I came here willingly, prayerfully, and with my eyes wide open. This is not my first time overseas. As a former MK and short-term global working volunteer, I am a veteran, so to speak, of the cross-cultural experience. I expected few surprises and have received few…from the culture. What has surprised me more than anything are my own attitudes. Often I have felt inadequate, negative, overwhelmed, unsure, overprotective.
I trained for this. I want to be here. So what is the problem.
In reviewing my situation, much has changed from when I was a young MK.
At that time I lived on a large compound surrounded by other North American global workers. We transplanted some of our culture there with us and consequently had the luxury of daily partaking in both our adopted and native cultures. Now my husband, daughter and I live in a remote village, three of only a handful of foreigners in this entire state. It is a challenge to be so completely afloat in a foreign sea; and often difficult to find a familiar and comfortable haven when I need one.
As an MK, little was expected of me. I was a child and met the expectations of a child. Now I am the adult, the parent, the global worker. The expectations are now on my shoulders – be they many, unexpected, ambiguous, or emotionally taxing. I find myself appreciating my parents work much more. “If I knew then what I know now” – the old adage rings true.
Another change is the culture itself. Then, I lived in South America. Now I live in West Africa. I find myself still favoring the thrum of a guitar over the beating of drums, and wishing the people here could cook like they did there. I have even forgotten myself and spoken Spanish a few times. Will I ever stop comparing the two cultures?
Christian fellowship out here in the bush is hard to come by. Sure, there are churches but the teaching is largely milk not meat, my vernacular language comprehension still needs work, and the translators can be confusing. Local Christians have different needs and expect to receive from not to give to (spiritually speaking) the global workers. The other global workers are often difficult to reach (you should see the roads), and with a young child, even time for daily devotions is a challenge.
Finally the biggest change. Motherhood. Somehow I think that alters everything. The memories flood back of how my mother worried about us when we first moved overseas. Then her fears – of diseases, snakes, dirt, rabid dogs and kidnappers – seemed far-fetched and silly. Now I have those same fears. Conquering them so that I can comfortable sit with the people in their kitchens, eat their food and allow my daughter to play with their children is a daily battle. My prayer is that God will protect my little girl from real dangers and me from an overactive imagination and unnecessary ideals about cleanliness. After all, a little dirt never hurt anyone.
I have heard that on average it takes two years to begin to feel comfortable in a new community. I think a new culture requires even a bit more time. That leaves me several more months to complete the adjustment.
I am comforted by the fact that good days now out number bad days. On those good days I rejoice in the blessings afforded me here – a big garden, clear air, quality family times, the opportunity to experience a new culture and language, and the daily challenges which require me to learn and grow.
Every day I ask God to lead me in his work with eyes wide shut – constantly open to the needs and challenges and unceasingly shut in prayer.
View the original print magazine where this article was first published.