Part of the Culture War Raging Inside Cross Cultural Workers

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We have been home from Cambodia for just a week now. These days have been filled with happy hugs, tearful reunions and lots of friendly visitors. Oh! How we love being with our friends and family! There have been many questions and stories and, hopefully soon, pictures to share. But there is a dissonance as well. Now, mind you, we have only been surrounded thus far with true friends and family. People that know our journey, that have endured our struggle with us, and sponsored us and supported us in so many ways. And, yet, there is a misunderstanding.

There are quizzical looks as we might describe something in Southeast Asia that captured our hearts, or raised eyebrows when we share about our initial thoughts of re-entry to the States. There are questioning eyes as we graciously decline the “comfort” food, because, honestly, we don’t find it comforting at all any more. Yes, the States is amazingly convenient and familiar and…easy.

But it doesn’t feel the same any more. Somewhere in this past year we have grown apart from all that had been familiar. Now we have roots in another land, in another culture. And, while you may think it ludicrous that anyone would “live like that”, the reality is, they do…and we did too. We bought our rice from the lady three doors down, and our veggies from another lady down the opposite side of the street. We had flies in our food, daily, and we ate it anyway. We had less safety, less comfort, less…a lot of stuff…but we loved it. And we love the Khmer people. We lived in a culture with a dual currency system: Cambodia uses the US dollar as well as the Riel. We traveled via tuk tuk and motos and rarely rode in cars. To travel 90 miles took 6 hours and required Dramamine just to endure the trip. We were stared at by most people, had our skin rubbed due to its whiteness, and learned that “personal space” was a Western concept. I learned that I could hold hands with a man and enjoy his friendship, even while him rubbing my belly and calling me “happy” still made me a bit uncomfortable. We grew to love the Asian culture.

One of the first things we noticed upon re-entry to the States was how “full” everyone’s faces were. That’s not a condemning statement, it’s just how it is. We lived with people who worked everyday just to eat, just to provide a bit of shelter to their family, and did so with a lot of joy in their hearts. Our staff worked for a monthly salary less than what a typical American family spends in one week for groceries. But, wow, they love Jesus!

This tug of war in our hearts is one of the reasons why I was kind of glad the weather allowed us to not have to go to our church this morning to see everyone. It seems so overwhelming to us. We simply are not the same people that left a year ago. We’ve experienced love, joy, extreme hurt and pain, violation, laughter, and a lifetime of experiences in the months we were gone. So, we truly don’t want to offend you. We hope that you understand and grant us the grace that we hope we can extend to you.

We now are forever changed by a journey. It’s a journey that has not ended and that, I’m sure, has more twists and turns ahead. The joy is that we can share it with you. The excitement is that, you too, are on a journey of your own and we want to hear about it.

May we always remind one another that we are not citizens of the States, or Cambodia, or of this world. Rather, we are citizens of a Kingdom that is far more extensive and glorious: the Kingdom of Jesus Christ!

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