Tag Archives: transition

Indeterminate Culture Shock

Back in the land of cheap, yummy avocados.…

I’ve written before about triviality, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about its application to our current times. That is, for missionaries and others working cross-culturally, there is always an element of adjusting to a new environment and culture. This includes how to find your bedroom light switch in the dark (if you’re moving house), but also how to not insult someone on the road, and how to not be insulted by someone else on the road —i.e., knowing when someones behavior should be offensive, and when it is just normal for your new environment.

But the kicker in all the above (and many other things to adjust to) is that knowing the new reality is only the first layer of adjustment. Being able to point to your light switch after thinking for ten seconds is not the same as being able to reach it intuitively —in the dark, and while still mostly asleep, when your brain is not really working yet. This is where the concept of triviality is helpful (to me, anyway!). Normal life has lots of trivial items in it: how to shop, how to make food, how to greet, how to get around town. There is some adjustment when these things change, but the goal is normally to move these things to a place were we just do them, without having to think through them each time/day.

So the twist that hit me this morning, is that whether we’re talking about culture shock, or reverse culture shock (or reverse reverse culture shock…), the transition is normally from one more or less stable environment to another more or less stable environment. The problem is that one house isn’t laid out the same as another house —but they’re both houses, and neither changes much over time. Similarly, moving from one culture/city to another requires adjusting from one status quo to another, but there is a status quo in each place, which doesn’t change much over time. But this is not what we find in 2020.

Rather, this year we have political and medical facts which seem to change on a regular basis. Then the recommendations, orders/laws, and rulings, which change in response to those facts (or not), then the implementation of those recommendations, orders/laws, and rulings on various levels, which must respond to all of the above. So the question “should I wear a mask right now?”, for instance, has been a non-trivial question for months, for many people. Are the CDC and WHO recommending masks right now, or not? What kind of masks, in what situations? What are the relevant recommendations, orders/laws, and rulings of our federal/national government? And of our state? Of our County? Of our City? And perhaps most frustrating of all, how do we respond when the neighboring nation/state/county/city says something different than ours? Or when the state says something that contradicts what the county says? Most of us are simply not accustomed to thinking through all these issues on any kind of regular basis, much less each time it might be appropriate to put on or take off a mask. And masks or not is not the only question (e.g., distancing, quarantine/isolation, and contact reporting), nor are on and off the only answers to that one question (e.g., public/online shaming, rebellion, political advocacy, and non-/violent public protests)

Now, if there were one set of rules imposed (for better or worse), this might just be a matter of adjusting to them, however much time, energy, and libery that takes. But when the info we’re basing a decision on changes every couple days (on some level), we have to re-evaluate, and the decision never has a chance to become trivial –so we continue to spend energy we shouldn’t on menial, daily tasks.

There is, of course one condition where this problem doesn’t apply. Namely, if your allegiance to a particular body medical/political/whatever is significantly strong to trump all others, then you make your decision once, and only change it when that one body changes advice —and hopefully that’s not often. But I have a hard time distinguishing that from bigotry, especially in the current political climate in the US. That is, if your response to the mask question is really just a badge of political affiliation (as I’ve heard from MANY people), then can you still say you’re wearing a mask (or not) because it is the right response to the pandemic?

I read twitter enough to know that for many people, there is only one correct answer to the mask question. But there seems to be a strong correlation between those people and the many who feel there is only one correct answer to the “which party should be in power” question, on both sides. And I, for one, have never felt fully comfortable voting for either party, as neither seems to represent me particularly well. So for me, my conscience dictates that I continue to reevaluate both questions, as new data comes in.

And I know there are many people out there that feel (at least a bit) the same. I’ve heard from many the difficulty of adjusting to constantly changing goal posts. And I think that this idea of having a culture shock (or lack of triviality) that has no real end in sight, is a large part of it. Even in this context, I feel obliged to continue to insist on my right and responsibility, as a human and as a Christian, to think, to use and develop my conscience, and to pray for the Holy Spirit to give guidance, and to follow that guidance even in the face of direction to do otherwise from lesser authorities:

But Peter and John answered [their rulers and elders and scribes, in council], “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:19-20 (ESV)

So where do we go from there? I think the bigotry answer, as flawed as it is, has something to it. That is, in the midst of a storm, hold one to one thing that doesn’t move. But I think we want to be careful to not make our one thing a human or human institution, which will all fail us, sooner or later. Rather, Jesus tells us

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

Matthew 7:24-25 (ESV)

So let us continue to read what Jesus had to say, and try to put it into practice, and let the storm flow around us as it will. Not that I think this will be easy, but I think it’s the only answer that doesn’t result in our eventual destruction.

