Reverse Culture Shock

29 11 2012

 

I was at Reach, our college service last night, and I enjoyed getting to hear from one of our college students, Liz Ellenbarger, who spent the last six months in a country in Central Asia. Our College Pastor, Aaron Rodgers, was interviewing her in front of everyone, and he asked a great question. He asked what, if anything, has been the hardest thing for you since coming back to the US. Liz answered that all of the choices that she has at restaurants, stores, or coffee shops is absolutely overwhelming. Many of our missionaries, even short-termers, come home and experience this kind of “reverse culture shock.”

Most missionaries, especially those going to a third world country, expect and certainly do experience culture shock when first entering their new country. The food is different. Electricity is sporadic at best. You have to keep your mouth closed when taking a shower. Everything is upside down! When we first went to Tanzania as long-term missionaries, I expected to experience culture shock. I think that because I expected it and had been trained to deal with it, I didn’t experience the full brunt of it like I thought I would. This is probably the norm for most missionaries. Most mission-sending agencies and churches do a great job of training our folks on dealing with culture shock. I think that where the training is lacking is in helping folks reenter the United States.

There are two dangers to the “Reverse Culture Shock.”

Many people go on short-term (10-day) mission trips. During that trip God does some incredible things in their life. God softens their heart for the nations. God gives them an outsiders perspective on their own life back home. God challenges their preconceptions of Himself. God changes their heart. Whenever I debrief people after they come back from a trip, I always hear them say something to the extent of… “I will never be the same again.” As many trips as I have now been on, God still does this for me. The danger is that all too often a person experiences this and quickly reverts back to their old lifestyle of nominal Christianity. Whenever this happens, a callous is produced. This person goes on another trip and does not allow God to change them again, and the callous gets thicker. Before too long, you have a Christian tourist that enjoys going on mission trips and loves the joy (high) it produces, but there is no evidence in their life that God has enacted any change.

The other danger is that a person reenters their home culture and is so disgusted by it and the apathetic religion that is practiced that they distance themselves from the church. I have seen this happen more often with people who stay a little longer in another culture. This is what happened for me. By the grace of God, He quickly showed me that if He loves the church, then I am to love the church – warts and all. In Tanzania, we worshipped on Sundays with a plastic bucket, a stick, and our voices. It is very easy to get disgusted with our American church for thinking they need multi-million dollar sanctuaries with top-of-the-line technology, but we have to understand that America is a distinct culture as well. A bucket and a stick are not going to reach people in the US that are watching Sunday football on their HD TVs. Is there a balance to be struck? Certainly! The point I am trying to make, though, is that the church is Jesus’ bride whether the church uses buckets or digital sound boards and LED lights. Jesus loves His bride, and so should we.

Reverse culture shock is real and dangerous, and we, as mission leaders, need to do a better job of helping our members who go on mission trips to come home with more success.


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2 responses

29 11 2012
Rachel Hepler

The first time I came home from a mission trip I cried as I came through our door. We had so much more than others I had met on that trip. I am so grateful for several ‘return experiences’ which has continued to expand our giving so others may go.

26 03 2015

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