Monday, October 21, 2013

training // what we're walking away with, pt. 2

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139:7-10

Since the very first day of our cross-cultural training portion of our time at MTI, we have been eager to share about it all with you, our blog readers & ministry team. But when you are learning things that make you understand even more of how just so very complicatedly human you are, it's so hard to explain it all. All of the topics we learned about hit us to our very core, and it was just a taste of what life-changing and challenging things we know we'll be experiencing by working in cross-cultural ministry.

As one of our classmates excellently put it, it all felt a whole lot like "missionary boot camp". All topics were things that are incredibly hard to even talk about with someone we know really well, let alone with people you'd only known for two weeks. But, the one factor we had working in our favor is that we are all in a common place and can absolutely relate to one another. This helped us to just grow even closer as we explored these so-hard-I-don't-even-really-want-to-go-there-right-now places. One of the greatest things we are walking away with is that we now have a vocabulary to explain a lot of these hard places, feelings, struggles, and reactions.... and people who we can reach out to that are always going to be right there with it us.

Please forgive us if the way that we explain it all doesn't quite make sense yet. :)

To start us into getting down to the nitty-gritty really fast, the first item on the agenda was to discuss conflict. This began by doing an assessment about ourselves completed by us, by people that are close friends & family, and by exploring our last conflict we'd had with someone. Talk about intense homework!! ... calling a person close to you and asking "how well do I handle conflict, how does it make you feel, and what I could I do better?". With this, we learned a TON about different conflict handling styles; how we perceive others' styles and what we can appreciate about & what we might need to confront about them. We also learned that we can most often be misunderstood in conflict when we overuse our dominant style of handling conflict. This section was so helpful in us understanding and being able to pinpoint why we react the way we do in so many different situations, and was really helpful to us even in just understanding each other even better!

We also went through several different sections on adjustment and culture shock. We had to explore ourselves -- what our personal values & beliefs are, and how they influence the filters through which we view things -- and come to an understanding that literally everything we see as "normal, natural, right, and good" could be challenged in the new culture that we are moving to. But that doesn't mean that different values and beliefs from our own are automatically wrong; most everyone across the world acts from a place that is normal & good from their own frame of reference. We do have to be prepared that many countries, including Honduras, have different focuses on everything from the degree of directness that is appropriate, on productivity, the importance of time, on change & tradition, on privacy, equality vs. hierarchy, relationships vs. tasks, etc. We have to be ready to step into each one of these different ways of operation and see the value in them, even if to us they do not seem "natural" or even logical.

We learned that when we will be living and working across cultures, we'll be frequently finding that our personal values will be in conflict with the values and expectations of the people of the culture we're in. Our values could be affirmed, but they could also be challenged; and it will be up to us whether we feel it is most appropriate to change to their comfort zone, or retain our own value either modified or as is.

What do I mean by personal values? I mean how much value we put into things like independence, education, intimate friendships, routine, law & order, safety, effective use of time, schedules, equality, freedom, justice, cleanliness, self-reliance, respect, even adequate resources. What our personal values are and how much weight we put into them will effect the lifestyle choices that we will make on the field. And the reality is that we can't please everyone... "try to please all and you will end up pleasing none." We must first consider God, our spouse/family, and the people we're working with when making our lifestyle choices. And we learned through this training that the most important thing to do when making decisions is to consider our longevity -- it was very clearly explained to us that if we do not live in such a way that we can take care of ourselves long term, we will end up burn out and will have a high, high risk of coming back prematurely.

But often every choice we have to make feels so much harder to make as missionaries, since we have so many more stakeholders that we have to consider. All of a sudden new people (like our supporters, sending organization, nationals of our new host country, sending church, other co-laborers,etc.) that are all effected by or have weight in the decisions that we have to make. And some decisions and lifestyle choices for us will occur daily on the field; things like food, clothing, scheduling, housing, and even what our male/female family roles will look like, are all decisions that are under a microscope for us while working in a new cultural that is unlike our own. We have to live in such a way that balances us taking care of ourselves for the purpose of longevity, and living in a context to where we are not a distraction of the Gospel. 

In hopes that these posts would not be too long, we've split them up into more achievable lengths. To read about the rest of our cross-cultural training, please read "what we're walking away with, part 3". 

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