Ships, Patience, and Long Longing

Several of our dear Texas friends helped us catalog our shipment to move here to Cameroon, carefully tucking and packing things knowing the great journey they would travel. That was in late May and early June. Several asked, “When will this arrive in Africa?” I would reply, “Hopefully by Christmas.” Their shock was evident. We don’t have a culture that breeds patience. It is foreign.

When we arrived in Yaoundé July 8, our boxes had already been trucked across Texas up to North Carolina, where the JAARS office was packing them into wooden crates to be loaded into a sea freight container. When we sat in Orientation classes July 24, we were excited to hear the shipment had left NC and was due into port on this side of the Atlantic as early as September 12! That sounded too good to be true, so I mentally added a month. If it could arrive before our birthdays at the end of October, THAT would be a great birthday! They added a comment that it’s important to get shipping containers through customs well before the holiday rush.

In September, we began to really start longing in earnest for our belongings. Joel needs his own scientific calculator for math class. It’s coming on the shipment. Anna needs a longer skirt for Chapel day. We have one on the shipment. We need a board game other than a deck of cards to play when the power goes out! I need my cooking pots & pans, the sewing machine, the piano, the mixer, etc… Multiple times per day I think of something I have – but don’t have here – and don’t want to buy again for 1 month’s use (IF I could find it in a store!) I always thought of myself as a friend to the simple life, fond of minimalism, but feeding and caring for 3 teenagers for months on end is not so simple out of a few suitcases.

In October, we learned that the shipment had been delayed 3-4 weeks, but was almost to Cameroon. And in November, we learned of it’s safe arrival in port! But it can take 2 weeks to process customs paperwork. Then last week we learned that initial paperwork was rejected. No idea when it will actually make it here…

Why is it so hard not to have a sewing machine? A Halloween costume? Wrapping paper? These are American things that our African brothers and sisters live without. I find myself longing. I have been longing now for a very long time. Even when it may be broken or ruined when it all arrives! I have been pitiful enough to read those packing lists for fun…

The longing in my heart grows so strong for these physical things. And I know the Scriptures say, “Do not store up for yourselves earthly treasure, where moths and rust destroy or thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Have I put hope & joy and comfort on earthly things that perish, spoil and fade?

This morning in my study of the apostle Peter I read the phrase: “…when God waited patiently for Noah to build the ark.” I ever thought about God waiting patiently. How long was that? No one knows exactly, but Biblical scholars all estimate somewhere between 40-100 years. Years! God’s patience is beyond my imagination. I’m having a hard time waiting for even 6 months…

As I marveled at his patience, and my lack of it, He spoke,

“Do you long for Me, like you long for this shipment?”

Wow!

Do I long for Jesus’ arrival like I long for my ship’s arrival?

Do I long for heaven as my true Home like I long for these cement walls to feel like home?

Transition is hard.

It is rootless wandering.

Challenging me to build on the Rock of Ages.

The joy of every longing heart. ?

– – – – – – – – – –

What are you longing for? Is it eternal? Or can it perish, spoil or fade?

Let us set our “minds on things above, not on earthly things.”
Colossians 3:2

Joel’s Drums

Joel has always been a drummer. I noticed it first in his high chair as a toddler. This past three years he has had his own drum kit in his bedroom (sorry, neighbors!) and he loves to jam out to his favorite songs. He was first chair in Symphonic band percussion all year, and enjoys playing every kind of drum.

We realized in packing up our house to move to Cameroon that he wouldn’t be able to bring his drum kit. It costs something like $14/square foot to ship sea freight across the ocean. And it certainly wasn’t going to fit in a carry-on! I had seen others travel with more compact digital drum kits, so we hatched a plan to sell his real kit & save for a digital kit. The problem came when he only got $100 for his on resale and used digital kits were $400-600.

We went to the music store in May to see if he liked the feel of the digital kit. He started with the highest caliber and played his way down to the cheaper sets. His favorite sound was on a mid-range set – the Yamaha DTX. The used one was priced around $550, so we left empty-handed.

The store had refused to return unopened replacement drum heads, so I posted them for sale on Facebook Marketplace during our garage sale to keep saving up. After a couple days not one person had responded to inquire about the drum heads. Halfway through our garage sale I got a message on them.

A worship band pastor nearby in Hurst needed them for the church drums and asked if I would consider donating them to his church for a tax deduction. My heart sank. Our whole life felt like a tax deduction. I responded with the background – “I’m actually trying to sell them for my son who is raising money to purchase a digital kit to move back to Africa…”

Carl responded, “This is a God thing! We have a digital kit that needs an easy repair that we are looking to get rid of, and I think I’m supposed to pay it forward and give it to your son!” Hope rose in my throat.

