Crossing Cultures

“…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings…”

1 Corinthians 9:19-23


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Adapting to a new culture can be a challenge in your life as a global worker. The initial honeymoon phase of any assignment can be replaced by isolation and loneliness as the strangeness of your new land becomes a reality. God has called you for a purpose to this place, but you also must live in this place. 

My own struggle to adapt to a new culture is encapsulated in a vivid memory. A representative from our local bank explained to me that, as a woman, I needed my husband’s permission to have a debit card and that he would get a text message each time I used it. “Yes, this is the law,” she explained. I would face other, similar issues during my time in this new land. Freedoms I had enjoyed and taken for granted in my home country were replaced by laws I viewed as regressive and unfair. Over time, this new way of life and I declared a truce. I came to accept my new surroundings, encouraged by the writings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9. 

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul indicates his willingness to become a participant in other cultures for the sake of the Gospel. He moved with courage among other people groups, his outer persona conforming to the surrounding environment–yet the truth of his message never wavered. Not surprisingly, he had an excellent teacher.

Jesus was masterful in his response to everyone he met. His interactions with Mary and Martha in Luke 10 and the Samaritan woman in John 4 are great examples. They illustrate how he spoke the truth to each one in a manner they understood, regardless of their social position. 

Are you struggling with cultural norms where you live? You are in good company. Jesus and Paul chose to step into the lives of others who were different in order to share the message of eternal life. Take heart, my friend, because you are a result of their work in those early days of the Christian faith, and you’ve been given the perfect example to follow.


Father, I pray for the willingness to set aside my freedoms in order to reach those in the culture where you have placed me. Make me alert to any opportunity to engage others with sensitivity and humility so that I can share the message of eternal life in a way they can understand. Amen.

This devotional was originally published at https://thriveministry.org/connection/devotional/crossing-cultures

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Meditation Amid His Majesty

“One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works.”

Psalms 145:4–5

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“The purpose of meditation is to enable us to hear God more clearly. Meditation is listening, sensing, heeding the life and light of Christ. This comes right to the heart of our faith.” –Richard Foster

In silence we made the steady climb up the Appalachian Trail. The cadence of our footsteps was accompanied only by the wind through the pine and poplar trees. Above, the sky was clear and blue, disturbed only by the wispy white trails marking the jet stream. Below, dappled sunlight bathed our path in the golden hues of autumn. 

As the traffic noise from Route 319 fell away, so did my anxiety about the eight mile hike. My husband’s long stride and fast pace always put him several feet in front of me so for the most part, I was alone with my thoughts. 

With the everyday noise and distractions of life stripped away, I became acutely aware of God’s presence. Amid the beauty of Appalachia, Romans 1:20 played out in real time, as I began to meditate on “His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen since the creation of the world.”

Richard Foster describes meditation in creation as a type of “contemplative prayer… a majestic monotheism in which the great Creator of the universe shows us something of his glory through his creation.”

The glory of creation is a perfect setting for the Lord’s guidance. No matter where I have lived in the world, I have found this to be so. Whether it be majestic mountains, desert dunes, cliff-lined coasts, astounding sunrises and sunsets, or a dark night sky strewn with a million stars, God speaks through His creative majesty. 

Wherever God has sent you to serve, I encourage you to seek out a place of refuge in your natural surroundings. Contemplation will bring clarity as God guides your thoughts. Perhaps the burdens you carry will lighten and you, like me, will be humbled and renewed in purpose and calling. After all, if He can, with a word, create such unimaginable beauty, what can he not do in our own lives?

“Meditation sends us into our ordinary world with greater perspective and balance.” –Richard Foster


CLOSING PRAYER

God of Creation, help us to be mindful each day that we are surrounded by the work of your hands. The beauty of your world is also a reflection of the beauty you see in each one of us. Help us to pause, pray, and listen for your voice as you speak through the glory of your creation. We trust in your guidance and direction. Amen.

