“What Cultural Issue Is the Most Difficult for You?” — Questions You Can Ask a Missionary, Part 5

Our friends (and fellow missionaries) Keith and Lori Doster recently linked to an article about stressors that missionaries face. The original article is called 12 Questions You Can Ask a Missionary to Help Them Stay on the Field. Missionaries are not unique to these stressors; however, they do face them in situations where they often feel vulnerable and lonely.

If you know any missionaries, I encourage you to support and encourage them by asking one or more of these questions (but not all 12 at once!). For the sake of our friends, supports, and blog-readers, I wanted to proactively answer these questions over the next few months. (Of course, feel free to ask us these questions personally.)

question_mark_sign fotopedia Colin_K

Question 5:   “What about your host culture is the most difficult for you to cope with?”

As I write this post, I have just finished dealing with (in my own heart, not in public) the biggest cultural issue that gets to me in Allendale — the general devaluation of scheduling and appointments

My college football coach taught us, “If you are on time, you’re late.” Therefore, I was late to practices / workouts / meetings only twice in my entire college career, and I did pay the price for my follies, with early morning “work hours” and scores of up-downs.

Not only do I make all efforts to be on-time early, but I expect others to have the same value. And when I have an appointment or meeting, I put it in my calendar and stick with it. Yes, I’m late sometimes, but more often I arrive early.

But here is what I’ve had happen to me, or have seen happen to others:

  • kids not showing up for field trips, despite verbal commitments to be there days earlier
  • three teenagers affirming they would attend a weekend event (for which someone covered the cost of $250 per student), and none of them showed up the morning they were to leave
  • meetings that begin 20-40 minutes late (more times than I can count)
  • showing up for something, and waiting around for two hours, and it still hasn’t started
  • meetings that drag on for 30-60 minutes longer than is necessary, because every detail from that meeting (and the previous one as well) is re-hashed and debated by multiple people

This list could go on. If you live by your calendar and to-do list like I do, you understand the frustration of time that was wasted by waiting. You think, “I could be getting other things done!”

The Dangers for Me

There are two main cautions for myself as I live in a culture like this: 1) imitating, and 2) becoming proud.

Becoming like-minded.  It’s easy to see how this cultural issue perpetuates itself. You start off being on-time, but notice that you are one of the few who do so. So you figure, “It’s ok if I’m a little late next time.” And then when others see you be late, they figure it’s ok to for them to be late. And so on . . . .

So it has been with me. For example, I’m supposed to be at the high school at 3, but I figure 3:05 is good enough. And I when I do I arrive, I justify myself since I’m still earlier than many others. I ignore the objective standard of what is clearly expected of me, and start depending of a subjective comparison with others.

Which leads me to the second danger . . . .

Becoming proud. I value my time, and I try to value others’ time. And I expect others to value our time as well. So I become proud in how often I arrive on time. And it’s not a pride in just doing it right. I become proud in my perception of how much better I am than others. As CS Lewis wrote, my pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride.

But I have to remember that my struggle with this issue doesn’t make me right or better. I just come at it from a different perspective. I have to remember that there are some benefits of not being a slave to my calendar.

The Benefits of Not Living by Your Calendar

calendar sxchu magurkaAs a task-oriented, Type A personality, I like getting things done. I tend to put tasks over relationships. Like Martha in Luke 10, I want others (and God) to recognize how much I am getting done.

There is nothing wrong with being productive. But I fall short if I think that productivity is more important than people, and that tasks are more valuable than souls.

Because what I’ve learned from this community is that when I step back with my list of 8 things that I “must” do today, that I do better noticing how great people are. Yes, it’s annoying to wait until a meeting starts, but that gives me time to get to know and catch up with the others who are also waiting.

Please pray for my heart to be more inclined to the people around me, than to my ever-unfinished task list.

Related Links:

**images courtesy of Colin_K via fotopedia and magurka via sxc.hu

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2 responses to ““What Cultural Issue Is the Most Difficult for You?” — Questions You Can Ask a Missionary, Part 5”

  1. Karen says :

    When I moved here I was constantly in fear that I was in the wrong place, at the wrong date, or at the wrong time because when I arrived fifteen minutes early…or even on time…I was often the only person there. It was just sheer panic thinking I must have messed up because I was the only one there….and like you said, it becomes a challenge to keep arriving on time (or a little early) when you know you will likely wait for 20-30 minutes for the event to start.

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