14 May 2014

Culture Shock - The New "Normal"

It hit last weekend. That's how it always gets me. It's not so much a gradual process, I guess they wouldn't call it "Shock" if it were. But it hit me last weekend.

Culture shock to me isn't experiencing the differences between cultures. I think anyone with some level of 'cultural elasticity' can experience and process the differences between Culture A, or their "home" culture, and Culture B, the foreign culture they are in. I've traveled to over 20 countries now. I've laughed at bathroom door signs, marveled at driving on the left (i.e. wrong) side of the road, eaten things that would make a hotdog factory blush. I've seen the riches of Paris, the slums of Haiti, and while they all elicited an mental and emotional response, I still wouldn't say that it was the dreaded shock that I hear so much about.

The shock comes later. It sneaks up on you as your elasticity wears down. Your elasticity is the honeymoon period after you get married. Those first few months are great. Sure he's different, but he's fun different right? Life's an adventure right? But.....then again, what's with picking his toe nails while watching TV, and speaking of TV, I don't mind the commercials, but nooooo, Commander Remote-Control over there is trying to watch three shows at once, gosh that's so annoying. Who knew guys were so stinky, forget car emissions, I think he's personally responsible for global warming. 

Simply put, your cultures are different, and you're built to prefer your 'normal'. You start out nice and all, and your cultural elasticity is in full-effect, but soon the conversations change from your romantic future, to a realization that he smells worse than you thought, and your apple pie is like 'ashes in his mouth' compared to his moms. But you know what, you get through it, and slowly you develop your 'new normal'.

It hit me last week. The real culture shock. It's that moment when your elasticity is tired. Your emotions and mind have the following conversation:

Emotions: Wow, this has been fun.
Mind: Yep.
Emotions: I think I'm ready to go now.
Mind: Really?
Emotions: Yeah, I would kinda like to go home (culture A), I miss the house, our friends, my office. I miss monday morning staff meetings, my cublicle, my leather desk chair. I'm ready to be able to go, to understand, to communicate, to be near family, to go to our home church, to celebrate holiday's, to cuddle our dog, eat a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, see a movie without subtitles, yada yada yada.
Mind: Sounds great.
Emotions: Yeah, don't get me wrong, it's been great, but I'm ready to go.
Mind: Too bad, you live here now.

And that's the shock.

Please don't misunderstand me. It's not a commentary on this country we live in, our calling, or even culture B. It has nothing to do with the fact that we love Hungary, and even if we weren't here as missionaries, I'd strongly consider just living and working here. But there simply the point where your body flips a switch and says, "I'm ready to go home now." Except this is your home. You're not on vacation. You're not going anywhere.

So what's the cure. Well....it's the same cure as it was for dirty socks under the bed, and the burnt dinner last night. Simply, it's commitment. It's time. It's pushing through to the other side, when it's not simply Culture A vs. Culture B, but rather Culture AB. When assimilation occurs and you find that while you love your friends, family, tastes of home, etc, you find close friends as we have, favorite foods as we have, and even those who feel like family. While you'll never be fully Culture B, assimilation to a certain extent is a must. Otherwise you will always live in culture shock, a nomadic emotional waste-land where you constantly pine for what you can't have. That's no way to live at all, and will simply burn out.

So we chose to push on through to the other side. Why? Because we're committed, we believe in what we're doing, and we will see it through. Our family will become Culture AB, loving home, but making a home in Hungary.

28 April 2014

Settling Into Home

When traveling internationally with three children and 14 bags, I kept telling myself that once I made it to my seat on the Boeing 777 aircraft, it would all be downhill from there. My former boss, current friend, mentor, and all around good guy, Tommy, had dropped our troop off at the curb and I was pretty pumped when the Delta lady suggested we just check in curbside for a small tip. 

I thought things were going well until she mentioned that the extra baggage fees were quite a bit more than we had thought. $800 lighter, and a little annoyed, we made our way to security, said our sad goodbyes, and settled into our gate area waiting for our flight to board. A quick sandwich, a tearful protest from Noémi, who refused to get off the moving walkway, and we finally were relieved to hear that boarding was commencing. I was closing in on that seat.

About 8 hours later we were hurdling 500 miles an hour in the aluminum aircraft at about 38,000 feet, and I felt pretty good. Noémi had been crying with Corinne for about an hour, and I finally offered her a bit of respite and took our two year old to sit with me in the row ahead. You can imagine how please with myself I was when she quickly fell asleep and I'm confident that Corinne probably sighed something about me being the child whisperer, or something like that. I was smug in my fatherly prowess.

Then Noémi vomited all over me.

