Saturday, July 2, 2011

One year anniversary.

Culture is a hard thing to get away from. A person’s culture is so ingrained in them that to extract it morsel by tiny morsel is impractical --if not outright impossible.

If one cultural fiber is shed, it tears at the others leaving ragged holes and insecurities.

I’m not suggesting that a person cannot change and adopt new ways of doing things or seeing the world; that would be foolishness. But I am saying that a person’s foundational culture --the stuff that motivates us and moves us in ways we don’t fully understand-- is tenacious and unbending.

But shouldn’t it be? I mean, come on. If it isn’t, won’t it all fall like a house of cards?

Sorry. I digress.

My point is: I am American.

I have had the privilege of living in a number of wonderful countries over the years. Each of those countries and cultures has changed me in countless ways. But at the base --at my very core-- I am American.

Why is this important? Well, lately I have been praying and thinking about life and the work I’m doing here, and I have been asking myself a lot of questions. But strangely, each time the answer to those questions is the same.


Why have I felt so frustrated? Culture. What is shaking me to the core? Culture. What is at the source of this disconnect? Culture. 

My point is: As an American, I am faced with a new culture clash. This culture clash has been the hardest one of my life. To call it culture-shock is just not strong enough because the idea of a shock is fleeting. It assumes that eventually it will pass.

My culture-shock here in Sudan is not passing. It’s constant and unrelenting.

Part of my recent struggles is due to personal sickness and fatigue. But another part is due to this deep gulf of disconnect between my American culture and my adoptive Sudanese one.

I have been here a year and I’m still trying to build bridges of understanding. Will I ever make it?  I honestly don’t know.

My American enthusiasm has been stripped naked. Clinging to a limp and nearly dead ideal of optimism, I wonder if it has not all been in vain. Can I survive if it has? 

Let’s face it, Americans look for results. They like facts and figures. They want statistical and incremental proof that what they are doing is helping. Or else, they scrap the project and move on. Americans are a ‘bottom line’ people.

I am a ‘bottom line’ American. Hence, the disappointment.

It doesn’t help, either, that I am a product of my culture’s ‘microwave generation’. I expect results in minutes not years. I have been trained to believe that every story should be tied in a tight 20-minute knot which includes two commercial breaks and a preview of next week’s show.

Yes. I know. It’s stupid. Sigh. Nevertheless it’s true.

I am American.

I’m an American struggling to slow down and trust in a culture that has no sense of hurry. I am an American trained to insist, strive, work hard, and expect results in a culture that wants to talk and not do.

Yes. I am an American in Sudan. Sigh.

So recently when I looked at my calender and saw that I had been here a year, I stopped to take account. Has my coming made one iota of difference?

I’m not sure.

Yes. In this year, God has done some amazing things in this ministry. He has brought several to salvation, countless lives have been touched at the clinic, and the church is growing. God is obviously moving. And I’m honestly glad to be a part of it.

So why the struggle?

Again. It’s my American-ness. My cultural core is begging for a stay of execution. Will I be forced to throw out time expectations and perceived usefulness? Perhaps. Am I ready to do that? I’m not sure. What will have to change for me to make it through another year?

Culture. Specifically my culture.

Am I being too dark again? Can’t I just pretend all is well and bright and shiny? I could. But it wouldn’t be honest. This is me being honest. This is my struggle this month. This is what living in the mission field looks like for me. These are the questions I face.

Am I strong enough to make the necessary changes?

I hope so.

Please pray for me. Pray that I would not hold fast to culture but to God. Pray that I can gain new perspective for this work and live well among these people, showing them the love of Christ in culturally appropriate ways for them. Thank you.