6 Years in Southeast Asia

The ups, downs and rewards of connecting with a new culture

By Matt Petersen

Photos by Marc Ewell

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As a newly married couple, Nate and Ivy set out on a life-changing adventure. Leaving behind all that was familiar, they stepped out of their comfort zone and into a new community in Southeast Asia.

Relying on others was a humbling experience, but through it all, God taught them more about himself and what it means to be part of the global family of God.

I asked Nate and Ivy to share some things they learned along the way.

What were some of the challenges of moving to a new country?

Ivy: The first few months here — even the first couple years — I felt kind of like we were little kids. We didn’t know how to talk or how to read or drive. And there were so many things we had to learn. It was really humbling.

Tell us something that surprised you about life here.

Nate: When we first needed to buy a broom to sweep our house, I bought one like my family would use back home. But eventually we got a broom that was much different from what we would use in America. It was shorter, and it was light weight, and it would sweep the house much faster and more efficiently.

Left: Nate says that sweeping with this local-style broom is actually fun!
Right: Nate and Ivy’s daughters enjoy living in Southeast Asia.

What has God taught you about community?

Ivy: We used to live our lives very independently, and I didn’t really want to help other people unless I was going to get something in return.

Tell us about a time when learning the language backfired.

Ivy: When we first moved here and were just starting to learn to speak the language, we couldn’t read it at all yet. We’d pick up cans at the grocery and think, “I wonder what’s inside?” Occasionally we were terribly mistaken, like the time we bought some Thai version of buttermilk and added it to our fruit smoothie.

What’s one thing that helped you connect here?

Nate: Because we live really close to my workplace, we have the luxury of walking around to local restaurants and convenience stores. Through that we meet people, and our kids meet people. And it’s a blessing to connect with our community by having the home and the workplace close to each other.

How has moving here changed you?

Ivy: When we first came to Asia and someone would show up randomly to visit, it was this big scramble. It was like, “Why are they here? My whole schedule’s changing!”

There’s still some of that, but I think there’s less and less.

That’s a good way that God has been working on us.

What have you learned from the Body of Christ here?

Nate: I think they’ve continued to show us what a genuine Christian should be in a lot of ways. In America it’s really easy to kind of keep church and life separate. Here it’s totally together and people are doing life together in very deep ways.

Left: Moving to a new culture has taught Nate to be more flexible and relaxed.
Center: Christians in Southeast Asia take time to build meaningful relationships.
Right: Nate and Ivy’s daughters meet new people everywhere they go.

What’s one thing God has taught you through this experience?

Ivy: Sometimes it was difficult to worship at the local church, because we were so focused on what the words were and how to pronounce and read them.

After a while we decided we also needed to be involved in an English-speaking church. And I remember the first time just crying, going, "This is my language!"


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