Where Is God When You Study Abroad?

If you go to Hope, you know that it’s basically a Christian Bubble.

You know multiple people going on mission trips this summer, tons of your friends work with Young Life, and you’re probably a part of at least two Bible studies and a house church. And this is all great! Hope is a perfect environment to develop and strengthen your faith before heading out into the “real world” after graduation. I’m extremely thankful for what Hope has taught me about God and myself.

But it’s incredibly hard to leave this Christian Bubble, and I realized this as soon as I arrived at the University of Aberdeen.

It’s not like I thought God wasn’t here. I knew God was here and everywhere, but studying abroad puts you outside of that Christian Bubble and into the dead center of that “real world” everyone talks about. You’re in a new environment with a new culture. The friends you make probably don’t talk about Bible studies and mission trips. Drinking culture is also huge over here since the legal age is 18, not 21. You’re suddenly the odd one out.

So where have I found God? Has stepping outside of Hope’s Christian Bubble been a blessing or an obstacle for me?

When I first arrived, I made it my mission to find God. I went to a bunch of Aberdeen Christian Union events, including a weekend retreat, and joined a Bible study on campus. I also decided to take a New Testament class so that I would keep reading my Bible. Now in a more secular environment, I wanted to prove to myself that I could still be a “good Christian” without Hope’s help.

But what I didn’t realize would happen is just how much God would find me. In some of these cases I didn’t even really have to try and seek him out. After praying for a loyal friend group, He gave me four friends (one of whom is a Hope student) who respect my beliefs and ask about them. I’m able to evangelize and have fun, even if not every one of my friends knows that Paul and Saul are the same person.

I think God has also used this study abroad experience to mature me and help me understand things about Him that had been bothering me for a long time. This came through in a lot of different aspects, mainly in the way I approach relationships, and He also used my growing maturity to dive me deeper into an understanding of sin, repentance, and grace. It was here in Aberdeen that God finally got through to me about some chronic sins in my life and urged me to confess those sins, repent, and move forward. I’m certainly not perfect, and I fall back into my mess from time to time, but this was a huge moment for me. I honestly don’t think this would have happened if it weren’t for this study abroad experience.

And overall, I think it’s been beneficial to take my faith to this new place. A lot of times at Hope I get stuck on one of those “Jesus highs”. It usually ends up during church at Moran Park. I’m always the emotional person crying during altar call at the very end, waving my hands in the air, and exercising my spiritual gifts. But here, I’ve learned that real life isn’t composed of mainly “Jesus highs”. Instead, I’ve had to realize that my day-to-day interactions and walk with God is just as, if not more, important than my “drunk in the Holy Spirit” moments. God hasn’t left me this entire time, and He has quietly nudged me towards understanding, confession, and joy. He’s allowed me to experience this part of His world for myself and use my adventures to teach me and show me His love. He’s matured me so much, and I know I will not be returning home the same Christian I was when I left. Now, I’ve seen that God truly follows us to the ends of His earth.

If you’re worried about your faith life when traveling abroad, don’t let it stop you. Seek God and places of worship, but also trust that God will find you, too. It can’t be all up to us. If it were, then why would we need Jesus? Jesus says that if we knock, the door will be opened for us, so trust that He will open that door.

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