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Culture shock

By AfriGO Team

Can an African experience culture shock? Absolutely. Culture shock is when a person is unable to cope well in unfamiliar surroundings. Reactions vary from anger with the host culture, to withdrawal, grief and loneliness and sometimes spiritual depression.

When entering a new culture, it is important to cultivate relationships, both with those from a familiar cultureand those from the foreign culture. “Bridge” people are those who can help you adapt to the new ways of doing and thinking, and advise on tricky situations. Your bridge person may be in your organization, a sponsoring church, or in a helpful neighbour.

The most important characteristic in entering a new culture? Humility. “Your way” may not be the right one. Sit back and learn. Consider the example of Christ, who lived with those He had come to minister to, treating them with compassion.

The hidden foreigner

When you go to serve in a new place the locals may not recognize you as a foreigner just by looking at you. Is this a good thing, a bad thing? Neither and both. Perhaps people may get annoyed with you when you can’t speak the language. Or you will be frustrated because they won’t use the trade language! You might get a better bargain at the market, or move more easily through the community. Whether good or bad, see how God can use it for your ministry and relationships.

Reverse culture shock

When you return home from the field, it is a time of joy! But it is also often surprisingly difficult. If you were away for less than a year, you may find that people almost didn’t notice you were gone. And they expect the “you” they knew, not the new “you” you have become through your experiences. What are some things you may struggle with? On a practical level, currency conversion and change in prices may be confusing. If you have ministered in a village setting and have now returned to a large city, the noise and the choices can be overwhelming.

On a deeper level, there may be the loss of relationships or people may have moved on without you. They’ve had experiences that you did not share in. The family may have resentment because you were not present to support them through a difficult time. Your peers may have good paying jobs and acquired things which you wish you had. Your sacrifice may not be appreciated, and people may not be very interested in the work and the struggles of your ministry. You may also be faced with some life decisions or the need to recuperate from a difficult ministry time.

What to do? Enjoy the good and make time for quiet when you are able. Celebrate the reunions and call on trusted spiritual friends to pray with you and listen. Take advantage of opportunities to share, but keep explanations brief unless more is asked. More than anything else, wait at the feet of the Father who will fill you, comfort you, and be your steadfast rock in this time of transition and change. Remember, He who has called you is faithful (I Thess. 5:24).

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