    Thank you for the reminders…:}

  31. 31

    I live cross culturally, being married to an American born Chinese man (2nd generation). There’s a gottenness with other cross culturally married couples too. But some of what you’re talking about–gotten in the spirit–happened to me overseas: at John Stott’s church in London, at an IFES meeting in Kiev where the speaker said we have more in common with believers around the world than we have with our unbelieving countrymen. Yes. God’s call on our lives, daily lived out, marks us and makes us smell (wasn’t that what Paul said?) good to some and bad to others! Thanks for the reminder.

  32. 32
    Amy Lopez says:

    Being a part of a church of 6,000+ our Pastor pushes for everyone to be in a small group and about 7 years ago my hubby and I answered the call and signed up to facilitate a group in our home. Over the years people have come and gone but one thing has stayed the same, its the feeling of “gottenness” in my home where believers of all stages of life come to share life and Jesus’love. I thank HIM for Tuesday nights and the special community HE has given us here.

  33. 33

    our church is my community. I love that you can it is multicultural and represents His Kingdom in its uniqueness but we all come together in Him.

  34. 34
    Danielle M. says:

    Ooh! I love this question, because its been on my mind over the last 24 hours. I attended a conference yesterday, and America was discussed at length. Happily, this conference led to some interesting dialogue with a co-worker who is an immigrant. Recently, I have been marveling at how God is broadening my community to include folks I never expected it would, including a new acquaintence who is a Muslim. Now, understand that I have a very strong, deep, rich community of believers with whom I do life. This has grown to include immigrants from India, Puerto Rico and Ecuador. They make up my heart’s FAMILY and my life is so much richer as a result. However, I am loving this new thing God is doing of broadening my community to be much more global, while remaining true to my roots in Him.

  35. 35
    Marla Y says:

    I was united with a sweet girl of 16 a couple years ago. I became her caregiver. She and her 2 younger sisters were severly abused by their mom and their dad finally got custody of them. I became like a mother to them, but especially developed a very close union with the oldest girl. I pray that I will continue to be a good influence in her life for years to come. She is like my own daughter and value the union we have developed.

  36. 36

    Very soon we will be part of a church launch in an online community. It was something I was totally against. I never expected to be where I am now, and to see a need for this type of community.

  37. 37

    I’ve had different friends that I have connected with when we are in the same “stage” of life.

  38. 38

    ah! this hits home with me so much. coming back from the mission field this year, i stumbled my way through so many cultural faux pas and was so thankful to have others who were going through similar things even if they were states away. yet, in that same way, i know that as i prepare to go back…i’ll experience the same, but just the other way around.
    God has surprised me with both an online community that I adore and a few real life friends that have so made this time at home so much easier despite the challenges. He is so faithful!

  39. 39

    When in the midst of a storm, you receive a card in the mail letting you know that you are not alone and when you feel that your so deep in a pit GOD leads someone to speak into your life, shining light on HIS love and grace!!
    A community does not have to be big to be powerful it just had to have the heart of JESUS, with HIM all things are possible!!!!
    Many Blessings

  40. 40

    I grew up as an MK, a third culture kid, so your post brought back fond memories. The “tribe” that’s been most surprising to me though is the one I’ve (for the most part) never actually met, the close community I’ve found of online friends, first through Hannah’s Prayer Ministries and connecting with others who “got” me in the midst of infertility and recurrent losses, then a growing community of fellow-authors (I know many more online than I’ve ever met in person), and now a fellowship of friends who know the common journey of living with chronic health challenges. How amazing to me that God could so closely weave the hearts of thousands who have never met!

  41. 41

    God amazes me everyday by opening my heart and eyes to new relationships.

  42. 42

    For what ever reason, I tend to connect instantly with folks who have suffered abuse, whether sexually or physically etc as children. I am very intuitive and I can pick up on it right away. I know in my heart, that God has plans for me in this. There’s a sad connection that not everyone has and it can connect you to people you never thought you’d want to. There’s something special and unique when you see what amazing things God can do with those who were broken as children.
    Psalm 147:3
    He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

  43. 43

    My college roommates. We are all totally different and yet make up an unbeatable sisterhood. :)

  44. 44
    DIANE HENNING says:

    My recent new community, that I will have to leave soon, is a caring staff at the Nursing Home I have resided at for the last 4 weeks…a short term Physical Therapy Rehab. for Chronic Pain.
    I will never forget these people, and I will have to leave, but their footprints are beautiful within my soul.
    Diane

  45. 45

    I think it’s so cool how God has given me the friends he has throughout my life.
    I have close relationships with friends
    from everywhere we’ve lived and the different stages we were at in life!

  46. 46

    At work. After a bad xperience at my last work place I had decided that I wouldn’t get close to anyone at my new job. I couldn’t help but be drawn in by these ladies. When one of them was stricken with cancer earlier this year it brought us all even closer. Now, we are watching her slip from this world and into the arms of our Savior. It is heartbreaking, but I am so glad that I’m surrounded by these women in such a difficult time.

