“Culture Shock” Often Has Little to Do with “Culture”
You would think that moving from Lubbock, Texas to Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas would not bring any culture shock at all. That is where you are wrong. What we call culture shock can have little to do with culture itself. Culture Shock is “generally defined as a psychological disorientation that most people experience when living in a culture markedly different from one’s own.” I don’t want to diminish the significant of the cultural adjustment that missionaries and other experience by moving to a distinct and different culture from their own. There are very significant challenges in such a move. However, I want to also understand that inherit in this culture shock experience is the sense of loss or even grief that one experiences in a move from one place which has been a place providing security and identity to a new place yet to provide those needs of belonging and purpose.
Sherry and I have enjoyed a very significant relationship with people in Lubbock, Texas for more than 31 years. We met at the Sunset Church of Christ, grew up spiritually there and were married in the Sunset building. The Sunset church became our sponsoring church for the 6 years we spent in Mexico City. Yes, we did go through some culture shock in our move to Mexico City. However, I went through a greater transition in moving back to Lubbock after 6 years in Mexico. This fun experience is often called “reverse culture shock.” Part of my disorientation in returning was trying to figure out which words to use. The Spanish language was more expressive to me and more meaningful than English which somehow did not seem to express my true emotions at times. I even had a hard time deciding which Bible to teach from. A New International Version did not sound like or feel like the “word of God” to me. So I would often go into the classroom with my Spanish Bible in hand feeling more confident that God was truly speaking through “that Bible.” I remember feeling that I was listening, speaking words, but just did not seem to connect with people around me. I felt like I was often in a fog not truly connecting and not truly being understood. It was all of part of the disorientation in moving from one environment to another.
Fast forward to 2010, after year in life, ministry and community in Lubbock, Sherry and I made a move to an exciting ministry with Missions Resource Network. We knew there would be changes, challenges and adjustments to new friends, new styles of ministry and the dreaded traffic in the metroplex. Yet we were somewhat surprised with the difficulty of this move. I began working with churches and mission teams as Sherry started looking for a job which we were confident that the Lord had in store for her. I taught churches and missionaries about the culture shock they would need to be prepared for as they or their missionaries went to their new mission field. I found myself using my wife, Sherry as an example (with her permission of course). Imagine all the relationships and environment around Sherry in Lubbock that gave her a sense of security, identity, purpose and belonging. Of course, you begin by mentioning Jay, the most important support, the husband. Others include: children; church community; a close small group we were a part of; an accountability group of two close friends; a job where she found purposed and identity; a house that provide sense of security, her nest; a city where she knew where to shop, a doctor, a dentist she knew and trusted, the list goes on and on. Then comes the move away from those things and the relationship with children and friends are not completely gone but for all practical purposes are to some degree lost. The only relationship left standing that remains physically present is the husband, who all of a sudden is not much help. The good news is those relationships have not been lost and all of that support network will be expanded and replaced in the new location. However, it takes time. Disorientation sets in and loss brings some level of grief.
Remember I said that those things you have lost will all be replaced with time. More than a year later we see God’s blessings in our life already. Relationships are forming, community is being build and renewed purpose if found in new ministry with Let’s Start Talking and Missions Resource Network. Change sometimes brings about challenges, loss and grief. However we are finding that it also brings about transformation as God continues to shape us and mold us for service in His kingdom. Culture shock often has little to do with culture, it can be a tool that God uses to form us into the image of His Son (2 Corinthians 3:18: Galatians 4:17). Perhaps part of the journey is discovering that home is wherever Jesus is and we are simply aliens in this life and we find our security, belonging, purpose and identity in God’s house, God’s life (Ephesians 2:19). In a sense, culture shock is a process that helps us to not get too comfortable where we are, but to realize we find true belonging in the presence of our Creator.