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Reverse Culture Shock

May 29, 2013

The most common question we get right now is “how is it being back in the states?”  Another version is “how is the culture shock?”  I, for both of us, can truthfully say that the culture shock is only just starting to hit, in small ways.  We’ve spent the last two months in a honeymoon phase – loving the convenience and cleanliness of this culture.

The reverse culture shock back to America usually comes in the form of resentment, bitterness, and anger at materialism.  My first wave of it came a few weeks ago at a mall – it was not anger or bitterness, but just this overwhelming feeling of confusion.  Each store at the mall sold the same clothes, all expensively priced, to…who?  I felt confused in the mall about this giant, climate controlled space, where the power is always on, it’s so clean and well lit and inviting…and yet, only a small portion of the world’s population can experience it.  The feeling was so strange.  It’s hard to describe.

One of the things people coming from overseas MUST be diligent about is NOT becoming angry or bitter.  Paul wrote about this as he traveled from place to place and it is now a well-known verse: …”I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:11-13, ESV)  It is not easy, but being fluid in our own thinking and seeking the Lord in every moment of weakness or frustration is our only method of staying sane as we jump form culture to culture.  Please be praying that we continue to enjoy our time here and not grow frustrated at the disappointing things in our culture – and that we don’t cling to what we have now in fear for what we’ll give up when we go back to DRC!  Ha!  What a balancing act!

Another thing that can happen when one returns to their home culture is not being prepared for people’s various reactions to what the missionary has been doing.  Some friends and family don’t ask the questions the missionary expects or hopes.  Some make jokes about them being world travelers and the luxury that the lifestyle encompasses (I don’t think we’ll ahve any of those jokes after serving in Congo…because Congo is not really known for luxury).  Others only ask superficial questions, when the missionary wants to share about his or her heart, and the hearts of the people they served.  But, we have been rightfully advised that it’s all about expectations, and understanding – and, for us personally, we have not experienced any of the above!  What a blessing!  We are excited to share IF you’re excited to listen.  And if you’d rather talk about movies coming out this summer or your church’s latest project, we’ll get excited about that, too.  This, because we are making the deliberate decision to be content WHERE we are.  We had a fantastic year in Congo and can’t wait to go back…we’ll talk about it until the cows come home!  We’re also being realistic – not everyone wants to hear stories or see pictures, and it won’t affect our relationship too much, we promise.  That’s not to say we won’t bring it up from time to time, because it’s part of who we are, but we’ll try not to start every sentence with “When we were in Congo…” and get annoyed when you don’t respond with matched enthusiasm.

Reverse culture shock can be just that…shocking.  But MAF does a great job preparing their missionaries for return.  Most of my thoughts here are taken from a book called Re-Entry by Peter Jordan.  It’s a fairly concise resource on the topic and I found it helpful for adjusting my own thinking, being reminded that our calling extends to mission work overseas AND a Christ-centered life back in the states, and how to handle different situations that may seem out of the ordinary when returning to our home culture.

Now, back to preparing for our giant road trip…we leave in less than a week!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tonya permalink
    May 29, 2013 0829

    I could have listened to you all day long and absolutely loved looking at your pictures! Amazed at your beautiful life of missions and helping others learn of the love of Jesus! You are truly blessed!

  2. Julia L permalink
    May 30, 2013 0829

    I am so excited to spend time with someone else as in love with The Congo as we are! After spending three weeks there, I feel like all my sentences start with “when I was in the Congo” too so I can imagine it’s quite the change for you all. Praying for you and loving your transparency.

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