I found out what it was like to be part of the minority when I moved to Singapore. Before, when I lived in Australia, I did not understand why people from different races felt lonely and homesick while in Australia. I thought, “Australia is a beautiful country, and we are active in embracing different races, so why should anyone feel lonely and long for home?” When I moved to Asia, however, I began to completely understand. Though people love you and you enjoy certain things about the country, it is just not the same as having familiar food, seeing familiar faces, and sharing similar interests to the people around you.
Through learning the customs and identifying with the people you learn to appreciate the differences, embrace them, and be seen—to some extent—as being “a part of them”—but I have come to learn that there are ways in which I will never be the same. I will always be a stranger. I look different. I speak differently. I have different mannerisms. No matter how long I am here I will be called an “ang mo” (foreigner) by the locals, and talked about in Chinese before my face (because they think I don’t know they are talking about me!). No matter how long I am here, there will always be people who ask, “Where are you from?” and mistake me for a tourist, a person who cannot stand chilli, or a person who has never heard of how to eat a durian without getting a sore throat (which you can avoid by drinking water through the shell of the durian, apparently—or at least I have been told this at least 12 dozen times).
Being different in a different country is not easy, but it helps to realise that while it may be new to me to feel like an outsider both because of my race and my cultural upbringing, there is a sense in which I have been different for a long time and in which way I hope to always show a difference. There is a sense in which I have always been a stranger and a pilgrim. The great heroes of faith realised this and they:
“…all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
Remembering that “this world is not my home” is as helpful to me as I am sure it was to Abraham and all the other heroes of faith. When I confess that I have another home waiting for me, then adjusting to another culture is easier and being different is easier. It helps me to remember that I am always to be different in some way. I should be noticeably different from the world around me, because Australia is not my home just as much as Singapore is not my home. Peter encouraged the scattered Christians:
“…as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
When we are truly living out Christianity we will find that there is really only one place and context in which I should feel like I am no longer a stranger and a pilgrim. There is only one place in which I should feel like I truly belong. No matter where I am in the world, I should feel that I belong when I am with other believers, because when we are together, we are all the same. We all are “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (1 Peter 2:11).
No matter where I am, there should always be people who think or ask me, “Why are you different?” or “Why do you do things that way?” There should always be a marked difference in the way I carry myself and dress with self-respect and dignity. There should always be a difference in my speech, in the way I refrain from cursing, dirty jokes and gossip—and instead glorify Christ. There should always be a difference in the way I am kind to people, no matter how they treat me. Peter says that is by this difference, “by [our] good works, which they shall behold” that they will “glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
So while I expect that here in Singapore I will get the occasional look of surprise when I eat chilli or order local coffee in Hokkien (basically one of about 10 things I can order in Chinese!)—I hope that more surprise will come from the Christian life which changes my everyday purpose, decisions, and actions so that they become noticeably different.
Peace with my every situation come when I realise that I am a stranger to the world and I will always be a stranger to the world.
Are you standing out from those around you? Is there a reason you are afraid of shining your light? Be encouraged that you are not alone, and that being different is not such a bad thing. Being different is what Christianity is all about—living a life full of hope and purpose.
I pray that we can all have opportunities, wisdom, and boldness to show that difference so that Christ receives the glory and more men are drawn to Him!