Blending into different areas, yet not having one specific fit seems to be the story of my life. I see it as a blessing more so now than before, but even now it can still be confusing. I can serve in different ministry roles, but haven’t yet found one that fits me just right. I’ve gone from being the youth intern, to being the children’s pastor, then the youth pastor, to an English ministry pastor, to now a director of family ministries. They may seem to be all within the same category of ministry roles, but the fit is not quite right.
How does one feel at peace without feeling a sense of belonging?
As a teenager, I would go in and out of feeling like I “fit in” and then feeling like I was an outcast. I was one of very few Filipinos in school, but even the Filipinos I knew were different from me, speaking Tagalog and visiting the Philippines regularly. To top it off, I was overweight. I was not what I felt like most Filipinos looked like, nor was I living their familiar typical lifestyle. Not only did I feel like I did not fit in culturally with the Filipino students, I felt like I did not quite fit into any other ethnic group.
…trying to understand stereotypes of my own ethnic background was difficult because of my lack of familiarity with Filipino culture
Even trying to understand stereotypes of my own ethnic background was difficult because of my lack of familiarity with Filipino culture. I had westernized Filipino traditions and grew up learning some American traditions, but I was not fully immersed in the “All-American” culture either. My closest girlfriends were Korean, half-German and half-Mexican, a mix of European, and one other Filipino. I would go to their family parties since my family is not nearby. Each household seemed so different and as I got older I could see the stereotypes that these friends of mine would embrace. I knew how to adapt, but I still did not fit in. Even in the Filipino household.
Perhaps this explains one of my favorite activities: venturing through different ethnic markets. I love experiencing the culture, the language, and sometimes the traditions within each one. One day, I was in the local Filipino market and I heard Tagalog all around. At one point, I noticed that I still could not understand exactly what was being said. Just like the time when I was in a crowded Filipino bakery and was yelled at to do something I could not understand, I was reminded that this wasn’t “my people.” I didn’t belong here either. It is strange to feel like a tourist in all of the Filipino markets and restaurants I have grown up going to. It is even more noticeable when trying to share these places with loved ones. I cannot explain or answer their questions about food or why things look the way they are.
It is strange to feel like a tourist in all of the Filipino markets and restaurants I have grown up going to.
Fast forward to a more recent experience in the local church the Lord allowed me to serve in. It was an environment full of mostly petite people that I did not fit in with physically – not to mention, I still did not speak the common language or understand the cultural nuances. Once, in a discussion about Mother’s Day flowers, I was asked what my home church would use. I responded with carnations, and was met by a combination of laughs, disbelief, and scoffing. “Do you want them to come after you?” I did not understand, and had to have it explained to me that carnations are typically given at Vietnamese funerals. To display them on Mother’s Day would symbolize death.
Where is my place?
I have always felt as though I had one foot in the norm and the whole rest of my body outside of it. Do I belong anywhere? This kind of question can lead to a lot of restlessness and unease. I know I am not alone with questions of belonging. In recent shows, movies, and even video games, this question of place has been raised. Most recently, we can look at Elsa in Disney’s Frozen 2, a character who never feels settled, even in the place where she rules as royalty!
I am sure many of you have your own stories of wondering if you belong. It is not uncommon these days to read of others’ stories of being between generations in one household, growing up in a monoethnic neighborhood, or generally feeling lost in your community. So I ask you now, how do you allow that question of belonging to be answered?
When these doubts or questions arise, I try to remember to turn to Galatians 3:23-29:
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Whenever we may feel like we do not entirely belong, for whatever reason and in whatever type of environment, we can find peace in remembering that we already do belong. This world, the internet, our minds, may all be really good at making us feel like we have no place, but Jesus reminds us that our place of belonging, our home, is with Him. We are a part of this long lineage and have our place with our Savior.
Though we once did not belong because of sin, we have now been given the acceptance into the Kingdom of the Lord, unique characteristics and all. Regardless of our ethnic background, gender, or even our cultural and generational gaps, we are one in Christ Jesus. We are His (Galatians 3:28-29). Thanks be to God!