Wednesday, June 17, 2009

“Cutting-it” Cross Culturally or Surviving from Shock to Service

Having observed people trying to make the transition that is required to plant churches in other cultures for over twenty years now, I have decided it is less about what someone brings to the field (experience, ability, personality or gifting) and more about a choice. The people who “survive” into effectiveness do not have anything more than those who don’t, other than sheer tenacity.

It must be said, of course, that not all people who are “called” into cross-cultural living are intended to spend the rest of their career life in that setting. Sometimes they are called away after a season, or medical issues get in the way. That being said, the effort required and time needed to make the transition means that most people at the outset intend to spend at least a matter of years in the endeavor.

So, why do so many crash and burn in the first three years?

First, there are the language and cultural differences. Theoretically, everyone can learn a new language, but it takes a lot of effort and commitment. You regularly have times when you feel like you have reached the limits of your ability, and for years you feel like you will never know enough. In some ways it simply takes a choice to live with a permanent handicap; that and keep trying to grow. Even when you “learn” to speak you have to always brave the cultural waters and get used to making embarrassing mistakes. Some people literally become recluses rather than face the stress of culture shock.

The choice to adapt is not quite enough, though. Some people learn to live in the new culture but never learn to engage it with the Gospel. These people do not tend to fail in the sense of giving up and going home, but they still fail even if they live in the culture for years. If they do not accomplish the task that brought them here in the first place, mere survival cannot be seen as success.

These are the issues that are occupying a lot of people and thought here in Germanic Europe. How can we best help people achieve cultural adjustment and cultural transformation at the same time? An exciting model seems to be emerging!

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