Reverse Culture Shock

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
(Ephesians 1:3)

Visiting Haiti was a shock to the system.  The sights, the sounds, the smells, the traffic – everything we experienced was an affront to our accepted Midwest norms.  Here in NW Iowa, you can drive for miles without seeing another person, the streets are clean, and the people around you generally respect your personal space.  You quickly realize when you step off the plane in Haiti; We’re not in Kansas anymore!

As an outsider coming into a different country, it is good to be aware of these differences, and not let them get to you.  We had to remember this when we were being driven through Port-au-Prince – our gasps and groans in disgust at the filth and horrid conditions we encountered were comments well understood by our driver.  This was his home, we were his guests.

It is hard to try to understand the Haitian culture, some recommend not even trying.  They are not so concerned with time and schedules, “Day-Planners” aren’t a hot commodity there.  Things get done when they get done.  Looking at Haiti with American eyes, it’s easy to imagine what a few good Civil Engineers could do to transform their land – or what a nationwide recycling effort could do to help clean up the streets – but at the heart of it all, that’s just me wanting to impose my way of life, my custom and comfort, onto everyone else around me.

In a way, I was prepared for that kind of culture shock.  I was even somewhat prepared to take in the suffering and the heartbreak of the absolute poverty and brokenness of the children we were working with.  These are children whose parents have died, or whose parents cannot afford to raise them and had to give them up.  I knew I was setting myself, and the entire team, for a kind of heart-ache that opens our hearts to love in ways we never thought possible.  I knew that none of us would be the same after this week in Haiti – I was prepared, even inviting that kind of culture shock.

What I could not prepare for, and what still has me reeling, is the reverse culture shock from coming home.  I was overwhelmed by the ordinary of our American prosperity; the mega grocery stores with overstocked shelves and over indulged children; the cheap and easy fast food; the rows upon rows of corn and beans, a harvest that is abundant even in the lean years; the opulence and comfort of our homes (even the poorest here live better than the richest there).  We have millionaire football players who strike because they need more share of the profit, while there are people who make a living off of less than a dollar a day.  We bicker and fight over procedures and policies while there are children who sleep on the ground, hungry because they have no food.

I think there are two ways of coping with this culture shock.  We could come to despise our own way of life.  If we see it for what it really is we will recognize materialism, greed, covetousness, insecurity, all which masks the idolatry of our hearts.  I think there’s a bit of that in everyone’s heart.  But what good would that accomplish?  Recognizing our tendency toward idolatry is helpful, but if that turns into a despising of the good gifts, the blessings, that God has given, then we have merely replaced one idol (money) with another (pride).

I think a healthier approach to this shattered world-view is to see the blessings that God has given us for what they truly are: an opportunity to bless others.  If God has given to you in abundance, it is not so that you can rest in that abundance, but so that you can put that abundance to work.  If God has prospered your way, it is not so that you can clutch tightly to that blessing, but so that the blessing will flow freely from you into the lives of others.  Those who hold a miserly grip on the blessings of God love the gift more than the giver, and deprive themselves of lasting joy.  As God has loved, so we are to love; freely, graciously, sacrificially, joyfully.

I knew that this Mission Trip, the first for our congregation in a very long time, would be a game changer, I’m seeing now just how that will work.  I knew the trip would change those who went to Haiti, but I also knew that our transformation would spread through the congregation.   We are not the same, our church is not the same, because of this trip.  God’s Spirit is moving amongst us, breaking down walls, transforming lives, opening our hearts in love and service.  May we continue to grow in God’s Spirit, that we may abound in love, in grace, in charity – that we may grow in the likeness of Christ.

While I was talking to God…

And your Father who sees in secret will reward you..
(Matthew 6:4 (ESV)

Oh, how sneaky Satan can be!

The last couple of weeks we have been reading through Matthew 6, the section of the sermon on the Mount when Jesus talks about hypocrisy in our acts of devotion.  Jesus warns us, not to stop doing acts of devotion like alms-giving, prayer, and fasting, but to be very careful that these acts are not done for the recognition and praise of man.  If you are performing for the applause of man, that that will be your sole reward.  However, if you are performing for the eyes of God, then your soul will be rewarded.

The problem is, this is a very tricky thing.  Satan, that “sneaky-sneaker” (a literal translation of “more crafty” in Genesis 3), likes to take the good things that God has given us and encourages us to abuse them.  You say you love the law, then Satan begins to make you a legalist, holding others to a standard that you could not even hope to attain.  You say you love the freedom that is given in Jesus Christ, then Satan tempts you to a lawlessness in which anything goes.  You say you love the traditional, long held beliefs of the Church, then Satan lures you into an inflexible orthodoxy that is all head and no heart.  Satan cannot offer you anything, he is not a creator; but he will always try to twist and pervert that which God has created so that we love the gift more than the giver.  You say you love the new contemporary movements within the Church, then Satan draws you into a shallow, vacuous, “experience” in which a lot of words are said but little is communicated.

I was thinking about this on my run this morning.  “Who am I running for?”  Well, I’m running for my family – I want to lose weight and stay healthy so that I can enjoy watching my kids (and, eventually, grandkids) grow and be successful; and enjoy a long life beside my loving wife.  But then vain-glory creeps in and I become obsessed with my weight and if I’m “looking better.”

I’m running for the goal of completing a marathon, and hopefully running several over the next few years.  I’ve wanted to do this since I was in High School, and I’m only now reaching the point where that seems possible.  But then, while running, I find I like to be noticed.  I see other runners and I pick up the pace a little.  I make subtle references  to my running(or in this article’s case, not so subtle), so that others will stop and say – “Good for him, he’s running.”

What a mess.

We do the same thing with our lives of devotion.  We like to say to people, “As I was spending time in prayer and devotion this morning…” as a way of demonstrating our excellent religious affections.  We put bumper stickers on our cars like (WWJD, and “God is my Co-Pilot) to make sure everyone knows that this is a Christian’s car.  We carry around Bibles stuffed with notes and highlighted through so that everyone knows we’re serious about our study – or we get new Bibles with all the footnotes and the genuine hand sewn leather cover so that others can see how you value God’s word.

Friends there is nothing wrong, in fact I encourage you, to pray and study God’s word every morning, to put as many bumper stickers on your car, to highlight, annotate, and study the Scriptures; against these things there are no laws.  But always keep your heart in check.  Make sure that your devotion is a time of sweet fellowship with the Lord; a time to hear His word for your life, and a time to offer thanksgiving and praise for His life.

Your life of devotion should be a lot like the time you spend with your spouse.  You share quiet moments together, working through the difficult times, encouraging each other and supporting one another, whispering words of love and adoration, developing a life-long relationship.  These are the moments shared between the two of you, never broadcast for others to see.  How inappropriate it would be for someone to say, “While I was whispering sweet nothings in my wife’s ear last night…”  But what the world does see are two people who are madly in love with each other, and who will be together until death does part them.

So it is with your devotion to God.  Let your acts of prayer, charity, and dedication be done in secret.  Let it be the quiet, intimate time with God that sustains you through the day.  Don’t broadcast it to the world.  Do this, and the world will see someone who lives in the love of God, and nothing, not even death, can separate us from that.