Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Single? And A Missionary? To Africa?

My parents and I went to the Iowa State Fair last month. I saw a booth for an ostrich farm and got excited. Why? Because ostrich meat = delicious! You didn't know? Anyway, there was an older man there and I inquired about getting some ostrich meat and about how they raise them. It came up that I went to an ostrich farm in Kenya (there’s nothing like holding an ostrich egg, seeing ostriches from baby to adult and then eating a sumptuous ostrich meal. Every bite is a piece of delicious guilt.). It then came up that I lived in Uganda for the past two years after which inevitably came out that I’m moving back to Uganda…for good.

Then it happened…as it has happened so many times before. And I mean, SO many times. It’s almost like they have a script.

The Scenario: The person finds out that I’m single and moving to Africa and they respond almost word for word with this:

“I mean, you’re a pretty girl…you have a nice personality…and you’re single? And moving to Africa?”

While it’s encouraging for a stranger to compliment my looks and personality (ok, it's usually creepy), they can’t possibly understand. Usually the person saying this is a stranger so I don’t delve too deep into it. But for you? I shall. In fact, it’s a topic that I’m dearly passionate about.

It’s conversations like these that remind me that what God has called me to isn’t exactly considered “normal” by American standards. Sometimes I like to feign innocence, “What? It’s not normal for a late 20-something single American girl to move to Africa? Say it ain’t so!”. Ok, fine, I usually just think that in my head. The American expectation is to go to college, get married, have 2.5 kids and get a house with a white picket fence. My sophomore year of college, God gave me distaste for that expectation and though I had no idea what He would do, I knew that my life wouldn’t be that.

However, I never (never never) expected to be a missionary. I definitely never expected to be single at my age. None of this was a part of my plan. And if God would have let me in on this little life plan years ago? I would have never agreed to it. In fact, I would have run the other way screaming.

But…now? I couldn’t dream it any bigger or better than this. It was God that put these crazy desires in my heart and because of that, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I can’t imagine not living in Uganda. I can’t imagine not being able to work with Ugandan high school girls. I don’t even want to imagine that. There is absolutely nothing else that I’d rather do. 

Bottom line: I would rather have the peace of God by living in His will than anything else…even marriage. I still would love to get married. In fact, I really desire that and pray that it’s a part of God’s great plan for my life.  However, my To Do list doesn’t come before God’s. I won’t let my desire for marriage or anything else get in the way of what God is calling me to.

Now, that clearly comes with a lot of steps of surrender. This is not a one stop surrender shop. I could tell you about the little and big steps that God had me surrender to over the years and how many times I have to surrender this daily. These are things that God and I have had pleeeeenty of long conversations about. It all comes back to obedience and surrender to Him above anything and everything else, no matter how difficult it is. No matter how insane it seems to anyone else. No matter how much it doesn’t make sense, even to me.

I’ve been in the book of Jeremiah for quite awhile now. It’s encouraging to see that I’m not the only one who was called to do crazy counter-cultural things for God.  In fact, my life is pretty normal compared to what God had Jeremiah do. The Bible is actually darn well chock full of people who did wild things for God that made absolutely no sense to them or those around them. My favorite Bible verse encourages me all the more. I especially like how The Message version says it:

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Hebrews 12:1-3)

What are some crazy things that God has called you to? 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Reverse Culture Shocked

It happened in the egg section at Wal-mart. I surveyed the numerous options of eggs (small? medium? large? different brands? organic?) and felt the panic in my stomach rising. In Uganda, there was only one choice when buying eggs. I was now faced with about 15. I repeatedly asked myself, “what’s the normal American choice to make? Just make the normal choice…but what’s the normal choice?”. 

On another trip to the grocery store, the cashier asked me if I wanted something in a bag. I raised my eyebrows and looked away. A few awkwardly silent seconds later, the cashier asked me the question again. I then realized that I had answered the Ugandan way, not the American one.

A couple nights before the 4th of July, I was at home and started hearing these popping noises outside. I was immediately transported back to my home in Uganda, wondering if I was hearing tear gas guns and rifles. My heart started beating faster as I tried to assess what was happening outside my window. Living in a home without bars on the doors and windows had been hard enough to adjust to. Even after figuring out that it was the neighbors setting off fireworks, I wasn’t able to calm down.

During a visit at my church’s youth group, I was about 10 handshakes in when I thought, “huh, I bet shaking hands isn’t the most common way to greet American teenagers” but I couldn’t think of what else to do.

After eating at an Asian restaurant, I discovered that one of the workers was from Indonesia. His accent was thick and without meaning to, I started talking with a Ugandan accent. Apparently talking to someone with any kind of accent brings it out. I was mortified.

It’s reverse culture shock. Though I had experienced it in a small way in coming back from short term missions trips (I have a whole theory on the differences of short term reverse culture shock and long term but that’s for another day), I had never experienced it in this way. One of my first weeks back, a missionary couple from my church was heading back to the field. In a prayer, my pastor mentioned how they had experienced a time of having the comforts of American life. I smiled from my pew knowing that; in fact, it was harder for them to come back to America than to go back to their African home. I guess it’s easy for people to assume that American life is easy and that life in Africa is difficult and thus, it’s easier for missionaries to be back in the States. Though there are definitely parts of American life that are great (two words: Air. Conditioning. Ok, two more: Fast. Internet.) I’ve wrestled with the “why”. America IS my home. This is the country that I was born and raised in. This is the culture that I know…right? However, when I moved to Uganda, I expected it to be different. I expected to have to adjust. I expected nothing to be “normal”. Coming back to America, I expected to be normal. After two years of not fitting into a culture, I expected to be able to fit in. Being gone from the States for two years, I had lost what it meant to live a “normal” American life and make “normal” American choices. Making those decisions, even as small as buying eggs, stressed me out and often, I panicked.

I'm now living in a third culture. I have my American culture and my Ugandan culture but with both of those mashing together, it creates this third culture: an American-Ugandan mix. No matter how long I live in Uganda, I’ll never fully fit in (my skin color alone will make sure of that). The longer I live away from the States, the less that it will feel like home. From this point on, neither culture will be completely home. 

I have no doubt that I'll be able to add many more awkward stories to my third culture resume. For your entertainment, of course.