The balance

Another cross cultural worker and I were having a great conversation the other day.  We talked about our first impressions when we started working here. We talked about all the text book mission theories that we believed to be true and found out were not so practical in our situations!

One of the hardest things was to figure out how to balance time with family, expat friends, and nationals.  We have seen others go to extremes on this topic. Some have chosen to live in the village at lower standards than many of the villagers themselves. They have often fallen sick from waterborne illnesses and had to move.  Many of them have short ministry because they burn out in such extreme situations. 

Others have gone to the opposite extreme and lived in a cushy mission compound surrounded by expats. They rarely talk the local language or have real relationships with nationals. They will teach seminars or translate curriculum or oversee offices, finances, or educations of expats.  They may live for years in a culture and yet never know the culture.

My friend and I discussed the balance between the two. We talked about how we had been burned out when we didn’t have enough communication with other missionaries or expats.  We longed to speak English and worship in our own language. We also talked about those we’ve know who have gone to the other extreme and know very few nationals.

We talked about how our kids need to know both cultures. They want to be able to hangout with other expats kids once in awhile and yet how they love playing with their national friends. We also realized how encouraging it is when we can get together with other missionaries for a Bible study or prayer time -when we can have a meal or play a game with others who are in ministry here. How helpful it is when we can even have a conversation with someone who isn’t with our same organization. 

So how does one find that balance. How can we move forward in the two cultures? How can we be careful not to judge others who are at one extreme or another?

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In the Culture:

What culture do you live in? I live in 2 or 3, I think. I have a home culture, or two or three. I have a host culture and then there is the in between.  I have the culture of the nationals and the culture of the expats.

What do I live in the most? Which culture should I embrace? Which culture will offend the least amount of people? Which culture is expected of me? Which culture will help me minister the most?

I don’t have an answer, only the question. If I ask a national, they want me to know their culture only – but they have no idea what my home culture is. They don’t know what culture shock is.  They don’t know what it takes for me to survive in their culture. They will never know.

Somehow I have found a happy median. It isn’t necessarily halfway but it is somewhere in the middle where I can touch at least 3 cultures. Somehow I straddle them all and pray for wisdom in each situation.  Yes, I will offend even when I try to adapt. 

Forever it will be a conflict in this life of a missionary. Just as forever it will be a conundrum in a Christian’s life – or it should be.

Our citizenship is in Heaven.  We don’t belong to this world, we haven’t yet been to our home culture. As we read Scripture we learn to be more and more like our home culture – or we should. But we are somewhere in the middle. We have our host culture – which is full of sin. We have our home culture – Heaven. We have the middle culture of the church where we mix with others of our home culture who are living in this host culture.  We disagree with each other as to how much we adapt to the host culture. Yet we are all expats in this world.