Over the past five weeks my work with Five Capitals has taken me to three different countries on three different continents. I visited Canada (North America, of course), Brisbane, Melbourne and Tasmania (all in Australia), and the Netherlands in Europe.
Getting outside of my normal context is always valuable for me, especially when I can travel outside the US to see cultures and people who are very different from me. It gives me a needed perspective on what God is doing in other places across the world, which in turn does good work in me.
Here are a few observations I made about places outside the US on this last round of international trips.
1. Less noise.
Wow! I didn't realize how deeply our culture of consumerism fills up all the empty space with noise, and ultimately how difficult this reality makes it to hear from God. Until you get outside of it, it's difficult to really see it for what it is.
The other countries I visited simply don’t have this noise. It was amazing to me (especially in Australia) how just having less noise was a blessing and benefit to me. The people I engaged with seemed more peaceful, open, focused, tuned in to God's word, and present with those around them.
American Christians, if they aren’t careful, lose all ability to filter out the noise, even when it's "good" noise: email devotions, text messages, sermons, podcasts, websites, books, resources, media, etc. If we are constantly attending to the noise, we give ourselves little chance to truly hear and respond to God’s voice.
2. People are aware.
Here in America we know that the church is in decline. We know that more needs to be done and that the trajectory we’re on isn’t a good one. However, Christians in other countries have more fully, readily and realistically embraced this reality.
Whether it’s because churches are in sharper decline or because they’ve been declining longer, the awareness creates a determination, sobriety and commitment to sacrifice and go for biblical tools and strategies to actually turn the tide. There’s a deeper level of ownership and desire to see redemption and revival within their communities.
America could benefit from seeing how seriously they are taking the situation as well as how seriously they are about bringing change.
3. Christians are ready.
This builds on the previous point, but because Christians are aware, they are also ready to go for it and get after it! It so refreshing to see Christians show up early, take thorough notes, ask hard questions, wrestle with concepts and discern actionable next steps.
I’ve been at too many events where the participants tend to critique rather than apply, send emails while listening rather than engage, and comment on the communication style of the speaker rather than wrestle with the content. Because of this, little changes in the lives of the attendees.
I found a different atmosphere in the rooms of these other countries; one of readiness, reflection and response. A posture we in America can learn from!
4. Price is considered (as well as prize).
As the old saying goes: "no guts no glory." And while deep down we know this is true, we often wish it wasn’t so. Can’t we have our cake and eat it, too?
I enjoyed a sobering discussion we had in the Netherlands about the costs of truly following Jesus and going after a biblical framework in business. Too often, we think we can get all the fruit without any pruning.
Honestly, I’ve tried a lot of different shortcuts in my life and it always just takes longer, because I have to retrace my steps and go the full way around anyway. Generally, there just aren't any shortcuts.
What are you going after? That's your prize! Just make sure you also embrace the price of going there!
5. Conviction instead of hype.
In America, it’s been a shaky 10 years. Since 9/11, we’ve been trying to work our way out of a lot of setbacks and struggles. The world has felt this way too.
Yet, like in America, there’s a real feeling abroad that our “best days lie ahead.” Connecting well with those verses: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” and Jesus’ words of encouragement “You can do everything I can do, and even greater things than these.”
Along with all Christians everywhere, let’s keep living and believing God has great things in store.
Have you traveled lately? Even if it's simply out of your city or region? Be aware of the differences and nuances you observe in different cultures, and ask, "What’s God doing here, and how can I join him in it?"