One year ago, I did something crazy. I left behind everything I knew, and I followed Jesus as he took me around the world on an 11-month mission trip—called the World Race—to 11 different countries. Throughout the journey, God showed me how He’s moving in the hearts and lives of people from different nations and cultures. That year forever changed me. Here are ten things I learned along the way.
1. I am rich compared to the rest of the world.
I never thought of myself as rich — especially not with the salary I make as a graduate teaching assistant. But after traveling the world, I realized that more than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. As Americans, we live in one of the most affluent countries in the world. I don’t feel shame for living in America because I firmly believe that God intentionally placed me here. But I do recognize that God has abundantly blessed me, and my money and resources are not ultimately mine — they belong to God. Now that I am making a salary, I get to partner with God through my finances. It has been an honor to use the resources He has given me to further His kingdom.
2. Life doesn’t have to be expensive.
While traveling around the world, we lived on $5 a day for food and $5 a night for lodging. This was easier in some countries and harder in others. But through this, I learned that I could live on much less. Eating out was a no-go, and we had to learn how to cook more than just spaghetti. But we made it work, and most of the time we stayed in places that met our basic needs.
3. Food tastes better.
Ask any foreigner in the U.S. what they miss most about their home country (besides their family) and nine times out of ten they will tell you they miss their food. In the U.S., we use lots of sugar additives, preservatives, and GMOs. You have to go to a specialty store here to buy coke without high fructose corn syrup. But the rest of the world uses primarily cane sugar. Some countries like Russia and parts of Europe completely ban GMOs. In my opinion, food overseas tastes better, and it made me sick less often. Except for that chicken sandwich with salmonella in Morocco, but we won’t count that.
4. Hospitality is the norm.
As Americans, we come from a Western, individualistic culture. Many countries around the world are Eastern, collectivistic cultures. This means that in America, we value the individual more than the group whereas Eastern cultures value the group more than the individual. Because of this difference, hospitality is extremely important to people in Eastern cultures. One day on the race, several friends and I walked into a mall in Morocco, and we went to an ice cream shop where several girls were working. Within five minutes of meeting the girls, they invited us to their home for a meal. We went the next day, and we realized that they had gone all out cooking us a large meal. We later learned that they consider it an honor to have guests in their home. Since being back in the States, I have implemented hospitality in my life in the way I saw it done around the world. And let me tell you — it has changed my perspective on what it means to live missionally and in relationship with other believers.
5. Racism is not just in the U.S.
I want to tread lightly on this point, but I believe this is still worth mentioning. Racism is an issue here in the U.S., but it is also happening all over the world. Different people groups hold animosity towards other people groups everywhere. Whether it’s the Turks and the Cypriots, the Palestinians and the Jews, or Tutsis and Hutus, racism is common to our fallen world. Similarly, ethnocentrism is an easy trap to fall into, which is the belief that your culture is best. I personally had to work through ethnocentric thoughts as I saw people doing things different than me. As believers, we know that God created different cultures, nations, and languages. Revelation 7:9 says, “A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (ESV). One day, we will all stand together glorifying God. Until then, let’s work to celebrate our differences because we are all made uniquely by an incredible God.
6. Teaching English is an incredible avenue to reach people for the gospel.
I’d always heard that teaching English was a great opportunity to reach people in closed countries. Whoever told me that was right. English is the language of opportunity; therefore, people are eager to learn. I taught English classes in Morocco, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia as well as to refugees in Paris, France. In Kyrgyzstan, our main job was to teach interactive English classes, build relationships with the students, and share the gospel with them outside of class. Through that, we saw someone choose to follow Christ. If you have a passion for missions and teaching, you can find plenty of opportunities out there to teach English and live missionally at the same time. And some opportunities even pay.
7. The church is alive.
The church around the world is thriving. I remember standing in a worship service in Kazakhstan, and I was completely blown away by the passion of the church members. Little old ladies were literally jumping up and down. And this was a place where people could be sent to jail for following Jesus. In the 1980’s, Christianity became a primarily a non-Western religion for the first time since the first century. And while the U.S. still sends out the most missionaries each year, other countries like Brazil and South Korea are catching up. Half of the world’s nations that send the most missionaries are located in the global south. The U.S. makes up less than 5% of the world’s population. God is certainly moving here, but He is also doing incredible things in the other 95%.
8. The Holy Spirit is moving in the darkest, most hostile countries to the gospel.
Some of the most hostile places to the gospel are seeing the greatest growth. The church in China has increased from 8 million believers in 1991 to over 130 million believers today. A similar situation has happened in Iran. Several decades ago, there were around 500 believers in the whole country. Today, Open Doors estimates there are nearly 800,000 followers of Christ in the underground church. It’s interesting to see how the enemy’s attempts to blot out Christianity have had the opposite effect. While we must continue to pray for believers around the world who are experiencing persecution, know that God is moving through it, and He is bringing even more people into His kingdom because of it.
9. Jesus reveals himself through dreams and healing.
In the Muslim world, Jesus frequently appears to people through dreams. While living in Senegal, West Africa for a summer, I saw this experience firsthand. As I shared the gospel with a man one day, he told me how he had a dream about a man in white. In his dream, he saw the wide gate and the narrow gate. Next to the narrow gate, he saw a man in white and heard a voice that said to go and live righteously. He realized that the Jesus I was talking about was the one who appeared to him in his dream. He immediately decided to follow Christ. Muslims place a high importance on dreams; therefore, dreams are one of the avenues the Lord uses to reach them. In the Hindu world, Jesus reveals Himself through miraculous healings because Hindus place a high importance on health and the body. Our God is a unique and personal God, and He speaks to people through the cultural lens of their native language.
10. People from Eastern cultures often understand Biblical nuances that I miss.
The Bible is an Eastern book, written for a collectivistic, shame/honor culture. Coming from a western culture, I realized there were many layers and details that I missed because I didn’t understand the culture of the Bible. For example, as Americans, we live in a right/wrong culture. I never understood why the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus — it’s not like he did anything wrong. But the Bible was written in a shame/honor culture, and one reason the Pharisees killed Jesus was because he shamed them in front of others and dishonored them. A man from Yemen sat down with me and explained some cultural references in several Bible stories, like the Prodigal Son and Psalm 23. I was blown away by the cultural depth in these stories.
My year around the world changed me. Though the journey was hard at times, I am thankful for all the experiences and lessons God taught me. Whether you live overseas or in the U.S., know that God is moving all around the world. And despite all the bad things you see on the news, God is bringing more and more people to Himself every single day. Praise God.