I wish I could say that boarding that first flight out of the country automatically wipes out those ugly things that shouldn't be in the heart of any Christian, but I can’t. One of the nasty gremlins that pokes its head up from time to time is a tendency to be judgmental, which can lead to bitterness if it’s allowed to stick around.
For those of us who've experienced first-hand how “the rest of the world” lives, dealing with our fellow Christians in the home country can be tough. I have a tendency to get very frustrated, very impatient, with their petty grievances about what I deem to be unnecessary things. I don’t always tolerate the drama over things that seem so trivial.
It can show up on furlough, when good friends invite you to an expensive restaurant, call all the wait staff by name, and order the usual. You've always avoided asking them directly for support, because, well, you’re good friends and that’d just be awkward. While you’re praying that their invitation meant they’re picking up the tab (it didn't), they’re going on and on about how they admire those on the foreign mission field and just wish they could afford to support you monthly.
Or you visit your home church and hear there was a split over the color of the brand-new carpet, with half the church now congregating at First Other Temple up the street. And you think about church service under the mango tree in your service country, or people living in dirt-floored huts, or why the home-church folks even bothered replacing the practically new carpet anyway? Something in the missionary brain is wired to make instant calculations of all the things exorbitant amounts of money could buy on the field, or how many months of support that would work out to be.
Sometimes you don’t even have to be stateside to have this gremlin bite you. Facebook and those let-me-fill-you-in-on-life emails are great places to find all sorts of things with potential to drive you crazy.
So how can we avoid this ugly, reverse form of culture shock?
1. Recognize that most people who haven’t LIVED in another culture won’t understand where you’re coming from. Their level of exposure to real poverty may only be those starving orphan commercials that come on late at night. I’m sure you can remember a time when you weren't as aware of the rest of the planet either—times you did things that make you cringe now. We’re all at different places in this journey, so allow your brothers and sisters some grace if they just don’t “get it”.
2. Share about your life. Well, as much as you can. It’s not cool to be “that missionary” who can turn every conversation around to a story about life on the field, and keeps a photo slide show on his phone to show everyone he meets. But don’t reserve stories about everyday life only for your PowerPoint presentations, either. Share bits and pieces with friends over coffee, show pictures when someone seems interested. And share about specific needs and projects that might cause your friends and church mates to get excited about what you’re doing.
3. Don’t mistake their lives for superficial just because they aren't ministering in a far-off land. Maybe Cousin Bob’s calling is to evangelize the guys at his job, and his shiny new iPhone is necessary for that job. Maybe Little Susie’s going to be the next John Tesh, so refrain from telling her mom that in underdeveloped nations, the cost of those piano lessons would feed a whole family for a month.
As un-fun as it is sometimes, we knew we were going to be living on donations when we signed up for this, and it’s not Susie’s mom or Cousin Bob’s fault that our ministry field looks different than theirs. Nor does it make their ministry less valid than ours. Recognize that God could be using their assets in another area for the kingdom, and that’s okay.
Are there things that cause this little gremlin to pop up in you? How do you keep him from making himself at home?