How to Find Belonging Around the World

Out of Place – June’s Story

When I first met Billy and May, they were in their 30s and had already moved from Australia, and lived in my region of southern China for almost eight years. They had five children under eight at that time, one of which was a local Chinese boy they’d adopted.

May was a busy, homeschooling mom. She was outgoing, spoke more mandarin than her husband, and loved the spicy local food. Her kindness and sincerity won her many mom friends who loved her so much that they would often bring local delicacies to her door. The women, mostly moms to only one child, saw her juggling five young kids as a wonder and wanted to know everything about her life. May would invite them in, have meals with them, and talk with them. She learned to cook various Chinese dishes from her friends.

While May was enjoying the company of the local women around her, Billy was busy setting up some Christian training for the local believers. He had to set it up in a way that didn’t look like a Christian training, but an English language activity, you know. After much brainstorming and many prayers, Billy and his friends finally figured out how to get the training going. I’m so glad that they did because it was where I went after I freshly graduated from university. It was also where I embarked on a lifelong journey of knowing God and making Him known, where I got to know Billy and May, their family, and their blond hair and blue-eyed friends more closely.

Choosing cultural discomfort

When I saw Billy’s clumsy chopsticks skill for breakfast noodles and May gulping down a full glass of peanut milk after eating a piece of cow intestine cooked in a spicy hotpot sauce, I often wondered if they ever felt out of place. Billy was brought up in a village in Ireland, and May grew up in coastal Australia. They met and got married in Western Australia, and now, they lived in Southern China, eating some food they’d never heard of. It wasn’t that hard for me to imagine how costly the adjustment they must have made to adapt to their new life.

Many locals asked them: “Why did you come? Isn’t your hometown more developed and wealthier than here? Why do you spend so much time and money learning Mandarin? Why did you want to adopt yet another Chinese baby when you’ve already had four of your own? Don’t you think children are burdensome?”

“Because of Love,” they would always answer, “We love the people here.”

I wanted to know what was so extraordinary about this Love that could motivate Billy and May to leave everything familiar and comfortable to go to a strange faraway land for its people to know it. And during the years of training under them and working with them, they showed me the sacrificial Love of Christ and drew me closer to God. I learned that my family’s brokenness doesn’t define who I am, that I had the option to throw away the shame from my past because I was forgiven, and I no longer needed others’ praise to feel worthy. I found the Source of my sufficiency, the fountain of Love that never runs dry.

The path of love brings purpose

Later in my life, I traveled intensively as a missionary to bring this message of Love to others. I moved to different countries to receive more training so my work could be more effective. In many environments and communities, I found myself to be the only Chinese one there. The “out of place” feeling repeated throughout my 20s. However, I regarded it more as a privilege than a challenge because it was for a beautiful purpose.

My “why” of often being in an unfamiliar, cross-culture environment was me answering “yes” to God’s call to bring His redemptive love I’d received to those who had yet to experience it. You see, my “why” was more significant than the unpleasant feeling of “out of place,” at least most days.

Don’t get me wrong. My journey wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Some days when I woke up to a foreign language around me, all I could think of and care about was the Chinese name of the noodle breakfast from my hometown. I will most likely always be this southern Chinese girl who appreciates a bowl of spicy noodles, but that doesn’t undermine my commitment to love those different from me. Just like Billy and May, they never became Chinese, but being who they were didn’t hinder them at all from belonging. They were one of the most respected and loved couples I knew.

After I got married and moved to Geneva, Switzerland, I had to make a big effort to learn French, nurture my marriage while raising kids in a third culture, develop new friendships, and make a home in a new country. I missed my friends and family in China. I still do. We’ve been going to a Chinese baptist church in Geneva, where I often feel like a tropical fish swimming in the Arctic Ocean, considering my international missionary background.

Nevertheless, I’m grateful for what I’ve learned from my past experiences and people like Billy and May — the secret of belonging is to connect to the Source from which our love tank can be filled to overflowing. Only by acknowledging our blessing can we be the blessing, and we form the community of our dreams by preferring others and reaching out from the deep well of sufficiency.

I have come to realize that no matter where I am, I can always trust the One who transplanted me there and brought the people to me for a good reason. I have everything I need in Him to make a home right where I am and to belong. 

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive access to belonging-themed scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!

Thanks! I can't wait to connect with you!

Meet June Shu

Jun Shu is a writer and blogger. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, Jun worked with a Christian mission organization for eight years. Later, she pursued a Master’s degree in Christian Studies. Jun loves to explore what it means to live in abundance promised by Christ in every season, both in her personal life and writing. She writes weekly on her blog. She dedicates her blog to nourishing the readers’ souls to taste abundance right where they are by offering practical tools and inspiring stories. Jun is a wife and mom to two young children. She is from China, and now, she lives with her family in Geneva, Switzerland. Connect with June on her website, or follow her on instagram and facebook.

*Feature Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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