I thought I was doing it exactly right.

I had watched my Arab neighbors wash their kitchen floors and I thought I knew what I was doing. Kitchen floors in middle eastern homes are made of marble tiles. Workers built the refrigerator and stove up on frames with the molding around the walls made of marble strips. The weather is hot and dry so the floors quickly become covered with a thin blanket of dust.

Mopping in a traditional way, with a mop and a bucket of water, just doesn’t work here. As the floors dry, the blankets of dust turn into muddy designs of irregular swirls and streaks. The Arab world builds each kitchen with a drain in the floor. Water is poured all over the floor and then a long-handled squeegee is used to push the water into the drain. The pressure of the squeegee removes the dust along with the water and leaves the floors sparkling clean. Having seen this system work, I determined to try it.

The day was hot, so I was bare-footed. I lifted the lid off the drain in the kitchen and I checked to be sure there was drainage on the balcony off the kitchen. I liberally sloshed water all over the floor. I felt as if I was wading in a child’s plastic pool and it felt delicious! I was reveling in the coolness of the tile and the feel of water squishing between my toes when I heard a rapid knock and a yell at the front door.

“What are you doing?” Shouted the landlord’s nephew. “Water is pouring down from your balcony onto my Grandmother’s head! She’s all wet!”

“I’m just mopping the kitchen floor,” I quickly replied.

“You can’t let water go out on the balcony. That drain is just for rain. You must wash your balcony with a rag,” was his instruction.

I pictured poor Umm Muhammad sitting out on her patio underneath the grape arbor, innocently peeling a pomegranate and enjoying the cool morning breeze. I envisioned her shock as water spewed from the drainage pipe onto her henna-colored hair and down the neck of her long, embroidered dress. I imagined her vision fading as her spectacles glazed over with a film of water spots and her discomfort as rivulets of water rolled down her forehead and dribbled off the end of her nose. I was mortified!

I apologized profusely. With a chagrined look and a feeling of intense humiliation, I quickly took a rag and lapped up the excess water that had spilled out onto the balcony from the kitchen floor. I was careful to swish the remaining water right down the drain and not outside the door. And, it is true: when I finished, my kitchen floor shone clean and bright.

You hear a lot about the culture shock or culture stress that global workers go through when they move into another country’s culture. Even after twenty-nine years of global work service I’m still susceptible to it.   I know I am experiencing culture shock when I embarrassment and discomfort overwhelm me. It comes with the unexpected…the unforeseen and unanticipated events.   It comes when things happen I don’t understand or when I don’t know the appropriate way to culturally respond to situations. It comes when I least expect it.

Satan enjoys using culture stress to depress and discourage me. He tells me I am stupid to be where I am, doing what I am doing when I could be “home.” He demeans my call and trivializes my ministries. He makes me feel inept and incompetent.

I have found it extremely important to ask God for victory over culture stress when I experience it. I ask the Lord to give me moments of encouragement and reassurance about my call to be a global worker. I ask Him to give me confidence about my place of ministry and type of ministry. And I ask Him to help me laugh at my mistakes! I want to be successful in building God’s Kingdom. Conquering culture stress and not letting Satan get me down, continues to be a necessity for me. Successful ministry depends on it.


©1998 Thrive

This article is a classic originally published in our early print magazines. 

View the original print magazine where this article was first published.