Living overseas has taught me how to live outside my comfort zone in a foreign culture. This experience was (and still is) keenly felt, particularly in the context of being a minority (Singaporean) in most of the social settings I find myself in here in Sydney. Initially, it was a very new experience for me.
You see, when I lived in Singapore, whether it was at work or with friends outside of work, there was always this “Singaporean culture” I could lean into and express myself within. And in Hermon, not only is everyone Singaporean, the regular attendees are believers in Jesus and we can speak to each other in the knowledge that we are committed to submitting to God’s word found in the bible. It was all very comfortable.
When Mel and I chose a suburb in which to live in Sydney slightly more than a year ago, we made a conscious choice to live in a non-Asian community so that we could experience as much as possible the “local Aussie life”. While it is not uncommon to find “Asian churches” in Sydney where the vast majority of the congregation are Asian immigrants, we also deliberately chose instead to be plugged into a church (Christ Church St Ives) in which the majority of the congregation were people who were more “local” and diverse. Since our plan was to return to Singapore at some point in time, we felt this was probably the best way we could learn about the local sub-culture of an Australian church during the limited time we were planning to be in Sydney.
While I consider myself an extrovert adept at most social situations, I must admit there have been occasions in my Australian church life when I felt like an outsider to a conversation. This is especially the case when conversations veer into topics that are deeply local, such as sport, or sending of children to sporting activities, or discussions about how their children are experiencing local Australian school life. Topics Singaporeans typically engage with, such as food or job situations – these are rarely topics of conversation for the average Australian. While I have felt very much welcomed by members of Christ Church through the many socials and other activities, I must admit the choice of being plugged in to a local Aussie church turned out to be, at times, a more uncomfortable experience than I had anticipated.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 writes: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
The church in the Bible has the broadest descriptions of diversity one can imagine (Jews and Greeks, slave and free), yet, at the same time, is described as intimately united – as part of one body. As I try to understand this profound description of the church, it does at times feel disconnected to my reality as a foreigner in a typical Australian conversation within Christ Church.
Reflecting on this occasional disconnect, I have come to realise that if I were to personally experience this profound biblical description of a church (diverse yet united as one) as Paul has described in 1 Corinthians, I must move beyond the cultural differences in the conversations. I must move from simply acknowledging a casual relationship of connection with a fellow believer because of our same faith in Jesus, into a relationship that incorporates more “one body” activities and interaction. I must move away from the self-sufficient, independent culture that society exalts as the greater goal, into an attitude of greater dependence on my brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:21-22).
I am now personally working through the implications of what this will mean for me in my context within Christ Church today. Please pray for my family that with God’s help, we will move into a deeper interdependence within our local church here in Sydney, and build relationships in which our cultural differences will only highlight what unity in the Spirit amongst followers of Jesus should look like. We would like to take more responsibility for our church family and to be praying for others more, and we also want to be more open to “bearing each other’s burdens” with our brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:2). It is definitely a big challenge, but hopefully, by God’s grace, we can overcome.
I hope this reflection helps us to think about our own relationships in Hermon. How can we build relationships that overcome the cultural differences we might have, so that we may better live out what it means to be united as a body of believers? _ Tan Jiahan