Two Cultures and True Identity

The sky we were all used to in China.

The sky we were all used to in China.

Our first dinner together.

Our first dinner together.

Apartment buildings.

Apartment buildings.

Our lunch at the orphanage - whole fish, rice, congee, shredded spicy potato, greens, and steamed buns.

Our lunch at the orphanage – whole fish, rice, congee, shredded spicy potato, greens, and steamed buns.

A shopping district.

A shopping district.

Getting more comfortable all the time at home.

Getting more comfortable all the time at home.

It’s a very interesting and thought-provoking thing to suddenly be raising a child who is from another culture. Until just a few months ago, Noah had never been outside of China, and with the exception of traveling to Beijing for his surgery as a toddler, outside of his home town. He’d never seen a Caucasian person in person except the adoption workers. He’d never eaten any food except Chinese food. He’d never heard any language but Chinese. Even when we traveled to other parts of China and he heard new dialects or accents for the first time, it was startling for him. So you can imagine how vast the change is for him here.

Here, he comments constantly on the sky (we can see clouds and the sun because it’s clean). He comments on the suburban houses (he’d only ever lived in a high-rise apartment building, and everyone he knew lived in one too). He thought our backyard was a park (he never knew people could own an outdoor space). He comments on the food (he wishes, wishes, WISHES I could make homemade dumplings!). Some of his observations are good and some are bad. There are things he loves about the U.S., and things that he misses about China. This could be the most amazing place in the world, but for a child who spent their first nine years somewhere else, it’s going to take a long time for this to really feel like home.

When Noah was first home, I told him we were going to send him to Chinese class. Having two languages is such an amazing blessing, and adopted kids lose their first language at an alarming rate. We don’t want that to happen to him, so I had been talking to him about it and getting him used to the idea.

I’d brought it up several times, but this day I told him he would definitely start the next week. “But why?” he asked me. “Why do I need Chinese school? I am good at Chinese!” I explained, “But here, Dad and I don’t speak Chinese. Your brother and sisters don’t speak Chinese. Many kids who are adopted forget their Chinese, and we don’t want you to. We want you to keep it. So you will go to Chinese school.” This was the fourth or fifth time I’d explained this.

He looked at me so strangely then and said, “I don’t understand when you say this. You say this a lot. I think you are making fun of me. I AM Chinese. How can I forget to be Chinese?”

While he had misunderstood what I was saying, he had a good point. In Chinese culture, the language is a huge part of your fundamental identity. Having “good Chinese” made you Chinese, gave you honor, and reflected your place in society. Noah was saying, “If I am fundamentally Chinese, how can I ever forget who I am? How can I forget my fundamental identity?”

And yet, we forget our fundamental identity all the time. As Christians, we are Christ-followers and citizens of Heaven. The Bible tells us that we are transplants here, just as Noah has been transplanted to the U.S. This is not our home.

Phil. 3:20 (NIV) “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We are foreigners in a foreign place. Even if we’ve lived somewhere our entire lives, it isn’t home. Home is with God. Our home is where He is. And the longings we have, that sense that something just isn’t right is our reminder that this isn’t it. We are looking forward to something much better, something greater, something that is coming, and that is our hope!

Hebrews 13:14 (NLT) “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

Or, as the Message puts it:

1 Peter 2:11 (MSG) “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it.”

So often we get so comfortable in our culture that we can forget our fundamental identity. We get distracted or lulled into complacency. We can forget our first language, the language of God’s love and purpose for our lives.

As Noah’s mom, I pray that he will become more and more integrated into American culture, and that he will get comfortable and feel at home here. But I also pray that he will come to know the Lord and in that find his true identity, an identity that doesn’t depend on culture or status or location. An identity as a citizen of Heaven, a permanent and unshakable hope and belonging.

As we experience things here that are tough or counter to the Bible, I pray it makes us uncomfortable. I pray it makes us long for our true home, and that we always remember where that is. I pray that we will keep our true identity so forefront in our minds that our response will always be, “How could I forget who I am? I AM a Christ-follower!”

2 Responses to “Two Cultures and True Identity”

  1. Jodi Abbinanti says:

    I am always glad to get an update. Thank you for sharing your story and pointing back to THE story. Joni Eareckson Tada has referenced a Jim Reeves song called ” This World is Not My Home.” Lyrics: This world is not my home / I’m just a-passing through / My treasures are laid up / Somewhere beyond the blue……

  2. jennifer says:

    So true! And I’m always happy to hear from you, Jodi. 🙂

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