London, Listening, and Counter-Cultural Living

If we are going to make changes in our culture, we have to live counter-culturally. A mentor of mine often repeats these simple, wise words. Opportunities to live in a way that challenges our culture are easy to find in college. By choosing to make godly decisions in the midst of the temptations and challenges students face almost daily, counter-cultural and cultural living can seem as starkly different as black and white.

Then, suddenly, something happens that rips you away from your comfortable student bubble. You could graduate, transfer colleges, or even simply realize that you don’t know your university as well as you thought you did. If you’re like me, you can study abroad for a semester in London and realize just how little you really understand about other cultures. I no longer have the luxury of simply living against the status quo. I first have to identify differences between England and my home that do not reflect God and then live against the flow. In new places, though, not getting caught up in the flow is hard to do.

It seems almost daily that I get on the Tube (the underground train) and simply do the “London thing” of staring at the floor with 30 other people in the same train car, not saying anything. In London, you don’t talk to strangers and you don’t challenge the system. Things are the way they are, and you move along with it . . . unless, of course, Jesus asks you to do exactly the opposite.

In London, God has asked me to look at the hard things. “You see that homeless person over there?” He will ask me very clearly as I walk home. “Don’t look away from him. You don’t have to be afraid.” I can’t always help them physically, but it’s still hard to be the only person in London (or so it seems) who doesn’t ignore the beggars.

It’s difficult to be the only one on the Tube that smiles at people. It’s hard being the only one who tips a little extra at restaurants. It’s not easy finding out the culture here. People stare. It’s obvious you’re different.

Yet, the Lord pushes me to listen. I listen to Him as I hear Him in the voices of other people and as my heart moves to be joyful or mournful with them. I listen to Him as He directs me throughout the city, teaching me how to live and love better.

I listened to Him recently as I was eating out with friends. As the waitress handed us our bill, I ventured to compliment her. “I like your necklace,” I said, genuinely. She brightened up immediately, far more than I was expecting. “Thank you so much!” she said. “My sister gave it to me.” Someone at our table asked for something, and she ran off with joy to retrieve it.

Talking to someone I don’t know: a brave counter-cultural bridge that gave someone joy. It might have made me obviously different, but hopefully, in the midst of this new culture, it will also show the difference Jesus makes.


Sydney Berry is a student at Samford University. She is currently living abroad with missions in mind. Her three favorite things are coffee, books, and cats.

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