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In Exile—Still Working

From the series Outside the Wall—In Exile

A three-week trip outside the country that is now at six months and counting.

Despite how strange and “Gilligan-esque” that may sound in normal times, we’ve found that our story is not all that unique in 2020 amongst our expat friends who make their homes in China.

Recently married, my wife and I had planned a trip to her home country over the Lunar New Year season to have a wedding reception with her friends and family who hadn’t been able to travel to China for last year’s ceremony.

Getting out proved challenging, as we made it on Lufthansa’s final flight out of China before they stopped service. Getting back in has been even more so, with return flights cancelled and then the borders shut to foreigners in late March.

Adapting to life in “exile” has had its ups and downs. I’m very grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to continue to do my job remotely for the China-based company where I work.

It’s made for some strange hours as calls with colleagues in China can be early in the morning and late at night. It’s also clear that everyone’s “work from home” set up is not exactly equal.

One particular moment stands out in my mind from the time spent sharing this two-bedroom apartment with my in-laws, who have been so kind to host us for the majority of our time here. While I typed away one night on my computer, my wife entered the bedroom with a broom, followed closely by her mother, who was giving instructions in her native language on how to kill the mosquitoes that had infiltrated the home. Between the violent thrusts of the broom toward the ceiling, my mother-in-law’s “ohs and ahs” at near misses by my wife, and the distant joking call of my father-in-law to “not kill the mosquitoes because they are Chuck’s friends,” it was clear that my efforts to stay focused on the assignment in front of me would be in vain.

Our team—usually based together in China but now dispersed across the globe by travel restrictions—has maintained contact throughout the six months through emails and countless video meetings. Zoom, Google Hangouts, Ring Central, Cisco, Microsoft Teams—I think we’ve used them all! It’s been helpful to see each other and maintain the sense of camaraderie, even while we are far apart. We’ve been buoyed in recent weeks that some team members have successfully navigated the “return to China” process, enduring the quarantine upon arrival and getting to work again in the country.

For my wife and me, it has certainly been an eventful first year of marriage! We’ve seen the value of flexibility and adaptability, even down to the clothes we wear. Arriving in February with a small suitcase of t-shirts and swim clothes for summer in the southern hemisphere, I’ve been grateful as the weather has turned cold for the jackets borrowed from my father-in-law and the warm socks knitted by my mother-in-law.

And while there are many things we miss about China, we’ve also seen how God, in his sovereign wisdom, has used this time for our good and his glory. There are many things I’ve learned about my wife’s culture and background in six months that I would never have learned in a short three-week trip. It’s given us the chance to build relationships with the family and friends that I had never met—and that my wife had not seen in the past eight years except during short and infrequent trips home. We’ve also seen many opportunities to share about the good news of our Savior with friends and family members—almost all of whom don’t know the Lord.

This experience has helped me—kicking and screaming as I go—to make some progress in focusing on the things that I can control, while resting in God’s good plans for those that I cannot. Instead of checking the updated visa regulations or the status of my PU letter application or flight prices for the third time that day, I could instead think of the opportunities I would have that day to love my new family and friends and to ask the Holy Spirit to guide our conversations with them to important gospel truths.

I’m learning to see more clearly that God’s ways are higher than mine, even when, or perhaps especially when, I can’t understand why things are going the way they are. So, while we are continuing to work to get back to China and to see our dear friends there again soon, we are rejoicing for this special time, for all that we’ve learned and for the very interesting stories we will one day, God-willing, be able to tell our future grandchildren about the “three week tour” from China to South America.

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Image credit: aranha from Pixabay.

Chuck Lamont

Chuck Lamont (pseudonym) is a China-based businessman. View Full Bio

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