I get to meet some amazing people and I must say that Clive is one of my favorites!
My friend Clive is from Northern Ireland and has been living and ministering with his family as the Chaplain at an Anglican church in Switzerland for over a decade. All Saints Church has been an incredible support to what we do throughout the European region. The last time we were with our friends at All Saints, Clive had written the following article and I asked if I could post it. It’s great advice for Expats, TCKs, and most humans.
Please read in your best Northern Irish accent…
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”
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.
I’ve just returned home from a Conference in England. The Conference Centre itself MUST have been the best Christian Conference Centre I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Let’s just say, I’ve put on weight.
My room had an ensuite bathroom, a bed that was actually very comfortable, pillows that rivalled my own and enough cupboard space to swing a cat in. However, for the four days I stayed there, I never unpacked my suitcase. Shirts, trousers, socks, and jumpers all remained packed.
I’m sure you’ve lived out of a suitcase at one time or another. We do so when we’re on holiday or on a business trip. And we do so because we’re only there for a short time. An unpacked suitcase says “I’m only passing through.”
You may not believe this but a significant portion of the Old Testament is given over to addressing the needs of Ex-pats. The enforced exile of God’s Old Testament people from Jerusalem to Babylon led to prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. It produced great men and women of faith such as Esther, Daniel and Nehemiah – all expats living away from home.
On one occasion, a particular expat community wrote to the Prophet Jeremiah (who was still living in Jerusalem) asking for advice on how to live cut off from the familiarity and security of home. Speaking through Jeremiah God spoke into this Expat experience and said “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.”
These enforced exiles were to unpack their suitcases and put down roots. They were to stop living life longing for home and instead seek to bless the community in which God had now placed them.
Every Expat living in Switzerland faces the challenge of unpacking their suitcase and resisting the strong temptation to live life longing for home – even if that is three years away. Unpacking is an act of trust that God has placed you here. It is an act of surrender – a stepping out of the boat onto the water – that says “because You have placed me here, I now lay down the place I once called home, to build a home here”. It’s an act of mission that says, “I will now seek to be a channel of your blessing to the strangers among whom I now live”.
One way of easing the transition from Jerusalem to Babylon – or in my case Belfast to Blonay – is intentionally putting down roots. This can be done through a number of simple actions. Here are a few …
Invest in relationships – be a friend and welcome the friendship of others. Friendship formed while abroad can at times be the most meaningful and long lasting.
Invest in your Church – whether that is All Saints or somewhere else, be a blessing to your local Christian community. Rather than trying to replicate the Church you’ve just come from, seek to be a building block for what God is uniquely building here.
Be careful how you use your holidays and where you spend them. Going home for long periods of time, especially during the summer can be deeply unsettling both for you and for your family. How can you use your holidays to make your roots more secure?
Manage the expectations of family. Sometimes the demands of family “back home” can make you unsettled. Their expectations of you need to be carefully and lovingly addressed. They too need to know that God has placed you somewhere different – even if it is for a little while.
And finally, use the word “home” carefully. Where is home? Is home the place where you grew up? Is home “where the heart is”? Or is home where God has placed you? Where would God have you call “home” for the moment?
Jeremiah 29v7 offers a vision of God’s people living abroad, living to be a blessing where they are planted. Do you share this vision or are you counting down the days? Is your suitcase unpacked or are you living out of it? As you enjoy this summer period and as you look to the autumn, what one thing can you put in place that will help you live out Jeremiah 29v7? Is there a person to reach out to in friendship? Is there a way to serve the Church community? Is there a way in which I can be a blessing to the nation of Switzerland?
And remember a step of faith – no matter how tentative – is always a step towards God.
Thanks Clive for the way you lead and love those around you!