November 5, 2021

Lessons from a Nomad

Living through unexpected transition

by an Alliance international worker serving in Eastern Asia

On January 29, 2021, we were in San Francisco with 12 suitcases, negative COVID test results, expensive plane tickets, and visas in hand. After several months of delay, we were ready to return to our host country in East Asia.

There was just one problem: our host country had not given us the green light to board the plane. We watched as everyone else checked their luggage, hoping and asking many to pray that permission would be granted in the final hour.

For reasons we will never know, it was not granted, and our wait to return continues even now.

That day was the beginning of our family living like nomads: two to three days in one bed, two to three weeks in another. We had sold our car the day before the flight and turned in our townhouse keys.

That day and the days following, I felt anxious, unsettled, and angry. That day was not unlike the experience of many international workers as we are at the mercy of human governments and their policies more than ever before.

Jesus the Nomad

Our experience begs the question: How do we live well in a life of frequent and unexpected transition?

Interestingly, Jesus’ three years of earthly ministry were all lived as a nomad. Jesus proclaimed, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). Never before had I taken this passage quite so literally.

Jesus’ ministry took Him to over 20 different locations in three years. He spent 40 nights sleeping in the desert; perhaps a few nights in Peter’s home; some nights in Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ home; a stormy night on a boat; and one excruciating night in the Garden of Gethsemane. The rest? Maybe He camped. Maybe He slept on someone’s extra bed mat. We don’t really know.

Jesus understands this nomadic life. What could I learn from Him about how to live well in these months ahead? What did it mean to live like Jesus the nomad?

Depending on the Father

Culturally, I, along with many other Americans, value my independence, my sense of control, and my sense of security. Although early first century small-town Jewish life was very different from today, I wonder if these same values challenged Jesus? From what we know, He spent almost three decades living in the same small town as a carpenter before entering three years of nomadic ministry. Did He, too, in His humanity, feel a loss of independence, control and security?

Living nomadically means a loss of independence. Accepting hospitality and generosity is often humbling. I am dependent on other people’s food, mattresses, timelines, and expectations for keeping them company. Although I’m incredibly grateful, it can be tiring.

I also fight against the thought that I am a competent middle-aged adult who should be able to provide these things for my family without the help of others.

Jesus invites me into dependence as He Himself modeled it, both on others and on His Father. Choosing to be appropriately dependent on others mirrors the dependence I desire to have on the Father too. He reminds me that He is the vine, and I am a dependent branch. Apart form Him, I can do nothing (see John 15:5).

Losing Control

Living nomadically means losing some sense of my control. Often, we cannot control how long we can stay in a certain place. I cannot control when governments will issue the appropriate visas for our family to return or if each new community we enter will welcome us or ignore us.

Jesus invites me to continually surrender as He surrendered to the Father. I would love to know the times and dates of my life—even for just the coming winter season—then I could plan! If I could plan, then I could feel like I’m in control. But Jesus says it’s not for me to know the times and dates. I am simply to live in the power of the Holy Spirit as a witness of His goodness and grace (see Acts 1:7). Jesus also shows us the full extent of His surrender on the eve of His crucifixion when He cries out, “Father, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

A Secure Identity

Living nomadically means losing my sense of security. There is security in knowing I can take refuge in my own home. There is security in the familiarity of a community that knows you. There is security in knowing the grocery story, the shops, and the roads. Living nomadically often leaves me feeling untethered and insecure like a tent without pegs easily tossed about by the wind.

But Jesus invites me to live securely in Him. Jesus often stated who He was. He refused to be defined by the thoughts of people in His hometown, the disciples, or the religious leaders of the day. Jesus rested securely in His identity as the Father’s Son. I, too, desire to rest securely in my identity as a child of God, dearly loved, called by name, and created with a purpose to do good works prepared in advance (see Eph. 2:10).

How did Jesus live as a nomad? Dependent, surrendered, and secure in His identity. Whether we find ourselves unexpectedly transitioning or having lived in the same home for 30 years, may we accept the invitation of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to these fresh pastures of dependence, surrender, and security in Him.

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