Learning more about Jesus in the midst of cultural shock


I've been serving in Southeast Asia for about three weeks and I've learned a lot of things, but one of the biggest lessons I've learned is that being a cross-cultural worker is hard. You arrive in a new culture and literally everything is different and those differences can be overwhelming.

At first the newness is exciting – trying new food, meet new people, seeing new sights is fun. This is called the fun or "honeymoon" stage of culture shock. I served in England last summer and stayed in this stage the whole time. So this summer, when it's only three weeks into my two month time here, I was surprised to already be moving out of this stage.

The newness and excitement started to rub off. I get tired of trying new food, sitting in traffic for a long time and not speaking the same language of the majority of the population. I am getting tired easily and running out of energy before noon and four-hour shifts teaching English seems to drag on. When I try to turn the conversation to the topic of Jesus, the students at the Center get distracted or are totally not interested. This is known as the "flight" stage of cultural shock because this is the time you want to get on a flight back home, Jesus has been teaching me a lot in this stage.

As I was walking to my house today, I had some time by myself to think. I was thinking about Jesus and while I've never really thought about it before, He was kind of a cross-cultural worker. He left Heaven, a perfect sinless place, to come to earth, an extremely broken and sinful place and those are two totally different cultures. I know there were times when Jesus got frustrated when people did not understand what He was trying to teach them. I bet there were times when He thought it would be easier to just go home. Living on the earth wasn't easy. He was mocked, hated and spit on. It was hard, but He still walked in obedience to the Father's will.

The Bible even says, "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:2). For such a profound concept, when I was a new follower, it was a confusing verse because it was hard for me to see how there could be joy involved in the crucifixion.

But now I can see the joy in the crucifixion was because Jesus was providing a way for anyone who believes in Him to spend eternity with Him and there is unending joy with that.

One of my all-time favorite verses is: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). I love having a Savior who knows how I feel. And now I've realized that Jesus knows what it's like to be in a new place and He understands my culture shock, which makes it easier to run to Him when I'm having a hard day.

Jesus has been doing great things in Southeast Asia. My team has been able to share the Good News with quite a bit of people through teaching English. We have also helped with different ministries like a prisons ministry and a ministry to prostitutes. So why do I take the time to share about culture shock?

One day when I was having a rough time I found a letter in my suitcase that my sister snuck in without me knowing. She is a long term cross-cultural worker in Africa and was on furlough in Texas before I left for Southeast Asia.

In the letter she wrote "Here's a sad truth about cross-cultural work; cross-cultural workers often do a disservice to other people by not mentioning the hard stuff."

There's so much truth in that. Sometime as cross-cultural workers, we only want to talk about the good things and all the cool things that Jesus is doing. We don't want to open up about our struggles or doubts. I'm learning that if I pretend everything is perfect, I'm not doing anyone any good. It's okay to have a hard day and need to cry, but we are meant to stay in those moments. In those moments, we are meant to run to Jesus with our brokenness and doubts and He will be there with open arms to sympathize with our weakness like His Word says.

Kristen is a Go Now missionary serving in Southeast Asia.
Related articles: Seeing God’s sovereignty through small blessings / Engage 24: Sharing the Gospel with two pennies on a college campus / Living life to the fullest in Wales: Part 2