Reverse Culture Shock

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
(Ephesians 1:3)

Visiting Haiti was a shock to the system.  The sights, the sounds, the smells, the traffic – everything we experienced was an affront to our accepted Midwest norms.  Here in NW Iowa, you can drive for miles without seeing another person, the streets are clean, and the people around you generally respect your personal space.  You quickly realize when you step off the plane in Haiti; We’re not in Kansas anymore!

As an outsider coming into a different country, it is good to be aware of these differences, and not let them get to you.  We had to remember this when we were being driven through Port-au-Prince – our gasps and groans in disgust at the filth and horrid conditions we encountered were comments well understood by our driver.  This was his home, we were his guests.

It is hard to try to understand the Haitian culture, some recommend not even trying.  They are not so concerned with time and schedules, “Day-Planners” aren’t a hot commodity there.  Things get done when they get done.  Looking at Haiti with American eyes, it’s easy to imagine what a few good Civil Engineers could do to transform their land – or what a nationwide recycling effort could do to help clean up the streets – but at the heart of it all, that’s just me wanting to impose my way of life, my custom and comfort, onto everyone else around me.

In a way, I was prepared for that kind of culture shock.  I was even somewhat prepared to take in the suffering and the heartbreak of the absolute poverty and brokenness of the children we were working with.  These are children whose parents have died, or whose parents cannot afford to raise them and had to give them up.  I knew I was setting myself, and the entire team, for a kind of heart-ache that opens our hearts to love in ways we never thought possible.  I knew that none of us would be the same after this week in Haiti – I was prepared, even inviting that kind of culture shock.

What I could not prepare for, and what still has me reeling, is the reverse culture shock from coming home.  I was overwhelmed by the ordinary of our American prosperity; the mega grocery stores with overstocked shelves and over indulged children; the cheap and easy fast food; the rows upon rows of corn and beans, a harvest that is abundant even in the lean years; the opulence and comfort of our homes (even the poorest here live better than the richest there).  We have millionaire football players who strike because they need more share of the profit, while there are people who make a living off of less than a dollar a day.  We bicker and fight over procedures and policies while there are children who sleep on the ground, hungry because they have no food.

I think there are two ways of coping with this culture shock.  We could come to despise our own way of life.  If we see it for what it really is we will recognize materialism, greed, covetousness, insecurity, all which masks the idolatry of our hearts.  I think there’s a bit of that in everyone’s heart.  But what good would that accomplish?  Recognizing our tendency toward idolatry is helpful, but if that turns into a despising of the good gifts, the blessings, that God has given, then we have merely replaced one idol (money) with another (pride).

I think a healthier approach to this shattered world-view is to see the blessings that God has given us for what they truly are: an opportunity to bless others.  If God has given to you in abundance, it is not so that you can rest in that abundance, but so that you can put that abundance to work.  If God has prospered your way, it is not so that you can clutch tightly to that blessing, but so that the blessing will flow freely from you into the lives of others.  Those who hold a miserly grip on the blessings of God love the gift more than the giver, and deprive themselves of lasting joy.  As God has loved, so we are to love; freely, graciously, sacrificially, joyfully.

I knew that this Mission Trip, the first for our congregation in a very long time, would be a game changer, I’m seeing now just how that will work.  I knew the trip would change those who went to Haiti, but I also knew that our transformation would spread through the congregation.   We are not the same, our church is not the same, because of this trip.  God’s Spirit is moving amongst us, breaking down walls, transforming lives, opening our hearts in love and service.  May we continue to grow in God’s Spirit, that we may abound in love, in grace, in charity – that we may grow in the likeness of Christ.

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About reveds

Occupation: Pastor, Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, Lennox, SD Education: BS - Christian Education, Sterling College; MDiv. - Princeton Theological Seminary Family: Married, with Four children. Hobbies: Running (will someday run a marathon), Sci-Fi (especially Doctor Who and Sherlock), Theater, and anything else my kids will let me do.
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One Response to Reverse Culture Shock

  1. Tim says:

    Well said. Live life with an open hand, so God may take and give freely as He sees fit. We have nothing that isn’t a gift from Him, and the life to come affords us the greatest gift of Himself. So what do we need to heed in riches, fame or power? We are the ambassadors of Christ in all things, not only in words.

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