God blessed us with life. He blessed us with the gift of living on this earth. But he didn’t give us nine lives just in case we mess up. Don’t get me wrong, God constantly forgives and we are constantly given do-overs. But we don’t have a backup life. He only gave of us one of those.
Before you stop reading because you think this is going to turn into a “You Only Live Once” speech, just hear me out.
Opportunity knocks. Adventure beckons. Experience entices. Human beings have an innate desire to see the world, to understand other cultures, to do things that make a good story. Whether it’s jumping from an airplane, traveling to the farthest corner of Thailand, or just a bunch of teenagers wreaking havoc on a poor, small, unsuspecting town-we want to live life. We want to experience all we can. At least I do.
The drive for adventure imbedded deep down in every person is incredible. But it has its downsides. How do we use this gift for God’s glory? How do we stay connected to what really matters while being so focused on the journeys life takes us on? How do we continue to fellowship with the body, serve Jesus, and spread his name in the midst of personal adventure?
As a personal side-note, I have lived in Austria for the past four and a half months and will be here for another month and a half. I am currently writing at my desk in my little room inside this huge house at the far corner of a small town called Ramsau hidden within the Austrian Alps. I am eighteen-years-old. I graduated from high school in June, and sought adventure. I packed up and flew across the world to what seemed at first like an entirely different universe. As I planned and prepped for this excursion, I will honestly confess that how my faith would grow during this experience hardly crossed my mind. I was focused on what life would be like, what I would see, where I would travel, what pictures I could take, what stories I could tell. It didn’t take long (one day to be exact) for me to figure out that my faith was the first thing I needed to examine.
I’ve heard it said that you don’t realize how much you need God until He is all you have. That couldn’t have proved more true to me through this experience. Adventure is captivating and exciting but it can be a lonely thing as well. I had one place to turn, one place where I could find comfort.
So without further ado, how do you stay connected to the church body while being away from the local church?
I’ll be speaking mostly from experience but I want to keep this relatable and applicable to everyone.
It seems that I constantly hear people say that Christians are the minority in this world and they are few and far between. Though that probably is true to an extent, I have found that there are more than you think. You just have to find them. This is one of the main things that will keep you connected with the church body. In situations where you are far removed from your Christian bubble and comfort zone, one thing is for sure: God always provides. In the my third week in Austria, I met my neighbor who happened to be a 59-year-old woman who is an incredible Christian and spent 14 years in Papua New Guinea as a missionary with her husband and two sons. Since then she has become my substitute mother and I could not be more thankful for her constant advice, counsel, and wisdom. If you diligently seek opportunities to meet people, God will provide. Fellowship with other believers will keep you sane when away from your home body. Sometimes all you need is just a five minute talk about what Jesus is doing in your life. Surround yourself with people who love Jesus and be blessed by communing with God’s people. Get out there and meet them.
One of my first nights here, I was so lonely. I felt completely out of place. I remember talking to a friend from back home who shared a similar experience a few years before. I asked her if it ever got better and why it was so hard. She said something to me that has shaped my Austrian experience. “Redeem the lonely times by filling them with Jesus.” she told me. From that day on, I have spent at least an hour every single day with Jesus. One of the most uplifting and impactful things I have done has been listening to sermons. I listen to the sermons from my home church and from two other churches every single week. It helps to connect you to the body in a couple ways. First, you simply hear what they hear. You listen to the same sermon that they listen to each week and you can even talk to friends about it and it almost makes you feel as if you were there. It also feeds you spiritually. If you are in a situation anything like mine, finding a good church is very difficult. In my case, I have to work on some Sundays and even more problematic, churches here obviously worship in German, which I do not speak well enough to understand an entire service. Listening to the sermons from home keeps me connected and feeling involved. If you have a smart phone then this couldn’t be an easier task to accomplish. All you have to do is download the church app and there you have it-all the podcasts at your fingertips. You will benefit greatly from being encouraged and charged every week by gifted preachers from home.
Prayer and the Word:
Finally and most importantly, spending time talking with Jesus and meditating on His Word will get you through your time away. Podcasts and new Christian friends are perfect for staying connected, but there is nothing that will grow you more than having quality “Jesus and me” time. It’s through this time that I have grown to love the Bible and love Jesus more than ever before. When you are away and it seems that there is nowhere to turn, God is there waiting for you to open that Bible and cry out to Him. God uses these times of personal growth to further your interaction with other believers and with non-believers alike. In order to have discussions with and understand the body, or to reach out to those outside of the body, you much first be firmly rooted in the Word and equipped by Christ’s love and grace. Once your faith is in place, He then allows you to encourage others and be encouraged by both new friends and old friends from home. Because I have grown so much, I am now closer to some friends from home than I was before I left. I don’t think I can simply chalk that up to “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Jesus and conversations about his love and mercy make the heart grow fonder. They connect you to people on a much deeper level. My dad always told me growing up that Jesus has a strange way of emotionally attaching people. As soon as you pour out what He is doing in your life, you make an instant and long lasting friend. Let Jesus mature you and grow your relationships in unimaginable ways.
So where does this leave us?
Get out there and meet His people. Experience life in what may seem like another world, but with the same body with the same mission as those at home.
On the practical side of things, listen to sermons from home to keep you mentally and emotionally connected with your group of Christians.
Let Jesus change you and share that with both your new and old friends. Dig into the Word and talk out every feeling you have with God the Father.
Being in a new culture has been the best experience possible for me. There is nothing in this world that could have prepared me for it and nothing could have topped it. One of the most encouraging things for me is knowing that people love Jesus here too. Even in this tiny town in the Alps right in the middle of the small country of Austria. If you only hear one thing I have said, hear this: Remember that although the body of believers back home may be irreplaceable, there are Christians anywhere you go. There are people who love God and want to see the Gospel spread. You can never be disconnected from the church if you just get out there and find it.
So the next time opportunity knocks, answer that door and experience the world.