Where is Home?

Posted on: April 29, 2014 Written by
Where is Home?
Photography by: Peter Jochems from iStock          

Over 28 years ago I first went to Thailand, kicking and screaming. You would not have heard the screams, but they were there. Now I miss it like crazy. What happened in the intervening years? A lot of pain, sweat (literally), and growth in fits and starts. I was not one of those who loves adventure, who loves to try new things. But I sensed a strong call on my life, so I went. What gradually happened over the next five to ten years was the greatest transformation of my life. No, not fitting in to Thai culture (though there were joys there as well). The greatest transformation was in NOT fitting in my home culture any more.

“What’s so great about that?” you might say.

It is a catch-22, really. Cultural adjustment can be one of the hardest things you will ever do, being molded and pressed into making the adjustments to survive, or to even thrive in another culture. One has to learn to think differently, act differently, and have different expectations for relationships, encounters, and even how to shop! It is fascinating, though, getting to know another culture, and it is a privilege to see things so different from one’s own culture. As we get stretched and grow (groan), changes start to happen. We see things in our adopted culture we never really saw before in our home culture. I learned the meaning of respect by living in Thailand. People greatly respect His Majesty the King of Thailand, and their actions reflect that respect. This was quite different from my culture, where it is perfectly acceptable and even expected to cut down leaders and politicians like they were your kid sister. Productivity and efficiency often trump respect in American cultural values.

Once you begin to see both the advantages and disadvantages of your adopted culture as well as your native culture, you can then begin to distinguish home culture from Kingdom culture. A more objective view of the biases we naturally grow up assuming to be true comes into clearer focus.

Just as God gives differing gifts to individuals, He also gives differing gifts to cultures. We often hear or read about the differing gifts of the Body, but getting out of our own culture expands our understanding of that Body greatly. We get to see how others reflect God’s goodness.

I consider it a great privilege to have had the opportunity to get out of my own culture, to get a broader view of the Kingdom. Having made that adjustment to another culture means that I do not really feel like I fit back in the US any more. I struggle with the negatives I see there, both in the culture and in the church. Of course, I do not really fit in in Thailand either. I am too tall (“Too tall for the outhouse,” they used to say in the village as I ducked to avoid scraping my head on whatever was lurking in the thatch roof) and my skin is too white, not to mention my accent. However, I believe my view of God’s Kingdom is much bigger than it would have been if I had stayed in America all those years. After all, this world is not my home—I am just traveling through. What a privilege it is that God gave me the gift of experiencing the truth of that! It is such a gift to have greater freedom from the constraints of any particular earthly culture, as it brings Kingdom culture into greater clarity.

Now I long for heaven with every fiber of my being. There, I will finally fit in.


©2014 Thrive.


Question to consider:  How have you learned to distinguish home/adopted/native culture from Kingdom culture?

About the author

Lynn Paulsen is the founder and CEO of Care Port Counseling, a non-profit organization committed to providing online mental health resources to cross-cultural workers, humanitarian aid workers and military. These consist of online video counseling, consulting with administrators, and links to other mental health resources at www.careportcounseling.org. Lynn spent 29 years with Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL, working as both translator and counselor predominantly in Asia. Her heart is to provide encouragement, help and support to those working in the most isolated and stressful contexts around the world.

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  • You are so right, Lynn. Experiencing another culture is one of the best ways to learn about your own… the good, the bad and the ugly. And one of the best ways to gain understanding of what it will be like, someday, to be truly Home. “Lord, You have been our dwelling place [i.e. home!] for all generations.” Psalm 90:1 (written by a bona fide homeless person)

    • Thanks Melody for your comment. Yes, having our sense of ‘home’ be in a Person rather than a place can give us that rootedness we so long for, but don’t expect to happen that way.

  • Deb

    Great perspective, Lynn. Thanks for sharing it!

    • You’re welcome Deb! I appreciate your engagement.

  • claire wagner

    Lovely way of wording it, Lynn! I still remember you as we all were back in WA-SIL, on the threshold of our many different paths of “going to do what God had commissioned to each of us….” I don’t fit in anywhere either. Sometimes, I start to feel a little sad about it, and that doesn’t last more than perhaps a couple minutes, because I love all the different things I’ve been able to “taste” elsewhere, and to then come back to personal evaluation of me and of my originating culture. I get tiny glimpses into God’s vastness by seeing how He has made other methods of daily life, yet they all revolve around family and taking care of each other and wondering what Life’s purpose is all about. And, how He is really the same everywhere, but we can’t really grasp that very well just yet.

    He is so wonderful, to let us see that there are HUGE things before us, and that He is HUGER still.

  • Thanks Claire. I appreciate your input to the conversation. We’ve come a long way since WA-SIL haven’t we! By God’s grace. Glad to be on the journey with you.

  • Marie

    I loved this article! It makes my heart sing to remember, once again, that this world–regardless of where we live–is not our home. The best is yet to come. Thanks, Lynn, for illustrating this truth within the context of your life and making it so transferable. I loved it.

    • Thank you Marie. And amen sister! We have so much to look forward to, in this life and the next. I’d love to hear your heart sing! I bet it’s a beautiful melody before the Throne.

      • karen rinker

        I didn’t kick and scream but I am constantly having to be like Peter who needed the sheet brought down. When one has a lot of legalism in their back ground being flexible can be difficult. But I would never want any other life than the beautiful life Jesus gave me as a missionary!

        • Sounds like some terrific transformation has happened for you too Karen. What a great testimony – incredibly hard but better life than anything else. They often seem to go together, such opposites – difficult and satisfying, terrifying and thrilling. I call it the TnT quality of life. I suspect anything worth having is both terrifying and thrilling.Thanks for sharing.

  • Julie Smude

    Thank you so much for your article. I am a long-term missionary in Northern Thailand (near the Burmese border) and would love to know more about your ministry. I intend to visit your website!

    Blessings to you!

    Julie in Chiang Rai Thailand

  • Hi Julie. Wow, you’re in my old stomping grounds. I used to live in Chiang Mai, but worked in a language group near and in Mae Saai. I’d love to hear from you.