I am a bicultural person. I’m both Burundian and American. I live on both continents – the school year stateside and summer on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. I juggled passports and, for a long time, identities. Being both wasn’t easy.
Then I realized that Jesus is bicultural, straddling two different kingdoms. He’s fully at home in heaven and equally at ease in skin. I began to see how many Biblical men and women moved between lands and cultures. Think Ruth the Moabite, Moses, Abraham and Sarah from Ur– people with multiple cultures that shaped their identity. Bicultural people kept the story interesting.
So I embraced my identity as bicultural, knowing this shaped both my identity and my story. Maybe being both offered a wholeness, not fracture. Maybe being both allowed me to embrace more of my true self as expressed in each culture, each place. This wouldn’t be the first time that two becoming one would be considered a good thing…
An obvious result of living a bicultural life is the movement between different places. I own more suitcases and travel locks than I can count. I can name the airline routes and carriers to and from Bujumbura as well as my favorite duty-free shops along the way. I’m in and out of countries so much I now carry the super-sized passport.
But the two becomes challenging in the daily living. The coming and going of it all creates disorientation well beyond a few days of jetlag. How do you live in two worlds as a whole person?
Living in transit has become a metaphor for me, a way of leaning into a new understanding of vocation. Instead of one home, one place, one career or ministry position I’m open to several over various seasons. I’m not seeking a fixed vocation so much as a vocational way of living.
Regardless of where I am, my life is dedicated to pursuing the justice and jubilee of Jesus. That looks like dancing with our Batwa friends, making fireless cookers and handing out identity cards when I’m in Burundi. But in the States it involves story telling, researching, writing and dreaming. Some seasons entail deep reading on gospel economics for conversations among our African friends while another requires sustained thinking on the theology of adoption for a future book venture. But all these things find their place in my larger vocation of following Jesus betwixt and between the places in my life.
My vocation isn’t one thing or located in one place. My call is to be a person of justice and mercy in the various places, seasons of life and different tasks presented to me over a lifetime lived in transit. Vocation isn’t stationary or static, but always on the move like the Spirit who calls us.
When you lean into vocational living, there are lessons from real life in transit that help:
- Pack light if you can. When you live between countries you need all the essentials to fit in your suitcase. You must know the non-negotiable items and be free to leave lesser things behind. It helps if your honest about things that matter to you – I travel back and forth with icons, Maldon sea salt, fountain pens and the same worn collection of Walter Brueggemann sermons. I don’t feel guilty, these are just things that matter to me, that make me feel at home wherever I am.
The fewer things we take, the easier our travel will be. It’s hard to move fast when you’re lugging heavy baggage – most of which you don’t really need.
- All plans are provisional. Itineraries will change, connections might be missed or flights re-routed and that’s all right. You haven’t messed up or missed the boat or fallen out of God’s favor. Maybe you’ve actually walked right into the unexpected place where He’s already at work.
- Allow each place to reveal it’s unique beauty and opportunities. When I’m in Bujumbura, the Congolese mountains sitting behind Lake Tanganyika mesmerize me. I wake to loud birdsong every morning – and I love to listen with my eyes closed. I allow my introverted side to savor long stretches of quiet time to read commentaries cover to cover. I don’t cook. No diet coke. I accept the change in diet as a good thing; time to enjoy other tastes.
Back in the states I love to walk barefoot on the carpet. I’m in the kitchen every night, relishing every spice and all the possibilities. I’m thankful for the mobility, the independence. I pour ink onto pages in my journal at Starbucks almost daily. I wait for the UPS man to deliver brown boxes with books to my doorstep. I enjoy the increased pace, the structure of each day.
I find that each place or season in life allows us the freedom to do, and not do, certain things. And it is quite joyful.
- Try new things. Don’t assume you are only good at one thing like teaching. Maybe you’ll discover you can plan an event if you called upon to do so. Maybe you can parent after all. Maybe (to your surprise) you have a book in you. It’s happened to me along the way. You realize that your capacity is greater than a single calling, it meets the culture you’re in.
- Culture shock is normal and will, in time, pass. When we move back and forth we’ll experience disorientation. This is to be expected, it doesn’t mean we are going crazy or have tumbled out of God’s perfect will. We simply adjust to a new climate, a new pace and new season of life. And I’ve come to appreciate a little disorientation in my life because it keeps me mindful of my deeper center in Christ, not any one place or position.
I’m a bicultural woman living in transit. This says something about who I am, but also has become a metaphor for how I understand my place(s) in the world. This is how I understand my identity, my vocational kind of life.