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 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. She 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.





The Door

27 11 2012

 

John 10:9
I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.

During our annual Thanksgiving Blessing at our church (Grand Avenue Baptist Church) where we present the gospel message and give away 1200 full turkey dinners, our Lead Pastor, Jeff Crawford, presented a message entitled “The Door.” Because of God’s Spirit moving, we saw hundreds of people respond to this message, and that very day we baptized almost 70 people. The one thing that struck me about this message was its simplicity. I think that too often we forget that God does not make it complicated. The good news of Jesus Christ redeeming a lost and dying world is a very simple message that can be explained with an everyday example of a door. It does not take an expert in theology to explain it, and even a young child can understand it.

When my family and I served as missionaries in Tanzania, the one thing that we dealt with more than anything was confusion. The tribal people there knew of the Bible. They knew of Jesus. They heard sermons and worship songs on the radio. The reason that these people were confused was not because God’s message is complicated, but because humans and their sin twisted the gospel into something unrecognizable through their own prejudices, denominations, and pride. I believe that the same thing is happening here in the United States and probably most other places around the globe. The people who responded to Jeff’s message at Thanksgiving Blessing had probably been in church before. They undoubtedly knew who Jesus was, but most of them came in, unknowingly, with a distorted, twisted, and confused view of Jesus and the gospel. When presented in all its beautiful simplicity, the gospel “spoke” truth in their hearts for the first time, and they responded with enthusiasm.

As followers of Jesus, we must be faithful in presenting the pure gospel message – nothing more and nothing less – and allow it to do its own work in and on the heart of the hearers. This brings me to a question… if the gospel is so simple and the Holy Spirit does all the work, why do we not share it more often? We know that people are confused and yearning for and needing this vital message, yet we remain silent. If we can fully explain the gospel using a basic example of a door, or a gate, or a narrow path, etc., this leaves us with no excuse to share it except disobedience. Jeff presented the gospel clearly and concisely, and certainly he is a gifted speaker, but Jesus has called all of us to share the Good News – not just seminary-educated preachers. Pray about who God would have you share the gospel with this Christmas season and be obedient to do it even if you feel unqualified or ill-prepared. Trust in the Holy Spirit that He will give you the words to say at the right time. I promise, you will not regret it.





Storytellers

20 06 2012

I had the privilege of spending the last two weeks in the country of Colombia with a great group of missionaries. One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting to go up the river and visit with the indigenous tribes. For the particular trip that we went on, the purpose was to bring food to two different villages.  This past spring they experienced a 100-year flood. Most homes were filled with water, and all of their crops were destroyed leaving most of them with nothing. We were just going to bring them some food to get them through a difficult time. (Our very own Baptist Global Response footed the bill for this trip.) What I was most impressed by was that our missionaries were not “The Bringers of Food,” but were “The Storytellers” coming to bring some food. There is a HUGE difference between the two.

Our tendency, as wealthy Americans, is to just throw money at the problems of the world. Our philosophy is that if we can get enough money to the problem then it will solve itself. Yes, money is needed to help and to solve certain problems, but it is naive and possibly sinful to think that money is the most important thing needed. When we arrived at the first village, it was obvious that relationships between the indigenous people and the missionary had already been established. It was equally obvious that our missionary was known as one who comes and tells us stories from the Bible. This is what I want to be known as. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul talks about all of our works being revealed by fire as either wood, hay, and straw, or gold, silver, and precious stones. When I am judged by God for my works, I want my works to be gold, silver, and precious stones, not burned up in an instant. Food will fill the belly for a time, but the Gospel saves for all eternity. Food in the present will ease the cravings enough to hear the stories, but we will all die in the end and face an eternity with or without God. It is not enough to just give food or money or build a church building or dig a well or teach them English. We must open our mouths and share the Good News of God’s Kingdom. In the end, that is all that matters.

When someone steps up to the podium in church one day to tell about your life at your funeral, what will they say? How will they describe your life? Who will they say that you were? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be be called another “great guy.” I want to be called “The Storyteller” who changed the world for the glory of God.





Holding God’s Blessing

11 04 2012

I believe that most Christians are well-meaning when it comes to missions and the Great Commission. I would never expect a believer to think that missions is a bad thing or even not Biblical. Most would certainly agree that the Great Commission is a mandate given by Jesus for all believers to follow. When pastors preach on Matthew 28:19-20 they always get plenty of amens! The question then is why are more Christians not following this command. I don’t think that most people sit around thinking about how they are going to actively rebel against what God has told them to do, but the fact of the matter is the mandate is not being followed by the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians. There are many answers to why the command is not followed, but I want to focus on one in particular. I believe it to be the biggest culprit. Bear with me as I set it up…

In Genesis 12 we read the Abrahamic Covenant which essentially claims that God is going to bless Abraham and his people so that they, in turn, can bless all the nations of the earth. In other words, God is going to give Abraham land, a large family, wealth, and a great name, so that he can use those gifts to bring glory to God by redeeming a lost world back to God. This applied to the Israelites who would go through seasons of following this command and seasons of rebellion. In the end, the Israelites decided not to share the blessings, so that God eventually hardened their hearts completely (Romans 11:25) and shut off the blessing. Because of Israel’s unbelief, the blessing of the gospel was given to the Gentiles. Now, about 2000 years later, we sit as Americans in the very same position.

The blessings that Abraham received are the same blessings we enjoy today. God gave Abraham land, and today we have unprecedented access to countries that were closed for hundreds of years to the gospel. In two or three days we can literally be anywhere on the planet. God gave Abraham a large family, and in America we have many who profess to be believers and churches everywhere. God gave Abraham great wealth, and in the same way God has richly blessed America.  I have seen poverty, and our poorest are rich compared to most of the world. Our churches contain an incredible amount of wealth – enough to complete the Great Commission if we wanted. God gave Abraham a great name, and he has given America great fame.  I realize that the media shows that the rest of the world hates us, but when I travel overseas I find that to not be true. Everyone wants to move to America.

The question is what are we going to do with these incredible blessings. Will we hoard them for our own good or will we turn around and bless the nations as God commanded? Do we hold our blessings loosely with an open hand or clench them tightly in our fist? I had the privilege of hearing Todd Ahrend speak on this subject in a Perspectives class a couple of months ago. He made the statement that most Christians are well-intentioned, but they are too busy managing their blessings to make an impact for God’s kingdom. Please hear this: We cannot take our blessings to heaven with us, and we will be rewarded in Heaven based on how we use our blessings here on earth (read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

God has greatly blessed you and me. It is now up to us to decide what to do with that blessing. Will we build our own little temporal kingdom or will we use it to build God’s eternal kingdom?








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