In 1960 Kalervo Oberg traced the steps we take when learning to live in a new culture.
They are helpful, especially for missionaries and those that send them.
The Tourist Stage (3 weeks-6 months)
When we first move to or visit a new culture, everything is new and exciting. This is the
stage where more short-term teams and vacationers find themselves. It is fun to
explore, see new sites, learn history, eat new food and get to know new people. There is
no need to learn the language as you are probably with someone who can speak both
yours and the local dialect.
However, visiting and moving to are very different. To become part of a community,
things are about to get hard.
Disenchantment (6 months - 1 Year)
Have you ever been overseas for a short-time and just longed for your favorite food or
drink? Maybe it’s a simple as a coffee from Starbucks or a hamburger from your favorite
restaurant. That longing can be satisfied if you are headed home, but when home is
where you have moved to, your diet will mostly likely have to change.
And so frustration begins to mount. Simple things like shopping and transportation have
to be relearned. You might need to think about how to make sure the water is drinkable or if the food is safe. You might be tempted to pay a bribe just to get something simple
taken care of.
If you have to learn a new language, the frustration is even higher. You might have two
Masters level degrees, but you find it hard to communicate at a 1st grade level. People
smile and laugh at some of the things you say.
Everyone who may have helped you move into your new home has now returned to
their normal schedule, which means they are no longer providing you meals or calling to
see how you are doing. There is a sense of anger and abandonment and you wonder if
people even care about you - including the people back home who can not understand
what you are going through.
This stage is what burns most missionaries out. They being to make a list of things they
will do when they get home - eat at this place, drive to this place, talk to these people,
etc. There is now a decision to make - will you resolve to stay or will the pressure and
anxiety be too much to handle so that you will either live in ghetto with people from your
own country or you will move home discouraged and rudderless.
Resolution (1 Year+)
Those who decide to stay continue to learn. This does not mean it is easy, but in your
heart you resolve to press forward. This is when the missionary makes the new culture
their own. It does not mean abandoning where you are from, but adopting where you
Eventually the new culture becomes home. Going “home” means staying where you are
serving, not going back to the sending church. Food and the rules of relationships and
interaction become normal. You don’t miss your sport’s teams back home because you
are not even sure who is on the team - you may have (God forbid it!) learned to enjoy
Reverse Culture Shock
I personally believe this is the hardest to be ready for. After living overseas for sometime
your home church wants you to come back for a year. You say goodbye to your friends
and head “home” to reconnect with family, friends and supporters. However, when you
get back you have a hard time functioning. You are a stranger in your homeland.
Conversational topics to you are meaningless. Your friends seem more shallow then you
remember them. The wealth and affluence really bother you, especially when you go
back to your church. You wonder how anyone could not support your work with
everything they have. Why does everyone need two cars? Why does anyone need to
water their lawn? On and on go your questions, which leads to being angry. You watch your kids struggle along. They don’t know how to play with kids their own age and they
don’t know English as well as others. They also begin to desire a lot of the “things” their
new friends have, things that were not options to own where you lived. All of a sudden
you long to go back to your new home where the church sent you so you can fit back
in.You have become angry and judgmental.
With no desire to end on a sour note, this list is helpful for sending churches, especially in
their preparation of missionaries and their care of them when they return. These
individuals and families have been through a lot to take the gospel around the world. By
knowing these stages, the church can bear the burden with them.
I have read, heard and said many times that “Christianity is exploding in Africa.” I now
believe I am wrong. In 2010, The Pew Forum released on interesting report titled:
Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa.
One part of the study was to look at the current rate of conversions to Christianity and
Islam. What you find on the chart above is that there are very few conversions in the countries where data was collected. Part of the reason there is no conversion might be because there is no one left to convert (see Zambia and Rwanda). But - it still calls into question our frequent saying that Christianity is exploding in Africa.
I think it would be helpful to qualify Africa’s growth by noting three things:
1. Christian faith did explode in Africa, especially between 1900-1970. There was also growth up until 2000, but at that point it seems to have flatlined.
2. Very few try to qualify the kind of Christianity that is being converted to. Would you
consider a person who claims to be Christian and sacrifices animals a believer? What
about someone who denies the Trinity, or Jesus as the Son of God? What about the
prosperity gospel? These type of unqualified statistics, which also appear in the US on
a regular basis, don’t really tell the whole story. I once read a book on the history of missions in a West Africa country and not one time did the author address the kind of gospel that was being preached. Notice on the chart that it seems that
the majority of people who converted to Christianity were converting from Traditional
African Religions. One wonders whether Christianity was just tacked on.
3. This is just speculation, but I wonder how much growth can be attested to family size. It seems that little conversion from Islam is currently happening, so why is Christianity still growing numerically so quickly. Could it be the size of families have something to do with it? This would not necessarily have an impact on the % of the population if it could be shown that everyone is having large families, but it certainly impacts the overall numbers.
