This article is by Ricky Don Wilhelm
Many Christians have embarked on the adventure of life overseas but haven’t lasted long enough to tell much of a tale. A rough start is often the reason why. Finally, however, there’s a guide for a healthy beginning. In First 30 Daze, Larry and Susan McCrary provide Christian expats a helpful one-month guide for starting off on the right foot in their new host cultures.
The practical devotional-style book provides thirty daily Scripture references and topics about living abroad, followed by assignments for application to help the sojourner intentionally find his or her way through the crucial, but “daze-like,” time after arrival to the new location abroad.
As I read through the first few days of topics, I thought to myself, “Where was this book ten years ago when I was making my own start in a new culture?” I appreciated the simplicity of the thought process and the fact that the McCrarys’ stories are often light-hearted and humorous.
The Nuts and Bolts
The daily lessons only take a few minutes to read, and the applications are straightforward and relevant. Readers won’t feel overwhelmed by the weight of the content, nor is it more than they can handle on top of already busy schedules. The suggested applications are actually meant to streamline into daily life so that those utilizing the material won’t feel as though they need to go out of their way to “get their homework done.”
The discipline to follow their guidance and the time to fill out the journaling section will yield incredible results. Not only will it serve the reader well now, but it will also create great memories for years down the road. Journalers will enjoy looking back at their first experiences and impressions and realizing how far they have come.
The authors are a great source of wisdom to the reader. From the first day, they offer one of the most valuable lessons an expat should understand about a new location: things will go far better for you if you approach your new culture with humility. “Entering a new culture requires a humble spirit,” they write. “The people around you know a thing or two (or more!) about their own culture. Trust them. Lean on them. Be willing to admit you don’t know much but are willing and eager to learn.”
As the McCrarys explain, admitting your helplessness to people around you and putting yourself in a posture of learning and dependence on them will actually serve you better in the long run. You’ll make more friends. You’ll accomplish more. And you’ll experience the hospitality and generosity of your new home, making it feel more like home.
Although I can’t stress the importance of the topic of language learning enough, I actually believe the soul of this book is found on Day 8: Intentionality. The authors share about how, when they were struggling the most, they found themselves retreating to the relaxing familiarity of their apartment—a common response for people experiencing culture shock. “Finally, we realized that this tendency to retreat had to stop.”
They created a list of things to find in their neighborhood, which helped them to be more intentional about engaging the environment around them. The McCrarys started to feel more at home as a result. That, in my opinion, is the main reason this book is a valuable tool for those moving to other contexts. It will help expats purposefully step out of their doors and accomplish meaningful tasks that lead to a well-adjusted life. As the McCrarys said, “Being fully invested and fully present moves you more quickly from what is new to what is familiar. Intentionality is the ability to determine how you will view your day and how you will engage well.”
One word of caution I’d like to add about the book. Although it has the feel of a daily Bible study or devotional, it is not meant for that purpose. The Christian is certainly always kept in mind, and Scriptures are referenced. Spiritual formation and Bible teaching, however, are not the driving force in this work. That fact doesn’t take away from the sound advice given for life overseas, though. The McCrarys refer to the book as a “how-to” guidebook for living abroad, and I agree that this is the best way to classify it.
If you are preparing for a short-term trip or vacation abroad, this book won’t be of much use to you. Feel free to grab your camera, strap on your fanny pack, and go. However, if you are considering a life overseas for any length of time beyond a month, currently living overseas but moving to a new city, or just need a reboot to your overseas life, I highly recommend this book. Living in a foreign land is a challenge, to say the very least. As children of God, we want to do all to the glory of God. First 30 Daze will be a great resource to help you live intentionally and for the glory of God from the very beginning of your adventure abroad.
Ricky Don Wilhelm is a non-profit worker living in Russia for the past eight years. You can follow him on Twitter @therickydon.