I asked for pictures. Sunday morning he sent me pictures of the dusty digital kit sitting in their storage closet. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was a Yamaha DTX kit! Of course it was! Oh me of little faith…

Joel traded his $80 of new drum heads for a used $500 digital kit. He brought it home, spent 10 minutes fixing the missing piece, and drummed away in the garage (his room was newly painted). God not only saw us and provided for us, but He saw Joel. He saw Joel’s willingness to give up things he loves to move back to the mission field. He sees. And He cares.

Joel’s “Drum Kit from God” is all packed away now to be shipped via sea freight from North Carolina. Pray blessings for Carl and his worship ministry in Hurst. Pray it all arrives safely and quickly on the other side! Praise the God who provides! He is awesome!

Ebenezer 2015

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”

1 Samuel 7:12 (ESV)

For the last several years, it has seemed good to draw up a list of specific ways that God has helped us, as we reflect back on the ups and downs of a year drawing to a close. Some years we have needed that because we needed to see past all the more obvious and difficult things, and remind ourselves of the providence of God working all to Good, as we looked past the pain of each moment to the longer perspective. And many of those points have been more private than publishable, either because we’re not sure we wanted to lay those pains open to the whole of cyberspace, or else because the point of the joy probably just wouldn’t make sense if you weren’t there for the pain as well.

But this year, there have been many joys, and many of those joys are shareable, so it seemed right to do so, and give God glory for what has has done for us this last year (the following list us, as the secondary agents; God is the primary agent working the good out in us):

At the UT Arlington:

  1. I took Statistics, and learned R (a statistics computer program).
  2. I finished formal syntax, formal phonology, and formal semantics requirements, completing my coursework requirements for the doctoral degree.
  3. I Presented the Mbo language (of D.R.Congo) at three different conferences in Feb-Mar: the UTA Student Conference in Linguistics and TESOL (UTASCILT), and the UTA Annual Celebration of Excellence in Students (ACES), and the Annual Conference on African Linguistics (ACAL)
  4. I won an award for my presentation at ACES, talking about the integration of linguistic work and community development.
  5. I had an awesome time at ACAL, reconnecting with some scholars, and meeting new ones, including people whose work I am building on.
  6. My academic advisor took a job elsewhere, and I made a smooth transition to another advisor, with whom I’m getting along very well.
  7. I presented the Ndaka language (of D.R.Congo) at UTA Linguistics department Graduate Student Showcase and the Metroplex Linguistics Conference.
  8. I got broad departmental affirmation for my Metroplex talk.
  9. I submitted an abstract (on Ndaka) for ACAL 47 in March 2016, which was accepted.
  10. I fully drafted my dissertation proposal, and sent it to my committee for review.

In Personal health:

  1. I spent far too much money on doctors and tests to find out that I needed to loose weight (which I already knew).
  2. I lost 60 pounds, and I’ve kept it off.
  3. I withdrew from teaching at church to focus more on our marriage.
  4. I got back into teaching at church.
  5. I got to enjoy some Christmas preparation.
  6. I got to see Kim enjoy me enjoying some Christmas preparation.
  7. I finished the fall term well, early, and in peace with myself, God and Kim.

In the Family:

  1. We prepared and executed a trip to Oregon
  2. We set up a website, and integrated it with Mailchimp, our blog, and our give page at Wycliffe.
  3. We started leading a homegroup.
  4. We celebrated James’ 13th birthday.
  5. We got to see each of our children take major strides in trusting Christ.
  6. We got to see each of our children excel in particular ways at school.
  7. We got solar panels installed on our house.
  8. We made lots of progress in our marriage, both in and out of therapy.
  9. We successfully got each of our cars out of the shop (multiple times each).

Other ministry opportunities:

  1. I got to lead a small group of constantly changing group of fifth graders every other week in Sunday school, where I get to teach a bit and pray for each of them.
  2. I got to lead a boy to Christ in the 5th/6th grade class.
  3. I have continued to pursue relationships at church and homegroup that do not respond as positively as I would like.
  4. I finished CORPS (a training course at our local church) answering questions well on the final exam (incl some potentially divisive ones). I received a particular commendation on my respectful demeanour from our senior pastor, who lead the course (those who have interacted with me over the years may sense how much of a blessing this was to hear!).
  5. Kim has helped make 10+ quilts, and through this ministry continues to raise up prayer for missionaries.
  6. Kim started as a BSF group leader, leading 13 women (including non- and new believers) through a study of Revelation.

So odds are some of the above doesn’t make sense.  That’s OK; maybe it’s more personal than I thought it was.  Anyway, God has carried us through a lot this year, both in terms of things to bear, and things to enjoy. So it just seemed right to ring in the new year giving him the credit. To God be the glory, from whom all blessings flow!

Grace,

Kent