What do you get when you take an Anabaptist farm boy and his family from the mid-western United States and deposit them on the other side of the earth? You get culture shock. In our training we learned about culture shock. I am grateful for our training. It removed the element of surprise. Unfortunately the training didn’t remove the culture shock. Let me make a few comparisons.
Food: We were used to eating taters and gravy, bread, applesauce, casseroles, custard, sausage, hamburgers and all the other good foods that our forefathers have taught us to eat. Now we eat a lot of delicious dishes almost all of which involve rice. They are nearly all good, but they are different. We haven’t found any real vanilla, and peanut butter costs as much as hamburger. It’s amazing how our tummies get lonely for what we were used to.
Currency: I have always had a good grasp of the value of money. I know if something is cheap or expensive. And where I come from the prices are always listed. Here the money is fourteen thousand times smaller than the US dollar. It takes some mathematical acrobatics to figure out what you are spending. We often spend millions in one day.
Work: I like to work. So does my wife. Sometimes we work too much. It is rare at home if I don’t have some project going on the farm, in the garden, or in the house. It’s different now. For one thing we live in a big city, not on a farm. A man comes once a week and does my yard maintenance. Two ladies come 6 days a week and do the cleaning, washing, and most of the cooking. This frees us up to do language study. But it is particularly hard on my wife to always have someone in her house. My current visa doesn’t even allow me to do any paid work.
Language: In my home country I am beyond fluent. I can tell funny stories, explain complicated things, give persuasive speeches. Here I speak like a 3 year old. If I try to relate a story, I come up against something I just can’t express. So I have to try to find another way around it. In the end I can usually get the point across, but it’s fairly weak. I really enjoy language learning but I’ll be honest, it is difficult and it takes a long, long time.
Church: In my home church we start at 9:30 sharp on Sunday morning. Nearly everyone is on time. We have songs, prayers, devotionals, and a sermon all in a predictable pattern. We sing acapella and we use a sound system to make sure the hearing impaired can all hear. Let’s just say many of these things are different here. (see Luke 19:37-40)
Transportation: I started driving at age 14. I got my full unrestricted drivers license at age 16. I got my commercial drivers license at age 19. I love to drive. Cars, trucks, tractors, dump trucks, semis, excavators. If it can be driven, I can drive it. Well, I could drive it. I had a 4 wheel drive pickup, and a luxury van with lots of room and seat belts for each member of my family. Now my cousin owns my big powerful pickup and the van is for sale. If I want to go somewhere, I order a taxi, take a bus, ride a borrowed bike, or walk.
Population density: Where I come from the population density is 27 people per square kilometer. Here there are 940 people per square kilometer.
I used to earn a living. I now have to receive the gifts of others.
At home I understood a lot. Here I know very little.
Before I was known. Now I am a foreigner.
I am not writing these things to complain. Rather I am simply admitting some of the struggles that I face stepping into another culture. The beautiful thing is that the grace of God is more than enough to carry us through difficult times. We are often amazed by unexpected kindness from neighbors and even from complete strangers. Recently we were on an outing and someone I had never met before bought my family seven ears of roasted sweetcorn. It was delicious. A few months ago when I fell and smashed my head, I was completely helpless. Our house helpers and neighbors and our language teacher all rallied around me and delivered me to the hospital. I received excellent care. Friends from the church visited me in the hospital. The elderly couple from a neighboring organization took care of our children so my wife could accompany me to a hospital in a different city.
Many people have prayed for us and made sacrifices to enable us to do what God is asking us to do. In Philippians 4:19 it says that God will meet all our needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. I experience this promise every day. In spite of the struggles with culture shock I am really enjoying being here. I do not want to go home. I want to be here.
When Jesus came to earth, he crossed a much bigger cultural gap than I ever have. He was equal with God and he made Himself of no reputation and He humbled Himself. I feel like I understand this at least a little better than I used to. The whole process of humbling oneself isn’t fun,but it seems like it is necessary.
I am actually becoming more excited about what God is going to accomplish. The other day my wife commented about a verse in I Cor. 1:27 where it talks about God using weak and foolish things to confound mighty and wise things. She said if this is true there is a good chance He can use us too.
Visit the Sungai Project page to learn more about this project.