Postgraduate life in the present day sees a lot of transitions. It is not uncommon for medical students like myself to move around the United States in search of a school, rotations, and residency interviews. It can be difficult to feel rooted in any one particular place because of the way the American medical education system structures itself around positional flexibility. Also being a minority in post-Christian America can add further challenges in forming healthy social relationships with local peers.
Having grown up close to the San Gabriel Valley, I took the large Asian American community for granted. Having at my disposal many Hawaiian poke bowls, Vietnamese pho, Taiwanese hot pot, Korean BBQ, Japanese ramen and sushi, Chinese dim sum, boba milk tea, and many other Asian supermarkets and restaurants felt normative. After moving to other states, I found that I lived in areas that do not have as many Asian restaurants nearby.
You can, however, usually rely on some common American companies being present: Rite Aid, CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Taco Bell, Chipotle, Starbucks, Panera Bread, McDonald’s, etc. Curiously, many states also have their own regional specific restaurants and supermarkets such as In-N-Out and Stater Bros in California, Culver’s and Publix in Florida, Tim Horton’s and Wegman’s in Pennsylvania. Thus you get the feeling that each state has its own personality even within the same country.
Sojourners and Exiles
The Bible sees Christians as “sojourners and exiles in the world.” (Leviticus 25:23; 1 Peter 2:11) There is a very real sense in which we are to forsake home and familiarity for the sake of others. Believers are not to be grounded or rooted in this world. Instead, we are rooted in God, who sends us wherever He wishes to bless our neighbors, a pattern we often see in the Bible.
For example, Daniel, an exile in Babylon, sought the welfare of his neighbors. He stayed true to his Jewish heritage, resolving that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank (Daniel 1:8). Even so, Daniel and his three friends sought to bless the Babylonians and submitted to their educational system by learning the literature and language of the Chaldeans (Daniel 1:4). His steadfast loyalty to the Lord led Nebuchadnezzar to praise his God as the King of heaven and the Most High (Daniel 4:34, 37).
In the modern era, the reasons for moving around range from escaping war and famine to seeking jobs and education. But no matter the reason, for Christians, as sojourners and exiles, we are to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against our soul. We walk honorably amongst our neighbors, that they may worship the God we serve (1 Peter 2:11-12).
Embracing my identity as a sojourner and exile in this world, I look for a local church who holds a high view of Scripture and desires to stay faithful and obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ, and fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. The local cultures of the places I find myself in may be quite different than the one I was born and raised in, but I learn to adapt to them.
I can be flexible in my external circumstances because I have God as my rock, refuge, and strength. In other words, you can deal with variables when you have a constant you can fall back on. Thankfully, Bible reading and prayer are portable actions, so I can do these things wherever I go, and these two means of grace should inform and shape the actions and decisions I make. In addition, social and communication technologies such as Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, phone calls, and emails help compress the world, so distance is not always an obstacle to staying close to home, but the priority should be placed on focusing on the local people.
God With Us
I have met people in the LGBT community in my medical school, and I have met people who are Zoroastrian and Muslim. I always welcome hearing their stories and their struggles, and I do my best to model the gospel through these relational channels. I build relationships with my peers as best I can, though if the activities involve alcohol or drugs, I am more reluctant to participate. Sometimes, it is difficult to show peers that rejecting these activities is not rejecting them as friends, but they can still take the rejection personally. Faithfulness to Christ informs the friendships I make and it will drive others away while also drawing others in.
Staying close to Christ while being away from home is indeed difficult, but possible. It involves knowing your faith well enough that you can stand on your own. When you are separated from like-minded peers in a community that is alien to your faith, you can still hold fast to God and bless your peers. Bible reading, prayer, and the local church all ground your local experiences in the context of a covenantal relationship with God. I can stay close to Christ wherever I go because He is with me wherever I go as I seek to proclaim the glory of His name to my neighbors.
Anthony grew up as a member of FCBC Walnut. He is a current medical school student and hopes to minister to people both medically and spiritually. He loves writing topics related to Christianity, movies, TV shows, anime, medicine, and art on Instagram as @anthonylee.tma. View more articles from Anthony or visit the blog homepage.