So - let’s be careful. Let’s rejoice in what the Lord is doing and the fact that we can
actually know what He is doing around the world. Let’s rejoice that people are turning to
Christ. But, let’s also be careful and not exaggerate what the Lord is doing and in so
doing undermine the very report we can rejoice over.
From The Call to Service as he considered leaving for China:
My beloved parents neither discouraged nor encouraged my desire to engage in
missionary work. They advised me, with such convictions, to use all the means in
my power to develop the resources of body, mind, heart and soul, and to await
prayerfully upon God, quite willing should He show me that I was mistaken, to
follow His guidance, or to go forward if in due time He should hope the way to missionary service. The importance of his advice I have often since had occasion
to prove. I began to take more exercise in the open air in strengthen my
physique. My father bed I had taken away, and sought to dispense with as many
other home comforts as I could in order to prepare myself for rougher lines of life.
I began also to do what Christian work was in my power, in the way of tract
distribution, Sunday-school teaching, and visiting the poor and sick, as
- Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
- The Life of Jesus, by Ernest Renan
- A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen
- Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
- The Old Wives’ Tale, by Arnold Bennett
- The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiel Hammett
- The Red and the Black, by Stendahl
- The Short Stories of Guy De Maupassant, translated by Michael Monahan
- An Outline of Abnormal Psychology, edited by Gardner Murphy
- The Stories of Anton Chekhov, edited by Robert N. Linscott
- The Best American Humorous Short Stories, edited by Alexander Jessup
- Victory, by Joseph Conrad
- The Revolt of the Angels, by Anatole France
- The Plays of Oscar Wilde
- Sanctuary, by William Faulkner
- Within a Budding Grove, by Marcel Proust
- The Guermantes Way, by Marcel Proust
- Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust
- South Wind, by Norman Douglas
- The Garden Party, by Katherine Mansfield
- War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
- John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley: Complete Poetical Works
HT: Open Culture
Nov. 11, 2016By: Evan Burns
Charles Spurgeon equally upheld a
passion for converting lost souls and for making disciples of all nations. In his sermon on April 21, 1861,
Spurgeon unpacked the role of teaching disciples in missions. Here is an example of his missiology
from the sermon entitled, “The Missionaries’ Charge and Charter”:
my Brethren and very briefly, indeed, a few things about the COMMAND.
we must remark, first, what a singularly loving one it is…. [Christ] says to His disciples, as He
is about to ascend to Heaven, “All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in
earth; go you, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of
the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is the voice of love,
not of wrath. “Go and teach them the power of My blood to cleanse, the
willingness of My arms to embrace, the yearning of My heart to save! Go and
teach them. Teach them no more to despise Me, no more to think My Father an
angry and implacable Deity. Teach them to bow the knee, and kiss the Son, and
find peace in Me for all their troubles, and a balm for all their woes.
Go—speak as I have spoken—weep as I have wept; invite as I have invited;
exhort, entreat, beseech and pray, as I have done before you. Tell them to come
unto Me, if they are weary and heavy laden, and I will give them rest….
too, how exceedingly plain is the command, “Go you, teach all nations.”… Why, it is the mother’s work with her
child! It is the tutor’s work with the boy and with the girl—“go you and
teach.” How simple! Illustrate; explain; expound; tell; inform; narrate! Take
from them the darkness of ignorance; reveal to them the light of Revelation.
Teach! Be content to sit down, and tell them the very plainest and most common
things. It is not your eloquence that shall convert them; it is not your gaudy
language or your polished periods that shall sway their intellects. Go and
teach them. Teach them! Why, my Hearer, I say again—this is a word which has to
do with the rudiments of knowledge. We do not preach to children; we teach
them; and we are not so much to preach to nations; that word seems too big and
great for the uncivilized and childish people; go you and teach them first the
very simplicities of the Cross of Christ!...
I do not know
whether all our missionaries have caught the idea of Christ—“Go you and teach
all nations;” but many of them have, and these have been honored with many
conversions. The more fully they have been simple teachers, not philosophers of
the Western philosophy, not eager disputants concerning some English dogma—I
say the more plainly they have gone forth as teachers sent from God to teach
the world, the more successful have they been! “Go you, therefore, and
There has been
heroism in every land for Christ—men of every color and of every race have died
for Him; upon His altar has been found the blood of all kindreds who are upon
the face of the earth. Oh, tell me not they cannot be taught! Sirs, they can be
taught to die for Christ; and this is more than some of you have learned. They
can rehearse the very highest lesson of the Christian religion—that
self-sacrifice which knows not itself, but gives up all for Him. At this day
there are Karen missionaries preaching among the Karens with as fervid an
eloquence as ever was known by Whitefield! There are Chinese teaching in
Borneo, Sumatra, and Australia, with as much earnestness as Morison or Milne
first taught in China. There are Hindu Evangelists who are not ashamed to have
given up the Brahmian thread, and to eat with the Pariah, and to preach with
him the riches of Christ! There have been men found of every class and kind,
not only able to be taught, but able to become teachers themselves, and the
most mighty teachers, too, of the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ! Well was that
command warranted by future facts, when Christ said, “Go you, teach all