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?