Finding Belonging on the Far Side of the Sea

Out of Place – Amy’s Story

Looking back, it is hilarious how naïve we were when we moved with our four kids from our home in Pennsylvania to England.  The common language, the lifelong crush I had on all things British, and the beckoning call of adventure led me to dowse the entire endeavour with a bucketful of enthusiasm, thinking that surely it would be just great!

Lest I sound foolhardy, let me state that this was not a rash decision.  It was clear to both my husband and me that our God was leading our family to assist in a church plant in the middle of England.  We sold our house, packed up our “must-keeps” and shipped our life across the Atlantic.  In the stress of the move, the finality of it didn’t fully register until I looked out the airplane window and remembered we only had a one-way ticket.  Little did I know at that moment how unprepared we were for the subtle, but real differences of British culture and the ongoing culture stress you live with for years.

Navigating cultural differences

As a seasoned mother, it was humbling to find the school system absolutely nothing like that of US.  It felt like we were on another planet with terms and half-terms, uniforms (blazers and ties for the big kids!) and a calendar that goes from September-July.  Did you know that Brits call the last letter of the alphabet “Zed”?  I had children in high school and I felt totally out of place as a mother.  

One day, my daughter’s preschool teacher told me she needed to work on learning to do “poppers”.  With wide eyes, I had to confess that I did not have an inkling as to what poppers were.  She laughed at herself when she could not think of a way to describe them.  Finally, both of us laughing, I arrived at the realization she was talking about snaps.

Occasionally, food that I made, the way I decorated my house or things I said, were labelled, “so American.”  In those moments, I had a decision to make.  I could wrap myself in a blanket of insecurity, assuming how I do things or even who I am was not appreciated or liked.  Or, I could note the difference, decide if I needed a change and move forward.  For instance, I learned most people here dislike different foods mixed together, so I don’t make casseroles when people come over.  I want people to like and feel comfortable with the food I serve, so there are favorite recipes I can save just for my family.  

I spent the first 39 years of my life living in the US, so losing the American in me would be near impossible.  My speech will always betray me, if nothing else does.  (Nearly every time I go in a shop, I have to explain where I am from and why I am here.)  There was not any use in striving for what could not be grasped.  Pursuing relationships in a place where I am out of place has taught me the following things:  

  • Offering friendship from a place of authenticity transcends differences.  When I am open and vulnerable there is much common ground to be found no matter where a person is from.
  • Caring for, listening to and being available matters more than doing things the way people expect.
  • Finding the fun in the differences can bring connection.  I am constantly asking my small group, “Do you say this here. . .?” right before I try out an American cliché. 

Finding my footing

There were moments in the beginning when I questioned if I would ever make real friends here, because I felt so different.  Shortly after we moved, I attended a women’s retreat and was convinced I was a square peg in a round hole.  I audibly gasped when the speaker walked us through Psalm 139 and she read verses 9-10:

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

I had read those verses before, but never had it meant so much to me to contemplate even if “I settle on the far side of the sea,” God would “hold me fast.”  Today, I can bear testimony to the fact that those words are true.  In so many aspects of life, my Heavenly Father has been near as our family found our footing in this new land.  After living here for two years, I have made the dearest of friends who love me for who I am, not because I am like them.  

This cross-cultural journey has led me to realize I am not what I do or the way I do things.  Relying on God to help me sift through the expectations of others and what they mean to me has been a stretching exercise.  And He knew my people-pleasing heart desperately needed it!  I am a woman uniquely created in God’s image, and my value is not tied to any culture. 


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 these scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!

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Meet Amy Mullens

Amy and her husband are church planters in England.  She is addicted to seeing Jesus change people’s lives and loves nothing better than to walk with them through His Word whether that be in a small group, her writing or over coffee.  Exploring the English countryside, getting lost in a book and catching up with an old friend are among her favorite things.  You can find her at www.amymullens.com or on Instagram.

*Feature Photo by Lucas George Wendt 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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