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Saturday, April 08, 2006

It's My Job

I have devoted the last four years of my life to the study of a language and culture that are not my own. When I started, I thought of these people only in stereotypes and generalities. Every new observation or bit of insight was applied to the whole. "Everyone here," I can remember thinking, "hates me because I'm an American." To me, the rude guy at the gas station represented an entire nation of rude people just like him. The poor customer service at the post office meant that it didn't exist anywhere in the country. Ok, so maybe some of my observations were universal.

Life in another language is like taking a cold shower. The best way to start is to just jump in all at once. Even then, you don't enjoy it. We say that we get used to it, but really we just become so numb it doesn't bother us anymore. It takes about a month to get over the feeling that everyone around is talking about you. Another month before you can tell the difference between angry shouting and just regular talking. Every week after that, your chances increase that you'll get what you think you ordered in a restaurant. I love picture menus, even though the food never really looks as good in person.

So now I know stuff. I know that I'm not the only one that the waiter is rude to, and that the person I'm meeting will be late, but if I am, I'll get a text message asking where I am. I can really notice how much I've learned when new people come. Volunteers can be pretty oblivious, but other missionaries are the best barometers of cultural acclimation. I love the feeling of knowing what's going on while the new guy is totally lost. I replace "When I was your age..." with "when I first got here...," but otherwise, I'm the wistful old man of our team. All I need now is a rocking chair (and a porch), and I could keep you up all afternoon telling stories of times when I put my foot in my mouth or accidentally called a police officer a woman to his face.

I continue to study because it's my job and I'm fascinated by it. I love learning why people here do what they do. Especially when they don't even know. In a way, all this study, all this intentional living amongst these people makes me a bit of an expert. I'm not trying to sound proud or anything, but I most likely know more about the people to whom I'm ministering than you do. (Easy for me to say since I haven't exactly told you who the people are.) Odds are that you've never even met someone from my people group, much less turned down the alcoholic beverage he offered while sitting on his sofa watching home videos of his niece's Confirmation.

So that's what I bring to the table. I'm not a good public speaker, and I don't know how to play any musical instruments. But I have cultural insight that is unique to the people I work with here in Western Europe. I can tell you how someone from this city might respond to a gospel presentation. I know how they are likely to view us as outsiders, and I'm familiar with their felt needs. I have seen glimpses of the Church in this culture, and it doesn't look very much like it does in American culture. In a lot of ways, that has been the payoff for all the work and stress of living in another culture; to see the Church in a different light.

Thank you for supporting us to be students of these different cultures. Thank you for trusting us to represent Jesus among people that aren't looking for Him. Thank you for allowing us to translate the gospel into these cultures and plant indigenous churches that worship God in their own languages. Thank you for providing a way for me to do what I'm called to do.

4 comments:

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Stepchild,

You are giving me a great Missiology course for free, and I really appreciate it. If you'll keep writing, I'll keep reading.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

thouart said...

A gracious post indeed. Now, with this as only the second comment, I hope you do not succomb to the temptation to post controversial blogs for the sake of controversy or division in order to feel popular. Your friend McCoy recently gave advice to not just complain about situations without offering solutions.

1 Timothy 6:3) If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4) he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions...

You give hope...

Bill said...

Stepchild:

I agree - I really enjoy reading your thoughts about living and ministering in Western Europe. As I said earlier, it reminds me of my days working in Norway, and gives me insights into ministering in the foreign (to me) culture of big-city Texas.

Keep up the good work.

Bill

knnuki said...

Hey Dude. Thoroughly enjoyed interacting with you - and others - these last few days. A blessing, really. Have known for a long time that actually, I'm pretty modern, just have developed an appreciation for the thing-after-modern mentality, and am enjoying doing that. But really, I'm a modern who's made the switch and will probably always maintain a hint of (or possibly a big dallop of) modernity. Just a thought I re-had today.

Yes, I know. This has nothing to do with your post. How pitiful am I??

KNN