Living life is complicated when you are in your native country and culture and surrounded by familiarities; living life in a foreign country is, in my experience, even more complicated! I want to clarify that I am saying “complicated” because that does not necessarily mean to point to a concept of easy or hard. However, I do mean that when much of life is outside of the familiar, it increases the moments of experiencing complications. The unfamiliarity’s of international living and traveling are the teachers and all lessons are “hands on.” Learn as you go, no lectures first. Thankfully, nothing is “the teacher” except for God. He is the Shepherd, deciding what lessons are to be learned and right there with me always!
“When are you ___” “How will you ___?” “Where will you ___?” Fill in the blanks with a plethora of specifics and you will begin to enter my life, probably your life too, the difference may be that most of the time I only have complicated answers that come down to, “I don’t know.”
Here are some real-life examples of questions that I could not answer until trial-and-error living:
“How will you buy food when you are in (the foreign country)?”
“Where do you go for medical help?”
“Can you buy toothpaste there?”
“Will you be able to call people in the U.S.?”
“Where will you live when you first get there?”
“How will you cook?”
“How often will you have electricity?”
So much of my life is answering, “I don’t know.” Yes, eventually I have the privilege of learning to do so much in the foreign country, but the learning curve remains steep. Then, an interesting thing happens in the opposite scenario of returning to my home country, which for me is the U.S. After being gone for months and years at a time, I return to the U.S. and find not only have things in my own culture changed, I have changed.
Here are some examples:
* I’ve lived for so long without microwaves that in the U.S. I forget I can use one, and how to use one.
* I often don’t know how to turn on a TV in the U.S. as the systems have become so different.
* I was almost 30 before I knew how to buy a car in the U.S.
* I turn on the wipers in the car when I want to use my turn signal because I drive on the left-hand side of the road in my host country. (I did this when I was first learning to drive on the left-hand side).
* A reality that missionaries live with is a pronounced sense of being unknown.
Being unknown is not only for missionaries, but the lifestyle pronounces this reality. We live so much of our lives in a host country where we are the “foreigner” trying to learn, but in our home country our friends and family have no concept of our lives and very quickly glaze over when we try to explain to them our daily struggles. This is not because they don’t care yet there is a quick glazing over in conversation. Therefore, it is an extreme treat for a missionary to get together with other missionaries. There is a comradery of being with others who have lived outside of their home country for a long time. Not to downplay the wonderful experience of short term trips or semesters studying abroad, but these are not at all like settling down to live in a host country.
A wonderful truth in this pronunciation of being unknown in both cultures can be what the Lord uses to draw me to seek more after Him. To revel in the reality that he knows me even more than I know myself! It is a beautiful truth, a wonderful relationship with my Savior, and a struggle.
Most stories could fit under this title “It’s Complicated,” but hopefully this is a small glimpse. God remains faithful and we live in a difficult world.