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The Cycle of Culture Shock

Nov. 21, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

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 are now.

Adjustment

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 soccer.

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.

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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.

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The 14 Worst Types of Missionary Newsletters

Jul. 20, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Christmas-Missionary-Newsletter-from-Lets-Get-Together

From Amy Walters at SEND.

1.    The Banker. Nothing but support updates and requests for money. Oh, and maybe a story about visiting a church and asking for money. “It’s not too late to join our team.”

2.    The Paper Cut. Focused mainly on the long, paperwork-filled process of getting legal documents, like visas or residency permits. As boring and painful to read as the actual process of gathering the documents and waiting in line. “The officials did not accept our documents (which is very normal for the first attempt, although it was over very small mistakes). However, to get a second appointment would mean waiting the next day in a long line (this whole process has been full of long lines all over the city for different steps) to see if the quota is still open. So, the next day Leon* waited in line for 5 hours, only to find out that no, the quota is closed. This means that we cannot apply for the temporary residency until after the New Year.”

3.    The Cluster Bomb. No communication for months and then a sudden rush of updates. Often this happens when the missionary needs something, like more support or home service is coming. “At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we will give another report about how wonderful our time was on our recent trip!”

4.    The Itinerary. Basically, a long list of activities, locations and events in paragraph form. The audience feels tired after reading it and bouncing from one place to the next. “We were able to combine visits to see Kim’s* father in Pennsylvania, children and grandchildren in Lynchburg, Virginia and Buffalo, New York to meeting friends and attending a new career conference in Ocean City, New Jersey.”

5.    The Treasure Hunt. Mostly filled with cultural tidbits and mundane details. But buried somewhere deep inside, like in a sidebar or at the very end of a long letter, is a great ministry story. [After nine paragraphs about other things] “Praise God for a girl in my class who has now received assurance of salvation.”

6.    The Novel. Anything longer than three pages. This usually happens because the missionary hasn’t written in months. “And one more thing…”

7.    The Christmas Letter. Almost entirely made up of family updates, with little or nothing said about ministry. Added bonus: long description and pictures of a recent family vacation to an exotic location. “Another family invited us to join them at a nearby resort.”

8.    The Cliff Hanger. A desperate call for prayer or help that is not followed up and resolved in the next letter.“Ended up in hospital, trying to find what’s going on. Our life here is but a moment, so easy to take it for granted.”

9.    Generic. As boring as the title, either from lack of interesting details or mainly focusing on day to day stuff. So general that it could be cut and pasted into anyone’s newsletter and still apply. “While at home, I did a lot of cleaning, sorting, and washing windows.” 

10.    The Shock & Awe. Too much going on, from too many different styles of fonts, to too many colors and clip art and photos and graphs and sections. The eyes don’t know where to look first. “Above: My fourth great-nephew and I pose for a comical photo on Thanksgiving Day.”

11.    The Snooze & Blah. No pictures. No colors. No graphics. Just words.

12.    The Judge. A negative assessment of the host culture, either subtle or blatant. “Is it possible to be both different and wrong?”

13.    The Gory Details. Goes into great detail about something incredibly gross or personal, like a recent surgery or explosive illness. Also could include pictures. “We could admire the iron in our toilet bowl.”

14.    The Bait & Switch.  Teases you with the promise of a great story but instead gets sidetracked with related but unimportant details. “So we landed in [the city], got in a van and rode out to join the teen camp that was starting the next day. 10 days later we took part in the English camp. The time at the camp definitely got us back into life here quickly.”

She offers to helpful tips here.

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The Ideal Missionary-Church Partnership

Aug. 28, 2015By: Evan Burns

Here is a sermon by Sinclair Ferguson, pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, SC.  The sermon is on the role of a missionary-sending church's partnership in the gospel from Philippians 4:10-20.  (It's interesting that Philippi was not even Paul's initial "sending church").  His exposition is quite helpful and very well-articulated. 

022215930-partnership-puzzle-conceptFerguson outlines a few principles from this passage that should instruct the partnership of churches with their missionaries:

  1. The church has a genuine care for the missionaries. 
  2. The church longs to find avenues by which that care might blossom in practical ways.
  3. The church wants to be generous and honoring to the missionaries.
  4. Not only does the church send their gospel-driven missionaries, they also send their very best ministers to care for the missionaries when times are tough.
  5. The NT practice of fellowship is not based on affinity, interests, or just hanging out.  The NT word for "fellowship" (koinonia) is chiefly used for partnership with a purpose.  In other words, true biblical fellowship comes from caring for one another in the context of partnership for a mission.

