The great English apologist and essayist G.K. Chesterton nailed it when he described a tourist as someone who laughs at everything except the jokes. The stranger chuckles when he shouldn’t, because he doesn’t understand what he sees—and then he fails to chuckle when he should, because he doesn’t understand what he hears.
Learning that “different doesn’t mean better or worse, just different” is one of the deepest ways Brenda Truett’s life has been enriched by living overseas. Now a high school teacher in Ada, Okla.—where husband Denny is senior pastor of The Refuge (Ada Foursquare Church)—she spent much of her earlier life in South America, first as a missionary kid and then as a missionary with Denny. An ordained Foursquare minister, Brenda leads worship and the women’s ministry at The Refuge.
“I have learned how God meets everybody where they are, regardless of the culture and the language,” adds Brenda who, despite her American passport, says “I consider myself Argentinean more than anything” from her many years there.
Brenda’s experiences have helped her teach her Spanish and U.S. history students that “the world is much larger than just Oklahoma or the U.S.” She also encourages them to “avoid putting people into stereotypes. So often we automatically assume that if someone is different, they must be wrong.”
The trick for Christians, she notes, is to separate what is biblical and unchanging from what may be just cultural and open to adoption or adaptation. This is an increasingly important lesson for Americans of all ages, Brenda observes, as their society becomes more culturally and religiously diverse. She has found “a bigger God” beyond American shores.
“The Lord reveals Himself in particular ways to people in South America, in ways that He might not to people in the U.S., just because of their differences in understanding,” she explains. “It is amazing to see how He goes beyond cultures; just to realize that there are no barriers for Him.”
Jenna Javens echoes Brenda’s thoughts, seeing “a clearer picture of who God is” from five years as a missionary in South Africa and Botswana, undaunted by a near-death illness and being the victim of crime.
“I got to experience different aspects of God through different cultures,” says the global outreach pastor at Westside (Bend Foursquare Church) in Bend. Ore. “When you have an openness to and appreciation for other cultures, you get a more complete picture of God.”
Since graduating as a teacher, Jenna has worked everywhere from a restaurant to a publishing company between her missions assignments, using the skills she acquired while overseas.
“There’s no greater joy than being in the center of His will—and that can look like anything,” says the 31-year-old Foursquare credentialed minister, who sees endless opportunities to serve God outside of formal “ministry” settings, for those open to His leading. “My identity is not defined by what I do.”
Living overseas has increased Jenna’s faith for what God can do here.
“Living in a different culture, you automatically see things differently, so when God moves in ways you are not used to, you see it more clearly, and it builds your faith.” she explains. “It reminds me He can do the same things in my hometown. The stories I carry of what He has done are like a bedrock for me.”
While appreciating her American heritage, Jenna has learned to go to new places “with my eyes open and my mouth shut: God reveals Himself brilliantly differently in other countries to the way He does here.”
For Nick Reynolds, serving in the war on terror has meant learning that a richer life is a simpler one. Leading a platoon on security patrols and raids in Baghdad, Iraq, and flying a helicopter in support of ground troops in the mountains of Afghanistan, have taught him “not to get upset about little things that don’t really matter much, because I’m not getting shot at, and my family is safe.”
A long-time member of Christian Center (Salina Emmanuel Foursquare Church) in Salina, Kan., before military service, Nick is also more deeply aware of God’s grace after meeting people whose lives are dictated by religious tradition, or governed by fear.
“I am so thankful that I don’t have to pull out a prayer blanket six times a day and bow down,” he says, “that I don’t have to try to do works every day to get to heaven.”
The extreme poverty he encountered in Iraq was “overwhelming,” as was “seeing children affected by the war … missing an arm or a leg, or with scars from being caught in the crossfire of war or from certain terrorist groups intentionally inflicting those wounds.”
While enjoying his current posting in Oahu, Hawaii, where he and his wife, Kirsten, attend Sunset Beach Christian Church, the 30-year-old man says the little moments like watching his baby son, Luke, walk are most important.
“As Americans, we are so used to a lifestyle of getting what we want when we want it; the accumulation of things just doesn’t matter,” Nick asserts. “There are so many people in this world who live on next to nothing and have nothing but each other.”