I just finished reading a newsletter from a family that is called overseas to missions. (Business as Missions, I think…)
They’ve been planning to leave very soon but the newsletter was sent out to let people know their departure date has been pushed back, and they may not go until next summer.
Since they’re open to staying in their new home in Asia, possibly for the long-term, they received counsel that it would be beneficial (and wise) to take some time now, before going, to PREPARE.
Now, of course they have been preparing all along, you see. They are prepared in many ways: they have contacts in the country, they’ve been raising support, husband and wife both feel called to this area… but there are also some red, or at least, yellow flags, that some friends and mentors have alerted them to. So, after much prayer and counsel, they have decided to postpone their departure.
Sometimes people can think up a billion reasons why they should stay ‘home’–wherever that is–and let someone else go cross-cultural. But these folks are just dying to get over there and get to work–so why not let them? Well, sometimes ‘saving’ time in the beginning can really end up saving nothing at all.
Culture shock is real, but in my experience it’s not really the hardest thing. (Except maybe when I came back to the States–that was a shocker in many ways!) 😉 No, it’s something called ‘culture stress’: a cycle of seeing a new culture, perhaps falling in love with it, but then over time slowly becoming tired out by wave after wave of new ways of doing things, new forms of politeness, new terminology (and a new language to learn!), different understandings of personal space, privacy, individualism… all of these things can take their toll on a resident alien, and it’s good to (1) know what to expect, (2) have a strategy for how to deal with the stress, and (3) be in a healthy state emotionally and spiritually as well as physically, in order to manage the challenges with as much resilience and energy as possible.
I spoke to another acquaintance a couple of months ago about his experience working and living in another culture. He preferred to avoid what I imagine he might think of as ‘psycho-babble’ and just get the show on the road, diving right in to life in a second culture and learning as he goes. That’s all well and good, but… it’s easy enough to hurt and be hurt, give offense and be offended, even when one has learned all one can about the culture hosting you… I can’t imagine trying it without much preparation. You can never learn all you need to know ahead of time, but it sure can help you make some sense out of what you didn’t find in the Lonely Planet guide…
BAM folks are no exception to this rule. Whether we go as students, professionals or professional ‘missionaries’, it’s helpful to head out with hearts and heads open to learn, but with some kind of framework on which to ‘hang’ all the new knowledge and experience we’ll be learning as we go. I continue to wonder if BAMers will learn good lessons from the not-always-stellar history of missions, or if many are like the person who doesn’t want to ‘waste’ time for ‘unnecessary’ preparation.
Anyhow, three cheers for the family who has humbly decided they need to learn more and be filled up before they are ready overflow and pour out in a new culture. And may I learn this too, and be preparing even now for our own return to Asia!