 

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I'd Rather Be a Chicken's Head

Feb. 25, 2015By: Jackson WuAuthor Bio

In China, there is a well-known idiom that says, “I’d rather be a chicken’s head than the tail of a phoenix."

The idiom expresses a commonly held notion: It’s better to be in a position of prominence, even if in a less glamorous sphere, than in a low position yet a more prestigious context. In the West, there is a similar saying that talks about being a “big fish in a small pond.”Screen_Shot_209680e81090

In daily life, this sort of thinking can take many forms. Many Chinese businessmen, for example, will leave their low positions in a major company in order to take a high position in a local unknown company. One would like to wish that pastors and missionaries would be immune to such sentiments. In fact, the sin nature needs no passport. It crosses every border.

Within the church, becoming a missionary is often regarded as one of the most selfless and sacrificial things a person can do. Of course, this can be true. Leaving family, friends, conveniences and the ability to communicate easily are not things one forsakes easily. On the other hand, it is possible for the mission field to become a place of unchecked ambition.

The Significance of Status

What happens when Westerners come to a country like China (or any number of other places)? They inherit the title “foreigner.” Initially, this will offend the westerner’s sensibilities. However, missionaries come to find that the “foreigner” status carries particular advantages. Within the church, Western Christians are often regarded as an “expert.” This is nothing more than sheer assumption since they come from a “Christian country” (so they think).

Compounding the problem is the fact that many missionaries receive similar accolades from friends and family in their home country, who could not imagine living in a “foreign” country.” Back in their home culture, they are basically anonymous, . . . until they decide to become missionaries. Then, they become “chicken heads” . . . having a place of prominence in a place few others want to go.

I note these things in order to highlight a subtle danger that can undermine missionary labor. In the environment I’ve described, vain ambition may still fester beneath the surface of everything one sees. How?

Missionaries can all too easily confuse their “status” with significance.

What might this manifest itself in practice?

The work of missions is inherently lonely and slow. Yet, we live in a world of sensationalized marketing and high-speed methods of communication. Those who support missionaries want to see high numbers of people being trained and won to Christ.

However, the missionary knows that reality is less glamorous that his or her supporters really want to hear. What are they to do? If they are not careful, missionaries settle for being “chicken heads” rather than a “phoenix’s tail.”

The Pragmatics of Praise

I will list two ways that one might confuse status with significance. Others could be mentioned. In each case, the potential temptation is as subtle as it is dangerous.

1. “Networking”

When a missionary lands in a new city, one of the first things he or she must do is meet people. So begins the long process of “networking.” Ministry is about relationships, right? What’s the problem?

It is quite easy to confuse “networking” for ministry. The situation is comparable to having a Facebook page. Because someone has a lot of “Facebook friends,” he or she should not mistakenly conclude that those connections represent meaningful or close relationships.

Networking is important but it must not be confused with ministry itself.

It is easy to make oneself seen and known to others (just as one sees a chicken’s head); however, a person must continually ask himself, “What is the significance of these relationships?” In other words, are we building up people or just our network? It is healthy for missionaries to regularly ask themselves, “Do I simply know a lot of people? Or, do I actually know a lot about these people?”

Having a large network may afford a certain status, but it does not ensure significant ministry.

2. Statistics

People like numbers. This is no less true in mission circles.

Statistics are regarded as objective evidence that one’s strategies are effective. The problem however is that statistics must still be interpreted and can be manipulated.

I know first-hand of a school in Asia who advertised that they trained at least 1,200 pastors every year. Unfortunately, this was spin. I have direct knowledge that the school only enrolled between 100–140 students (not all of them pastors). Why the discrepancy? They counted every class a student attended as though the school taught a separate person. So, if a single student took 10 classes in a year, the school counted it as having taught 10 separate pastors!

Why the manipulation? People want to look good to both to their supporters and to their supervisors. No doubt, this sort of number twisting is a grievous offense. However, those who are leaders within mission organizations also need to do a bit of self-examination.

Practically speaking, what is sort of ethos are you fostering within your group?

For example, what sort of books and methodologies are emphasized? What kind of requirements do you have for missionaries? Who typically leads trainings within the organization? Or, ask yourself this question, “What kind of person typically gets promoted into leadership positions?” In their ministries, have they reported rapid multiplication, perhaps even something like a “church planting movement”?

Put simply, what are the things we make a big deal of? If we continually emphasize statistics, we will foster an overly pragmatic ethos.

Statistics do not measure significance. Yes, people will notice us if we report high numbers, but they do not make Christ’s church become beautiful . . . like a phoenix.

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Use of Time - Arab vs. American Time

Aug. 27, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

From Paul Hiebert:

Doc_-_Aug_20__2014__1-06_PM

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