Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Overlooked Culture Shock

Most mission sending agencies prepare their people for the experience known as “Culture Shock.” This is the psychological-stress-inducing period anyone goes through changing cultures. (Perhaps psycho-behavior-producing period would describe it better.) There have been years of study devoted to the process, and probably hundreds of books written on the subject. Needless to say, most cross-cultural workers go into the experience with their eyes wide open.

What is unfortunately missed most of the time in the USA-to-Other-Culture equation is a whole other cultural change that is about to happen. Many missionaries from the United States are coming out of a complete immersion in the evangelical sub-culture (ghetto is a better term.) They are used to multiple services at church every week, a variety of church programs for every age and interest, an ability to completely avoid encountering anyone who does not belong to the ghetto, and so on and so on. They have “Christian” radio, “Christian” television, “Christian” restaurants, and “Christian” phone books where only good “Christian” businesses are listed. They have sermons, and Sunday School lessons, and an endless list of books designed to spoon-feed them everything they need for a healthy spiritual condition.

When those people go overseas to tell people about Jesus, they often find the loss of the Evangelical culture more difficult than the loss of the American culture. How do you maintain your spiritual health? How do you raise spiritual children? How are you supposed to be a witness to lost people if you do not know how to walk the Christian walk without all the helps? How are new Christians in this new culture supposed to get by with just a Bible and prayer?

In spite of some exceptional credentials, a lot of missionaries need to learn and practice some very basic Christian disciplines.

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