Struggling in 2 cultures?

38I struggle in my passport culture, because I’ve lived elsewhere so long. I struggle in my host culture, because I have many customs of my passport culture. I struggle in my family, because I miss them yet don’t see them often. I struggle in my home churches, because I can never just be a “normal” member.  I struggle in my friendships because no one understands my mix of cultures. I struggle in my devotion time because my life has an ever-changing schedule and few norms. I struggle to open up to others, because sooner than later I will say good-bye. I struggle to share the real me, because even I barely know me. I struggle to worship in one language or another.  I am always missing one style or another.  I struggle to fit in where ever I go. I struggle…

That is the heart of someone that lives in many cultures.  We never fit in, but learn to try. We have friends that come and go and yet we always say good-bye. We want to love deeply but are afraid to do so because it will never last over continents and oceans.  Some of us just give up and don’t even try.

The One and Only Constant in my life is My God.  He is immutable, and knows all the cultures that make me who I am. He has never left me and He is the only One to whom I will never say a good-bye. 

When the schedule lulls and the changes of jobs, location, and friendships occur. I find myself lonely and hurting for all those good-byes. But when the schedule is tight and there are people to meet and serve, there is no time for a pity party. Life just goes on and we set aside those ponderings for another time.

I struggle and yet I love the job, the lifestyle, the new cultures, and my friends on both sides. I praise the Lord for the opportunity to serve so uniquely. I thank Him for His stability in my life. I pray for His grace to make it through another struggle, day by day, moment by moment, until we meet face to face.

struggles of missionaries

I’ve met so many throughout the years. We are unique and yet similar. We love the Lord and are ready to serve, but struggle with things. We miss home, family, familiar comforts, our own language, worship in our own style, etc..

We have heart aches because of losses. Family members die or are hurt or hurt us. We are often abandoned by friends who quit communicating and team members who we struggle to get along with. So we keep on going all the while shutting down a bit more.

Each time a tragedy happens we harden our hearts a bit more to keep strong, otherwise we’ll go crazy.

Some eventually leave because of their issues. They long to return and to see their loved countries again, but God has different plans.  We struggle and yet have much in common.  We bear so much privately because who can we share things with other than God?  In that unspoken truth we find comfort among like-minded friends from other fields. Sometimes we can bond in 5 minutes with them more than we can bond in years with friends and family.

multi-cultural interaction

Over the past few days I was travelling. I was amazed at how many different people I interacted with from different countries.  It’s a big world out there.

Some are people that I’ve known for years and met up with again. Others are people that I met for a day and others are people who crossed my path for a few weeks.  These interactions are cool to me.  Yes there is a language barrier many times, but still we communicate.  I am thankful to be a native English speaker though.  Some of them share similar cultures in dress, food, lifestyle. While others come from a very different background.  It doesn’t take long to figure out that those I find the most in common with are fellow Christians.  We have a bond that is strong.

In missions, there are many hellos and good-byes.  It’s fun and sad at the same time.  Some times you know that you will never meet again on this side of Heaven. Other times you feel like you’ve made a contact that could be useful in the future for a visit to another country.

Sometimes you pour your heart out in explanation to them about life and missions. Other times you remain reserved and say very little knowing that most of it will be too hard for them to understand.

Friendships

one (1)“I don’t really have any friends.”

As she said this, it caught me by surprise. I am a single missionary and often struggle with this saying, but this time I was talking to a veteran missionary who had raised her kids on the mission field.  She had her husband, her children, grandchildren, etc…  As a single woman I often struggle with loneliness and try not to be jealous of co-workers who have their families with whom they can talk and laugh  while I sit home alone and try to entertain myself.

Yet as we visited over tea at a gathering of missionaries, we found ourselves comparing notes.  In so many ways our lives are similar. Yes, she had a spouse who had been around the world with her, but still she was lonely. And yet I sensed she was content in whatever state she was in.

