Over 28 years ago I first went to Thailand, kicking and screaming. You would not have heard the screams, but they were there. Now I miss it like crazy. What happened in the intervening years? A lot of pain, sweat (literally), and growth in fits and starts. I was not one of those who loves adventure, who loves to try new things. But I sensed a strong call on my life, so I went. What gradually happened over the next five to ten years was the greatest transformation of my life. No, not fitting in to Thai culture (though there were joys there as well). The greatest transformation was in NOT fitting in my home culture any more.
“What’s so great about that?” you might say.
It is a catch-22, really. Cultural adjustment can be one of the hardest things you will ever do, being molded and pressed into making the adjustments to survive, or to even thrive in another culture. One has to learn to think differently, act differently, and have different expectations for relationships, encounters, and even how to shop! It is fascinating, though, getting to know another culture, and it is a privilege to see things so different from one’s own culture. As we get stretched and grow (groan), changes start to happen. We see things in our adopted culture we never really saw before in our home culture. I learned the meaning of respect by living in Thailand. People greatly respect His Majesty the King of Thailand, and their actions reflect that respect. This was quite different from my culture, where it is perfectly acceptable and even expected to cut down leaders and politicians like they were your kid sister. Productivity and efficiency often trump respect in American cultural values.
Once you begin to see both the advantages and disadvantages of your adopted culture as well as your native culture, you can then begin to distinguish home culture from Kingdom culture. A more objective view of the biases we naturally grow up assuming to be true comes into clearer focus.
Just as God gives differing gifts to individuals, He also gives differing gifts to cultures. We often hear or read about the differing gifts of the Body, but getting out of our own culture expands our understanding of that Body greatly. We get to see how others reflect God’s goodness.
I consider it a great privilege to have had the opportunity to get out of my own culture, to get a broader view of the Kingdom. Having made that adjustment to another culture means that I do not really feel like I fit back in the US any more. I struggle with the negatives I see there, both in the culture and in the church. Of course, I do not really fit in in Thailand either. I am too tall (“Too tall for the outhouse,” they used to say in the village as I ducked to avoid scraping my head on whatever was lurking in the thatch roof) and my skin is too white, not to mention my accent. However, I believe my view of God’s Kingdom is much bigger than it would have been if I had stayed in America all those years. After all, this world is not my home—I am just traveling through. What a privilege it is that God gave me the gift of experiencing the truth of that! It is such a gift to have greater freedom from the constraints of any particular earthly culture, as it brings Kingdom culture into greater clarity.
Now I long for heaven with every fiber of my being. There, I will finally fit in.
Question to consider: How have you learned to distinguish home/adopted/native culture from Kingdom culture?