So I found myself standing in the tiny airplane bathroom washing my clothing in the sink before putting the wet jeans and dress shirt back on, realizing the extent of this grand adventure. These are the moments that we as missionaries look back on and laugh...or at least I think I will.

Now we have been here a few weeks, settled into our flat, even done a little car shopping. Finding something clean that seats 5 comfortably on our budget has been a battle, but I'm confident it exists. The physical things don't scare me, those things will be worked out in time. Those are the easy things. We know what to expect, we've dealt with the culture shock, we know our way around....this isn't our first rodeo.

It's the emotional parts of setting up a new life in a foreign place that wear me out. It's little things like Noémi asking if we can go to Papaw Pious' (Mathias) house. It's Grant repeatedly telling us how much he misses his friends, and how badly he wants to go to school. We have been looking at homeschooling him to save money, I don't really have the heart to drop that on him yet. Carter looked at me our second day here and said, "Dad, I didn't want to come here, I wanted to stay in Indiana and keep Milo and see our family." (We gave away our Milo the Boston Terrier before moving here.)

When I hear these little things it hurts. After Carter's comment I literally went into my bathroom and teared up. I know those feelings all too well. I remember saying goodbye. Goodbye to friends, goodbye to family, goodbye to pets who snuggled us all night in our beds. I know that hurt, and a part of me hates that they now know it too. Even while writing this I feel that familiar pang.

Missionaries aren't "normal". Most careers don't completely uproot your family to this extent, but we remain convinced that this is God's direction for us, and I know He loves our children more than we possibly could. Looking back now, I don't regret growing up an MK for a minute. Someday I trust that they will feel the same.

After two weeks I feel blessed. We are surrounded by many Hungarians who care about us. Catching up with friends from our first term has been cathartic and I know that in time these tough feelings will fade, as in time, this will be home again. 

Yesterday as we got out of the van in front of our building, Noémi looked up at our flat and said, "Home! Dis our home." It was one of those moments I felt like God's was saying, "It's going to be alright." 

So now the kids are asleep in their beds, Corinne is in the living room and I'm in the office writing this long overdue blog update. The warm glow of the desk lamp illuminates the room. Yes sweetie, this is our home.

In the coming years we hope to write our life and all that God does through us here. We invite you dear reader to join us as we follow God on this grand adventure.

-Jonathan 



24 March 2014

Ready for Takeoff

The first international move that I can remember was coming home from Colombia. In those days everything was packed into steel barrels and sealed for transport. Come to think of it, I recall that those steel barrels never made it to Kentucky and we kinda had to start over, but I still remember packing them.

Everything changed with a simple flight. The culture changed, the language changed, our house, bed, toys, changed. Mom and Dad's job's and schedule's changed. It was quite a lot to take in. Everything was new and different.

Perhaps this is the reason why, as an adult, I still thrive on change. Variety is the spice of life they say, so I guess being a missionary seems a natural fit. As we prepare for our jump to Hungary, I thought I would take this blog post and catch you up on where things stand. I realize that our last post was 2 months ago, so I will try and catch you up with the latest in the form of 3 quick updates.

1. We have leased a flat and we are returning to Hungary on April 10th. 
It's kinda funny that in our entire time in Hungary, we have only looked at three flats, and leased two of them. In our first term, we leased the first place we looked at, as we felt instantly after walking through the doors, that this was where God wanted us. 

During our last trip to Hungary, the first place we looked at was clearly not the right fit for our family, but after looking at just the second place on our list, Corinne and I again knew that we had found 'home'. A place for ministry, space for guests, and a yard for the kids. Amazingly, it's about two blocks from where OMS first started in Hungary. The above picture is our building and we have the top floor and attic space. The value we got was astounding and we are truly praising God for it.

2.  OMS has asked me to assume responsibilities as Field Director when we return.  
 God has placed a vision in my heart for church planting and training of local leaders and pastors. I believe that we can plant churches and equip existing churches to better reach their communities.  We have connections with several churches including some of the major denominations in Hungary that have asked for help. We have a building that we purchased to be renovated into a training center. God is preparing a good work for us to do.

3.  We're almost funded.
As missionaries, fund raising is a constant, but there is a point where you have to go. We have felt that we needed to be in Hungary by April, and we are going to meet that goal. We're only slightly short in faith promise pledges, but we're confident that God is going to provide for our needs.

In the coming months, I believe that we will fill this blog with stories of God's faithfulness and power in Hungary. As we prepare to 'take-off' please be praying for our ministry. Pray that God would empower us to share the gospel effectively. That he would work in advance to create divine appointments for us. Ask him to provide all we need to stay and minister effectively.

Thank you for being a part of the team. 

God Bless,
Jonathan