When You’re the Stranger: God’s Message to the Newcomer

During these past 19 months of nomadic living, we’ve had some hard moments — long weary days with roadblock after roadblock, sickness in an unfamiliar place, less than ideal living situations, seasons of loneliness, and more. I’ve heard other travelers talk about how a normal bad day at home feels far worse when you’re in unfamiliar territory with few or no friends nearby to walk through it with you.

You don’t have to travel as a lifestyle to experience this. Ever been on vacation with the family, and one of you gets really sick while you’re away from home or perhaps even away from a pharmacy? It’s unfortunately a little more complicated than getting sick at home.

Preparing to travel full-time. Don’t let the smile fool you — hours before this photo was taken, I was stressed to the point of tears!

Being in a new place also means you have to relearn everything you took for granted before — the roads, the stores, the people, the culture, even the language depending where you moved from.

Every move makes me feel like I’m floundering just a bit. No matter how many times I move or how used I am to learning new places, the uncertainty and the hassles of moving don’t go away. They become familiar, but they’re still there waiting to be dealt with.

Moments like these are when God consistently reaches out to anchor me. He’s taught me to give myself grace and space. Space for missing the people and places I’d left behind, space to let myself slowly acclimate to a whole new place, space to deal with the change in a way that was kind to my own heart, grace to let myself be sad or frustrated or scared just for a moment.

He taught me that He didn’t fault me for any of these struggles, but that He actually understood them better than I’d ever realized.

This concept came into sharp focus for me one spring day. I was reading the book of Deuteronomy, and a certain word in one of the verses I’d just read made me do a double take. I literally really had to read the verse again to see what I’d just missed. Here’s the verse:

He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt — Deuteronomy 10:18,19

Can you guess which word caught my eye? Sojourner. I knew that word essentially meant stranger or visitor. That was ME. At the time, I was a brand new sojourner of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

I just couldn’t believe God had placed me in the same sentence as orphans and widows. That’s not a sentence I would have ever placed myself in. In my mind, we didn’t have anything in common.

But then it hit me. What we had in common — we were alone, feeling disconnected and missing the comfort of our past reality. Facing a new normal, feeling off-center and lost.

Us at our first assignment, wondering what we just signed ourselves up for

But in this verse, God was looking right at us, caring for us. In this one verse, God was acknowledging what was hard about this lifestyle, saying He saw me and understood, and wrapping me in the warmest hug, telling me He was on the road with me, and He had my back. Always.

I’m always excited when I find verses that are exactly what I needed to hear, but this time, I was over-the-moon. Even though I was in such a weird, uncommon season of life, God somehow had still called it out by name. He had a specific message about it in His Word.

This verse sent me on a hunt for what else God had to say about sojourners. Here’s what I’ve discovered so far:

What Even Is a Sojourner?

In case any Bible scholars happen to read this, I’ll clarify that the word sojourner in the Bible can mean a few different things, depending on which Hebrew or Greek word was originally used and its context.

Without getting into too many details — in the Old Testament, it could mean outsider/stranger, immigrant, a foreigner in Israel who converts to Judaism, or a foreigner in Israel who worships their own gods. In the New Testament, it typically means guest/stranger, foreigner, or exile.

I think this is worth noting, because it shows how many kinds of sojourners there are — just like today. There’s nomads like us, there’s temporary visitors, there’s immigrants, and there’s foreigners. There’s people who are new just to a community or culture and those new to a city or country.

Celebrating our wedding anniversary in a new city

There’s people who may have technically lived somewhere for a while but still feel like outsiders, not yet having found their place. There’s some who are excited to be a newcomer and some who are terrified about it.

Whichever camp you fall into, fellow sojourner, God has a few things to say to you.

God’s Message to the Newcomer:

You Are Close to My Heart

Who better to understand the heart of a sojourner than another sojourner?

Abraham is well-known for his nomadic lifestyle. He lost his wife in a place that wasn’t his home and had to ask for property in order to bury her (Genesis 23:4). He experienced the uncertainty and unpredictability of living away from home and all that’s familiar. But what’s amazing is how God walks every step with him — providing for him, protecting him, speaking to him, and forgiving his mistakes.

The children of Israel were sojourners for hundreds of years— first in Egypt, then wandering around the desert (Genesis 15:13). They experienced more than just loneliness. They experienced discrimination, hatred, and slavery. And it must have felt like traveling through the wilderness brought new challenges and tests of faith every day.

And this is my favorite example of all. Jesus Himself had no home (Matthew 8:20). He was always moving to new cities and meeting new people, sleeping wherever He could find a place, I suppose. He had to rebuild a new tribe of friends after He left His hometown and began His ministry. He doesn’t just understand the feelings and frustrations of being an outsider; He’s experienced them.

Jesus’ familiarity with your feelings of disconnection and instability make His words even sweeter.

“I see you, child, and all you’re facing. I know what you’re thinking and understand what you’re feeling (Psalm 139:1–3). You may feel unknown, and it may seem like others are keeping you at arm’s distance, but I will hold you close to my heart. Just as I’ve looked after sojourners in times past (Deut 24:17–22), I will look after you too. I will be with you in times of trouble (Psalm 91:14,15), and my angels will guard you wherever you go (Psalm 91:11). No matter how far or how often you move, my goodness will chase after you (Psalm 23:6). You may feel alone, but you never are. You may feel lost, but I have never lost you. I will guide you in places you aren’t familiar with, I’ll make the uneven ground smooth, and I’ll walk each step with you (Isaiah 42:16).”