Going “home” is difficult for us both.  Family is spread out throughout the States. Where you came from, your sending church, has changed or closed or split. So where is your home church? I have 15 different churches supporting me, but where do I worship for more than a couple Sundays every few years?   A small group or Sunday school class to call your own—most missionaries don’t have this luxury. Our closest friends are often other missionaries and who knows when we will cross paths again?   We used to work together but have moved to new fields so now we keep in touch via e-mail and prayer letters.  Old friends from college or High School have married and moved around, so you can stop by on your way to a speaking engagement, but it becomes harder and harder to keep in touch.  Only those that truly put an effort into the relationship and care about our work seem to stay friends–friends that we see for a couple days every few years. 

The list could go on and on of things we struggle with. But how comforting to know that missionaries from around the world struggle with many of the same issues that I struggle with.  How encouraging to see them content in their situation, even when they are hurting.  Choosing to serve the Lord with gladness and to trust in Him for our emotional, physical and mental needs.

Out of Africa’s Bush

     So as the holidays approach, I find myself in a situation similar to many Peace Corp workers, missionaries, and NGO volunteers.  We leave our remote locations to celebrate the holidays with people from our organizations or of similar cultural backgrounds. 

    After months of being the only Westerner for miles, I’m looking forward to: 

  1. safety_week08_invitation_smGreat food
  2. Fellowship with old comrades and new ones
  3. Games
  4. Speaking English
  5. Comparing Notes on what is similar or different in our situations
  6. Rest
  7. Swimming (in real swim-wear)
  8. Worshiping in my language with songs I grew up with
  9. Shopping in the “Big City”

The list goes on and one.  But there is also a list of what I fear:

  1. Being around people all the time
  2. How much English I have forgotten
  3. Looking like I’m from the bush
  4. I’ll miss my friends and co-workers in the bush
  5. Not knowing what to talk about with people
  6. Long meetings with the organization, there is no way around the length of some of the discussions and the disagreements about how to deal with problems we face.  It is necessary.

So what can I say?  It is a paradox of emotions as the time draws near.  If I weren’t checking facebook off and on, I may not even remember that Thursday is Thanksgiving in the US, since it is a regular work/school day for most of us.

I am thankful for the amazing opportunity I have to serve here. I am thankful for all the people that I meet both nationals and international workers.  I am thankful for the Lord sustaining me in the remote situation I find myself in.  And, I am looking forward to the Holidays.

Giving

images (5)Bear with me as I ramble. I recently listened to a sermon by Andy Stanley about Giving.  He talked about how if everyone would give to their local church on a regular basis (tithe), then we would not have the need for near as many special fund raisers and projects.  Most of the funds needed for expansion projects would already be there in the church account ready to be used if all the members would regularly give.

He said that right now the average giving of Americans, based on tax reports, is 1.5%. That’s a far cry from the 10% mentioned in Scripture. Even if you set a goal to tithe 8% of your income or 5% and regularly did so, our local churches would have a lot more to work with.

We would be able to increase the mission work around the world without individual supporters because each church would put forth an amount from their account. 

He talked about many of the projects that we support that deal with things like drugs abuse, domestic abuse, broken homes, etc… If the church was healthy we would have reached more people and these cases would be less.  Preventative Giving.  Raising up faithful Christians in the church rather than people leaving the church and then ending up in a mess or some sort and needing help. 

The truth we teach changes lives and makes better citizens.Of course there are always projects to help, but do you preventatively give? 

To be honest, as a missionary I find it hard to give regularly. Yes I give of my time and resources and life more than most, but my money? I run into these dilemmas –What is my home church?  Do I set up something to automatically withdraw from my account and go into my “home” church in the States?  Or do I just give to the church I attend regularly—which right now is in Africa.  If I tithe 10% of my income to the village church I would mess up their budget and cause great dependency issues.  I also am constantly asked for help from local people who have real needs based on illness, death, accidents, etc.… If I start counting all the funds I hand out to help these needs, sometimes it goes above and beyond my tithe, and yet it didn’t go through the local church. I’m not saying that the way I do it is proper, but it is how it is. 

I’ve heard somewhere that the poor often have trouble learning how to manage their money thinking it impossible when in reality they need to pay more attention to managing funds than the wealthy. Step one in any Christian money management course is to set a percentage aside for the Lord.

How do I better implement this teaching in my life? How do I teach this concept of giving to these nationals?