  47. 47

    A few months ago I never thought I would be where I am today. I never thought I COULD be. I was in a dark hole, far from God, my marriage was on the verge of divorce, and my two girls were walking on eggshells around their own home. God is good. He placed a friend in my life, He brought me into a small group (because Lord knows I didn’t want to be involved with one), and through counseling and ANSWERED PRAYER, God has worked in our marriage. So when you ask “Who are some unexpected people you have felt united with?” As sad (or more so happy) as it is to say…my husband. We have become the friends we thought we could never be. More than when we were googlie eyed dating. Our girls see and sense that and home is fun, safe, and peacefull. In a relationship that people would have assummed was “perfect”, it was messy and destructive. Now, through God’s grace and mercy we are united again. Not just to eachother, but also to God’s mission. It’s been a hard few months,but if this is just the beginning, I can’t wait for more!

  48. 48

    I resonated with your descriptions of feeling “different” – both on the mission field (we’re in South Africa) and at “home”. And I love the way your entire family found a fit with so many others through this workshop.

  49. 49

    The sweet blessings of people who “get you” are such a gift. There are many times I have met other PW’s and instantly we hit it off, not because we look alike, are at the same stage of life or anything other than our husbands are Pastors and that in an of itself makes for a unique bond.
    I love your post Tsh and am so thankful for you sharing! ~ Melissa

  50. 50

    I love this post, I have recently moved to another country and am having to overcome cultural differences and a language barrier. However, I was guided to a wonderful church, full of people in then same situation. Its wonderful being friends with such an international group of people who all share one love, love of Jesus Christ.

  51. 51
    2GAboys says:

    When I had my first child (and was feeling abandoned by all my single friends), a marginal friend (also a mother) stepped up and really helped me through the first awful few weeks. I am eternally grateful, and was awfully surprised!

  52. 52
    Tracye Goad says:

    The greatest sense of community that God has provided me has been our church home school group. For the first 7 years of home schooling, I did it ALONE in a small town with ZERO support system. My husband’s job forced us to move and that move brought MANY blessings, but the one most unexpected was a group of women at church that totally changed me. I became part of a community of people in the SAME place of thinking and with the SAME needs of belonging. It has been amazing and ONLY orchestrated by God!

  53. 53

    I was surprised how easily I was accepted into the community of staff at the psych hospital I worked at for 5 years. We all had such varied backgrounds, but the one thing that united us all was a compassion for others needing some help, or going through a rough spot. These people became my family when I was far from home and in need of some community.

  54. 54

    I recently had a baby and was on bed rest for a few weeks before he was born. My husbands cousin passed away and through a comment posted on her blog I found another blogger that was such an inspiration to me. She lost a daughter and had such kind words. Her blog is so positive even through all she has been through all because of her faith in Jesus Christ! It is so amazing to see what Jesus can do through the challenges we go through here. It was just what I needed to be reading while there wasn’t much else I could do. I emailed her and her kind words in return meant so much to me.

  55. 55
    Tracey Hinkle says:

    Great article – thanks for sharing. We just had a guest speaker come to our church this past Sunday and what was his topic – Community and the role of the church as a ‘community’ to reach out to the surrounding community. Awesome!

  56. 56

    As a girl who leans towards the quiet side, I struggle with having a community of friends that really “get me.” However, my first semeseter at college, the second night on campus, God blessed me! I met a group of girls that would end up making a huge impact on my life. In aspects of faith, we all chase the same God, but in different ways: 1 wants to be a missionary, 1 a councilor, 1 an accountant, 1 a sign langauge interpreter, and 1 who isn’t quite sure! Despite our (many!) differences, I wouldn’t trade or change any of them for the world. I hadn’t expected to find my own community the night – but God had other plans. Now, I have 4 ladies who are like sisters, all of whom happen to come from different families. :)

  57. 57
    Rhonda says:

    My circle of friends includes women from many different cultures, lifestyles and age. Each one with something special to offer.

  58. 58
    Karen Shollenberger says:

    I appreciate (in)Courage. It always has just exactly what I need. Thank you.
    Karen

  59. 59

    I have been amazed time and time again at how God has provided the community I needed at the time I needed it. My 3 closest friends live on the other side of the country, yet I still have an amazing sense of community with them. God has provided me with new friends who have helped ease the transition into life as a mom of teenagers!

  60. 60
    Vanessa Gooch says:

    I have definitely experienced the culture shock, and even worse (I think) the re-entry shock a few times. I think the biggest shock was when I became a Christian (6 years ago) and have witnessed a lot of my family and friends turn on me and exclude me. God has blessed me with some pretty amazing church communities, and also some wiser mentors who have come into my life that have really been beneficial. Of course the online community has been amazing! Great post, thanks!

  61. 61

    I have always been surprised at how close relationships can be regardless of the age difference. I am enjoying the fact that I have friends who are my parents’ ages and older. I have been invited to more weddings when I know the mother of the bride rather than the bride. Although I have young children, these women are a key part of my life and my spiritual growth. It matters not the background, age, or season in life, it only matters that we have Jesus.

  62. 62
    Kathryn says:

    Being political progressives living in the Bible Belt, DH and I often struggle to connect with fellow Christ-followers. An unfortunately large number of them seem to assume our faith is less authentic because our politics are more liberal than theirs. We’re always extremely grateful to find other believers who can look past politics to what we share at the heart level. Your post is an encouraging reminder that such people do exist!

  63. 63

    I’m a grown up TCK. Never lived full time in the US until college. 20 yrs later and I still feel like an outsider sometimes…it’s amazing when you meet someone that has that same background though…it’s an instant connection…they understand!

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