For Expats and Missionaries, COVID-19 Was a Crossroads

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The first question for Christians living abroad was, “Go or stay?” After that, it got hard.

Eric Katzung’s two-year-old daughter saw snow for the first time this spring in Colorado. But the question she keeps asking is when she can eat her favorite meal again—Taiwanese clams and rice. Katzung explains that they don’t have Taiwanese food in Colorado, and his daughter says, “When can we go home?”

Katzung doesn’t know if Taiwan is home anymore. He and his three daughters, ages 5, 4, and 2, left the country in a hurry in March when coronavirus case numbers started getting bad and borders started shutting down. His wife, Dava, was already in the States for a visit with family and never got to go back to Taiwan to say goodbye.

They had lived there for two years, sharing their lives and their love with their Taiwanese neighbors as Katzung worked as a counselor at a university.

Now they are living in a borrowed one-bedroom apartment in Colorado. They have a borrowed car, borrowed children’s toys, and borrowed coats that the girls wear when they go outside to see the snow.

“We are in an uncomfortable holding position, a forced flexibility,” Katzung said. “These are the struggles of cross-cultural workers. We get things stripped away. Now we’re at another layer of stripping.”

About nine million Americans live abroad, according to the US State Department’s most recent figures. Some of these are missionaries. Some are aid workers. Some, like the Katzungs, are Christians who want to live out their faith in a cross-cultural context.

Their lives and work are dependent on governmental permissions, work visas, plane rides, the willingness of communities to welcome outsiders, and sometimes financial support from churches or friends back home. The whole system …

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