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From Hidden Immigrants to Hidden Ambassadors

July 9, 2024

Andrew Hedinger

In September of 2002 I was just under 6 feet tall, with blond hair, blue eyes, and the type of neutral Midwestern accent that (at least according to Midwesterners) news anchors spend time and money cultivating because it is so easy to listen to and understand. I was 15 and starting 9th grade... and I was nervous. I wondered if I would be able to find my locker, and if I did find my locker, would I be able to open it? What if I couldn’t find my classrooms; or couldn’t figure out the lunchroom? What would my classmates be like? Would they like me? Would I like them? Would I be able to understand them, and would they be able to understand me?

My family had just made the 2,500-mile trip from Puebla, Mexico to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I had left behind the VW bug taxis, taco stands, and zocalos in exchange for rolling green hills covered in cows, Amish buggies, and pretzels. More significantly, I had left behind one cultural environment and entered another. As I walked into Garden Spot High School in New Holland, Pennsylvania, I felt every bit as much of an outsider as if I had walked into a Mongolian yurt in Central Asia. Many of my new classmates had lived in the same community all their lives. They had grown up watching the same TV shows, hearing the same stories, sharing the same vocabulary. They used slang that was normal to them; but they sounded odd and out of place to me. In fact, I once asked one of my new friends the meaning of a word I had never heard before; one that started with the letter F and had four letters. Then I blushed as they giggled nervously and tried to figure out how to help the clueless kid.

Of course, I was not the only person who was new to Lancaster County, but my situation was unique because most new arrivals had tell-tale markers that signaled their newness, alerting other students and teachers that this person may not be from here. Many of them had accents, or wore clothes, or had skin colors, that marked them as an immigrant... I did not. In their book Third Culture Kids Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken identify people like me as Hidden Immigrants: individuals who look and sound like everyone else in their passport country, but who feel more at home in another country.[1] Because of my background, I did not have the cultural knowledge my peers did. I didn’t understand why Seinfeld references were funny... I had never watched the show. I couldn’t catch the humor in certain phrases... I had never heard that comedian. But my lack of cultural knowledge was not obvious to my peers until I said something that didn’t fit, or until I failed to laugh when I should have, because on the outside I looked like I fit in.  

I was thinking about this experience of being a hidden immigrant recently and how much our call as followers of Jesus is to be hidden immigrants from a heavenly kingdom, living and sojourning here on earth. Hidden Immigrants may feel out of place in their new location, but that’s only because they do feel at home somewhere else. In the letter to the Hebrews, the author is reflecting on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and tells us:

13 These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. 16 But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Heb. 11:13-16, CSB)

As followers of Jesus, we have this same promise of a better place. We know that when we arrive there, we will no longer feel awkward and strange, instead we will be at home in a place where every tear has been dried, every hurt soothed... we will be at home in intimate relationship with our God and our brothers and sisters for the rest of eternity. We will never feel like outsiders again.

The world we live in, and its culture, are broken. Death, disunity, envy, and strife mark the culture of the world. If we are hidden immigrants, we are immigrants from a kingdom marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Our language will not fit the world’s language, our actions will not fit the world’s norms, but our awkwardness and our lack of astuteness are gifts to a world that is dying.

Our language will not fit the world’s language, our actions will not fit the world’s norms, but our awkwardness and our lack of astuteness are gifts to a world that is dying.

Unlike hidden immigrants, trying to fit into a new world, we come as hidden ambassadors, inviting those who have lost hope in this world to come into a new reality. In Ephesians 2 Paul tells us, “But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ... So, then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household...” (Eph. 2:13, 19, CSB).

When I was in high school, I wanted to fit into the new place where I lived, so leaving behind tacos I learned to eat pretzels... but in this world that is dying I don’t want to forget where I come from, and where I am going. I want to use my hidden ambassador status to call others to leave behind this world’s culture and ways and pursue life in God’s kingdom.

[1] Van Reken, Ruth E.., Pollock, David C.., Pollock, Michael V.. Third Culture Kids 3rd Edition: Growing Up Among Worlds. United Kingdom: Mobius, 2017.

Andrew Hedinger grew up as a missionary kid in Central Mexico. He now lives with his wife and children in Portland, Oregon, where he serves as the Director of Admissions for Western Seminary.



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