Reflections on Advent Through the Eyes of an Immigrant

My friends David and Melody Murray spent six years building businesses in rural, North India with their two boys. They recently relocated to another Southeast Asia nation, fueled by a desire to bring the hope of jobs and the Gospel to vulnerable people. Mel shares her thoughts on Advent in this special guest blog. Check out their businesses, too: JOYN Bags, Dehradun Guitars, JOY Corps.

Mel grocery shopping

Mel grocery shopping

For the past decade we have lived as foreigners in two different Asian countries. In many ways, being a foreigner makes you feel like a child again, trying to figure out an unfamiliar world. Except that you’re 40 years old and locals giggle at you or look at you like, “Why don’t you understand this?”

Renting a house, buying a car, grocery shopping, driving, going to the doctor, ordering dinner, filling out paperwork, doing business, following social customs, going to church, developing relationships, communicating on a basic level…. You name it, everything requires a huge learning curve, and we constantly have to rely on many people for help and advice. It’s challenging and humbling.

Recently, I had a culture shock moment when I felt like a complete idiot for not understanding a specific Thai visa law. Because of my misunderstanding of confusing laws, we had to start the enormous process of applying for visas all over again. Driving home from the visa office, I lost it. I cried and cried, mainly due to the overwhelming feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, feeling misunderstood, and starting over again.

In that moment, I realized how little I appreciated the privilege, safety and comfort of living in America as an American citizen. I never had to tell anyone where I was going or explain the reason I was in the country or fill out mountains of paperwork to stay there.

All of these experiences make me hurt for the refugees and immigrants all over the world. Most people aren’t away from home because they have chosen to be, as Dave and I have. They don’t have the resources or knowledge to deal with it like we do. They don’t have a backup plan or a safety net.

But even more challenging than these everyday difficulties is the emotional toll it takes to be a foreigner. One of the hardest emotions I’ve ever dealt with is the feeling of being unknown. The more Dave and I move and the more we say yes to our calling to live and work among marginalized communities, the more we feel unknown.

Refugees long for home because that is where they are fully known. They don’t have to explain themselves. They are accepted and loved by their own. They belong.

There are 68.5 million people around the world who have been forced from their homes (UNHCR). Of these, 10 million are stateless people “who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.” Many of these people and their children will linger in impermanent settlements for decades, unable to change their circumstances, highly vulnerable to many risks. I know this is very real, because I see dozens of these people every day, right out my front door.

Most of these refugees never get to go back home. They will never feel like they fully belong.

Most likely, I will always have that choice and that privilege. Though I’ve chosen to live in a foreign land, I can always choose to go home where I belong. The small taste I have had of feeling unknown is no comparison to what many of my friends and my neighbors feel.

This Christmas season, I have been remembering that Jesus felt all these things too. He was born into a condition of homelessness. He spent part of his childhood as a refugee in a foreign country and his adulthood with “no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). He was completely unknown in a world that rejected him. Even his closest friends and disciples failed to understand who he was or what his true purpose was.

Our God-With-Us was willing to come fully into our humanity. He knows what it is to be unknown. To seek refuge. To long for his home. But he doesn’t just sympathize with us—he meets all these needs for us! He knows us fully, down to the last hair on our heads. He paid our ransom so that we belong to Him. He welcomes us into his Kingdom, our perfect home.

Christmas is a reminder that we are all foreigners, living in the tension between this broken world and the new one we long for (1 Peter 2:11). I picture myself in a redeemed world, much like the one I live in, just so much better than I could ever ask for or imagine. The place I was made for, the place where I belong.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. The Kingdom is breaking in.