There’s One Place You’ll Always Belong

No matter where we travel, one of our top priorities is always finding a home church. I won’t lie — it’s a little uncomfortable to walk into a brand new church, hoping someone will notice and talk to you. It often takes more initiative on our part than anyone else’s to start connecting with people and becoming an active part of the church. But even though it takes work and commitment and courage, it’s ALWAYS been worth it. And here’s why — we always feel at home in church.

It’s absolutely beautiful how this works. No matter where we go, we are always a part of the church — of the family of God. And whenever you walk into a new church building, you have an instant, powerful connection with all the other people there. No matter where you are, you get to worship. You get to study the Bible. Your soul is nourished, and your heart is fed. It’s amazingly beautiful how people all over the world can be instantly connected through their shared faith.

Sweet friends we met on the road through church!

Some of the people who have blessed us the most on the road are people we met in church. These people welcomed us with wide open arms, went out of their way to speak to us at every church service, found ways for us to serve our new community, invited us into their homes, and made time for us, not just on Sundays, but on the days in between. These kind souls knew what it meant to love like Jesus loves, and they left their own comfort zones to make us feel like we belonged.

But this need to belong is about more than just going to church. Jesus’ message makes that abundantly clear:

“When you are with My people, you are with family. When you’re with our family, you are no longer a stranger (Ephesians 2:19). You’re a part of something far bigger than yourself. And the truth is — everyone in the household of faith is a stranger and foreigner here on Earth. You’re all walking in a place where you don’t fully belong. And while I know you may long for a home here on Earth, everyone in our family is longing for a better Home where they’ll be fully accepted and fully freed from evil and all the destruction that sin has brought to Earth. As long as you walk this planet, there will always be a part of you that’s waiting for something even better (Hebrews 11:13–16). You will find that one day, child. But until then, I will hold you up and cheer you on (Psalms 94:18,19).”

You Know What It’s Like to Be New. So Welcome Others in My Name.

Before we began traveling full-time, we made the move from Georgia, where both of us had lived most of our lives, to Oregon, where we lived for nearly the next two years. I moved there with my husband knowing only one family in the entire state (and I had only met that family once.) Starting over in such a new place was like getting a clean slate, a redo of sorts. No one knew me, and I knew no one.

Starting over can be an incredible opportunity. You learn so much about yourself and have the chance to remake yourself into whomever you want to be without anyone knowing who you were before. But the process of building community is slow, painfully so sometimes.

I remember thinking at one point, “Haven’t I been here long enough to have real friends by now? Why do I still feel like an outsider?” Thankfully, by the time we left two years after moving there, we had begun to build solid friendships that were blossoming into something special. (So we were sad to leave them!) That season taught me just how grueling the process of starting over in a new place can be and how real friendships don’t usually develop in a matter of weeks, no matter how fiercely you wish they would.

Some of our sweet Oregon friends that we were so sad to leave!

Those of us who have experienced this feeling of being new, of sitting on the fringes, have been handed a great responsibility, We know what it’s like and how other people could have helped us through the process.

Those of us who have experienced this firsthand should be the very firstones to extend a lifeline to anyone who looks a little lost or uncertain. We should take the initiative to speak to that couple we’ve never seen at church before. We should invite our new neighbors over for coffee, even if there is a bit of a language barrier. We should be family to the people who have none nearby. We should do the things that might make us uncomfortable in order to make them feel accepted.

Our efforts will make such a difference that they’ll never forget it. I know this because I’ve never forgotten. I could list off all the times people did this for us. It meant SO much to us, because, unfortunately, this kind of love and hospitality isn’t all that common.

I remember the family who invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them so we wouldn’t be alone. I remember the man who took the time to mentor Kaleb and encourage his heart at a time he really needed it. I remember the lady who took me out to Chinese and asked how she could help us feel more rooted in the community. I remember the couple that spontaneously invited us to spend the weekend with them at the lake. I remember the ladies from a weekly Bible study who prayed over me before we moved to our next assignment. These people left a permanent impression on my heart, and I want to offer the same kind of hospitality to others.

Based on Jesus’ words, I think He wants that too:

“You’re in a unique season of life now, but you can still notice the needs of people around you and help them (Romans 12:13). You’ve experienced the difference that hospitality makes, and now you can make that difference for someone else. Just as I constantly invited people to gather with me on Earth and created a space of belonging for them, you can do the same (Matthew 4:19, 11:28, Luke 19:5,6). Spread the fragrance of my extravagant love to those who seem out of place or lonely (2 Corinthians 2:14). You never know the story or the pain of the person you’re welcoming. By showing this kind of love, some people have even hosted angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).”

Last Words: Jesus & the Newcomer

Being the person who doesn’t know anyone is never comfortable. Jesus knows this. And He makes his opinion on intentionally welcoming people crystal clear in Matthew 25. At the end of this chapter, Jesus is commending one group of people and condemning another.

Know what the difference between the two was? Hospitality.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” — Matthew 25:35

To me, this verse isn’t just talking about acts of service. It’s also talking about how basic needs — hunger, thirst, human connection, etc. — are not so basic that they don’t matter to God. Quite the contrary actually. They seem to matter very much to Him.

All of my studies have shown me that God has a special place in His heart for people like you, friend. People who may feel like a stranger. But you are not a stranger to Him. He knows you, He’s felt what you’re feeling, and His heart is for you (Romans 8:31).

Stone Mountain in our home state of Georgia

This post first appeared on Jessica’s Medium page.

If you’re new to a certain area and are struggling to build your new community, read How to Meet People & Make Friends When You Travel.


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