I’ve been trying to write a proper update/newsletter for weeks now, and every time I sit to type, I write a bunch of stuff out and then leave it. I just can’t seem to
process everything right now. Nor can I seem to write out what I’d really like to say. So I’ll just be perfectly honest and not worry about what you, the reader, may or may not think.
We’re almost finished with our tenth month back in the UK and our eighth month in Scotland. I wish I could write a book on all that I’ve learned, but I think it would be very uncomfortable reading. And I’m not sure how many of us are that good at walking in another’s shoes. So I would feel like I was trying to explain the color yellow to someone who has only seen blue. Where would I even start? How do I describe what our life here is like if you’ve never tried living overseas? I know plenty of people who have visited the UK, but I also know plenty of Brits who have visited New York or Florida. Living in Colorado is vastly different from visiting Florida. Vastly. Just as living in Scotland is vastly different from visiting London. Yes, we all somewhat speak the language, but that’s about it really. (And even then, my kids still aren’t sure that our Scottish neighbors really speak English!! At least their version of English . . . )
So I’ll share the things that are most on my mind right now:
Starting a ministry in a new country is not easy. Very few things are done here like they are done in the States. This requires that we learn the culture, learn to stop thinking like Americans, and learn how to patiently wait as people get to know us and open up enough to let us in their lives. It also requires that we learn to think as Christians first and as Americans (or Brits as some of our teammates are) second. This is far easier said than done, as our culture is so embedded in how we think, communicate, and process. When you realize that everything you do and think is completely counter-cultural, then you have to really analyze what is part of your culture and what does the Bible say? If it’s cultural, it goes; if it’s Biblical, it stays. If the culture you’re living in goes completely against the Word, then you get the fun job of swimming upstream. I thought we were counter-cultural in the States. Uh . . . holy smokes, Scotland is requiring us to go to a whole other level of counter-cultural.
And I’m sure most will feel like I’m speaking another language as I attempt to describe what I’m feeling, but I’ll share one story of the many situations we’ve encountered lately –
Homeschooling is not common in Scotland. And thankfully, there are homeschooling groups to get involved with. The moms in these groups have helped me to understand what the Scottish expect as far as children and schooling go and how to maneuver when you, as the parent, don’t agree. So when we had our first health home visitor (required for all families with children 5 and under) come to the house, she asked me all sorts of things, which was oddly uncomfortable. She then asked if our two year old was attending nursery school, and she gave me a huge list of ways to “socialize” her, which was mainly through government funded or community centered groups. The whole time I couldn’t figure out what she meant; I didn’t think two year olds were required to be in school? And I kept thinking that Eden doesn’t even want to play with other kids, and we’re doing really well to just get her to acknowledge other two year olds. And to me this is completely normal two year old behavior. Well, come to find out, in the mind of the health visitor, all two year olds should be socialized and that means you’ll be encouraged to enroll your child in a nursery school from two on. Personally, I want my two year old at home with me, but the government seems to think otherwise . . . and this is just a simple example of how I didn’t understand what I was being told as I didn’t understand the expectation behind it.
So we’re still adjusting, and I think we’ll be adjusting for quite some time. Yet something that God is strongly pressing on my heart is that we should be seeking out the strengths of the Scottish people and praying into how to help build up who God made them to be. A.) that helps me to not think about the ways in which I struggle in their culture as I then focus on the good bits. B.) it also helps me to see that there are reasons why God would call a team of Americans and English to Scotland, because we have characteristics that are needed here. So how can we pair up the good of each culture, apply it to our ministry, and become people who call out and honor the strengths in each person (+ culture) that we encounter? And this requires a very proactive, dig in deep, determination to see people as God does. I can only do that if I’m listening to Him and leaning close enough to hear Him. I cannot do that if I’m offended because my neighbor said something negative about my kids or about Americans. I cannot do that if I’m offended that my brother in Christ is doing something that I would never do. I can only do that when my eyes are on Him. And that requires looking only at the positives of people and their culture rather than dwelling on the negatives. This is basically where I’m at; this is my learning lesson right now.
I understand why people say it takes 10 or 20 years to become fluent in another culture; it would just be nice if we had that time to get fluency before we attempt to start a ministry. But this is where God’s grace comes in as I know for a fact that God is wanting to stretch us all. He’s wanting to do a new thing; He’s wanting to unify the Church. He’s building a new culture within the Scottish Church and it takes each of us to play our part.
I truly do think that the best part of missions is that God calls us out of our comfort zones, out of our culture, and places us in something that is totally new, different, and uncomfortable. He forces us to look at Him, to reevaluate our values and our way of doing things, and He asks us to get flexible. He stretches our hearts and our worldview, and this stretching is painful. But it is completely priceless. I wish every single member of the Body of Christ could get this stretching. So I would not change our situation at all, but I’m just aware of the words that come out of my mouth when people ask how we’re doing, how the Bible school is doing, how the kids are doing, etc. I hesitate to share much, because I don’t think many get where we’re at. I hope they realize that we’re all a work in progress; we’re adjusting. We’re fully dependent on God’s grace and on His goodness, and we’re trusting Him to lead us through this season. That’s really the nuts and bolts of it. I hope something made sense, but if none of it did, thanks for letting me process. 🙂