Resources

Article: Spiritual Disciplines by Meredith Cook

Book: Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster

Song: So Will I by Hillsong

This devotional was originally published at https://thriveministry.org/connection/devotional/meditation-amid-his-majesty

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The BestQuest with MissionQuest in Chile

via The BestQuest with MissionQuest in Chile

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Chris and Jamie Suel – The Center for Mission Mobilization

via Chris and Jamie Suel – The Center for Mission Mobilization

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Shaun and Abby Suitt – Sports Friends Kenya

Grab Some Coffee! Well, first off, we do want to apologize that we have been silent for a while now.  We honestly have been dragging our feet to send…

Shaun and Abby Suitt – Sports Friends Kenya
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Jeremy and Ella Cole – Mosaic Church Dubai

via Jeremy and Ella Cole – Mosaic Church Dubai

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Serving in Spain – Vivian Ochoa, Member Care

via Serving in Spain – Vivian Ochoa, Member Care

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LOVING DEEP THROUGH THE UNKNOWN

Join me this week as we hear from Jenny Nuccio in Mombasa, Kenya. She writes about what it was like for her and the community she serves in those early days of Covid-19. Pray for Jenny, her family, their ministry and the people of Mombasa.

via LOVING DEEP THROUGH THE UNKNOWN

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Four REAL Challenges for Single Women in Missions

Enjoy my conversation starter recently published on the Upstream Collective.

https://www.theupstreamcollective.org/blog/four-challenges-single-women-mission-field

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Are You a Returned Global Worker? The Struggle to Re-engage is Real

“Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread. Through shadows to the edge of night, until the stars are all alight. Then world behind and home ahead, we’ll wander back to home and bed…” – JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Staring at the choices on the grocery store shelf is socially acceptable for a minute or two, but when it becomes paralyzing – it becomes super awkward. I know it may seem odd to be stumped by choice, but when you’ve just returned from a country where choice was limited, abundance can be overwhelming. It’s only one of the signs of reverse culture shock global workers experience when they re-enter life in the United States. I’ve come to learn that my own adjustments are shared by many who live through the returned life.

My husband and I returned to the United States in the midst of the vitriolic 2016 presidential election. Six years away had increased my appreciation for being a U.S. citizen and the freedoms we enjoy. Our first overseas assignment in the Middle East had been in a country where “Sharia Compliant” signs were displayed by local businesses. So the heated rhetoric and in-your-face division during the election left me disheartened.

The new found freedom of driving my own car was tempered by having to re-learn to navigate Houston traffic. The ribbon of red tail lights that stretched out in front of me on the Houston freeways would make my heart sink and my anxiety rise (it still does).

Even worship was a challenge. My beloved home church worship services contrasted sharply with the simple church without walls we left behind in our last assignment. What would my Papua New Guinean friends think about worship on such a grand scale?

Returning after six years away turned out to be very different than what I had envisioned. My deep desire was to readjust to American life. But on many days my return left me feeling anxious, isolated and alone.

Living and serving overseas is an intense, transformative experience. Interaction with other cultures expands your worldview and facilitates spiritual growth as you become part of God’s work in far-away places.

Returning to your home country is just as intense, in a different kind of way. It’s almost like time travel in a sci-fi movie. You leave one reality and return, feeling like an alien, to a changed world. You can love it and loathe it at the same time. The loathing part sounds particularly ungrateful, but the love/hate relationship is a paradox I’ve also learned is common among returned workers. We need a safe place to manage our re-entry in a healthy way.

In our previous assignment in Papua New Guinea, the missionary community had been that safe place for us. We arrived in country, not as missionaries, but as expatriate global workers. It didn’t matter to them. They welcomed us into their lives and provided us with the precious gift of fellowship as aliens in a foreign land. They taught me much about missionary life their struggle with isolation, fear, and separation from family, their love for their adopted country and its people, the assurance of their calling and the desire for all to know Christ. Most of all, I came to understand the tension of wanting to go home yet wanting to stay. Having a safe community to voice the trials and triumphs of living overseas was invaluable. Together we shared the unique challenges of serving the Lord as global nomads.

The community we left behind gave my husband and I the template for life and ministry upon our return to Houston, Texas. We set out to re-create a safe place for returned global workers in our city – one of the most culturally diverse in the world. Through Houston’s First Baptist Missions Department, we became involved with the Missionary Care Ministry and their network of supported workers serving internationally. We started a home group that has become a gathering place for wandering nomads who have dedicated their lives to sharing the Gospel with every nation, tribe and tongue. Today we still gather to worship, study and encourage one another in the work around the world that God has called us to do.

Global worker, where is your safe place? I encourage you to find a supportive community that understands your experience. Whether you are coming or going, the people you surround yourself with can help you adjust in a healthy way as you continue with the mission He has given you.

and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”- Hebrews 10:24–25

Shirley Ralston (MA Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a founding member of the Missionary Care Team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She also serves on the Pastor’s Research Team and teaches Life Bible Study to single young adults. Shirley and her husband Jeff now reside in Houston after several years living in the Middle East and the South Pacific.

 

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