June 4, 2010
To Our Colleagues in Personnel…
This monthly “resource tool” is designed to provide insight for personnel workers in ministry-related areas. If you would like to be removed from the list (or a friend would like to be added), please let me know… firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
“Building Skills for Member Care with Excellence.” Dates = Jan. 10-14, 2011. We’d love to have you with us. For more information check http://www.linkcare.org/buildingskills. Write for info / application.
In view of lots of travel to and from the fields at this time of year, our focus this month is on
. . .Re-Entry Up Close and Personal
Something to Think About. . .
Through these monthly “To our Colleagues…” letters, I have come to know and appreciate Maggie Register, who with her husband have recently returned to the USA following 38 years as foreign missionaries. (Maggie.firstname.lastname@example.org).
Below, with her permission, is a chapter from her new book, No Place for Plastic Saints: Earthquakes, Chicken Feet, and Candid Confessions of a Missionary Wife. The chapter is entitled, “Shocked!” and is about re-entry.
In this chapter Maggie has captured in words the overwhelming impressions of so many returning missionaries – even though the date is 1972. It seems even moreso today. I trust you will enjoy the vivid images brought back to life in our own memories.
God bless you, and have a good month!
Ken Royer, for your Link Care Friends
1734 W. Shaw Ave.; Fresno, CA 93711
559 439 5920 ext. 122
had no idea that upon reentry into the United States, I would experience culture shock. There was a sense of alienation. I felt “foreign.” I was shocked that I did not fit in with my family or with my church family. I was no longer only North American. Neither was I Chilean. I was shocked to realize that for the remainder of my life I would have a “third” culture, a blend. I was indeed a “foreign” missionary.
I was appalled at the materialism, at the super-abundance of “stuff.” I saw the abundance in stores jammed with products, in homes jammed with non-essentials. The mindset of everyone seemed to be to “acquire more stuff.” There seemed to be little desire to give—only to consume. Women’s conversations seemed centered on hair, jewelry, designer shoes, and bags.
I grieved at the superficiality, the shallow mindset. Friendships seemed shallow. Christians’ devotion to God seemed shallow. Christians’ prayers seemed shallow. Christians’ faith seemed self-focused.
The American church seemed almost a pseudo-church. There seemed to be little desire to reach out beyond the church walls. Where were the people whose lives were being transformed? Where was a congregation who received the Word and put the principles into action in their daily lives?
My heart broke to see the cultural decline—television content seemed more debauched, vocabulary on television more crude. People, in general, seemed more rude.
I wept at the provincialism—people seemed to think, “What world?” And their attitude seemed to be, “Who cares?” People were not interested in our experiences—the joys or the sorrows—unless we were “on stage” where people often seemed to listen out of religious obligation.
As missionaries, our lives and ministry had been integrated; our days motivated by compassion. Now I felt I had nothing meaningful to do—certainly no one wanted church services every night. I couldn’t have Saturday Bible clubs because we needed to itinerate. Even if there had been women’s onces, teas, what did we have in common to talk about? I had no women’s or girls’ booklets to write, no girls’ retreats to plan. I missed the sense of feeling needed.
I was desperately homesick for friends in Chile. I missed our missionary colleagues. I missed our Chilean friends. I missed the lingering meals where we could sit and talk and laugh, where sharing conversation was just as vital as eating the food.
And when itinerary began, I felt I couldn’t make real friends because we were in a different church every night—no one could know “me” but only my stage self. No one saw me cry or be angry; no one knew how human I really was.
I felt false because “on stage” my holy-self was demonstrated with wonderful stories from Viña. Missionaries never talked about the painful times. I dared not mention the pain of Temuco.
I felt like a plastic saint.
I was not the only one who experienced culture shock. Juan, too, observed the abundance of things in the States and was appalled.
In fact, Juan’s jaw had dropped open when he stood just inside the door of the first supermarket he had ever seen. He turned his head from side to side, gazing at the items. “Why is there so much?” he asked. We walked down the cereal aisle. He drew in a sharp breath, “Why do they need so many choices of cereal? So many boxes of each one?” We arrived at the frozen food section, and I explained that inside all these boxes and bags were frozen foods. “No, there can’t be. It must be just an empty box with a picture.” I handed him a box, a TV dinner. He could not believe his eyes. “Who eats fake food? Why don’t they want fresh vegetables? What happens when the electricity goes off?”
Mom and Dad, Jan and Barry had welcomed Juan warmly, and of course, Christy was delighted to see him. Juan’s visit bridged Christy’s old life and her new, as it did also for Timmy.
When Daddy took Juan to Town & Country Plaza, a strip mall of about ten stores, Juan stared at the parking lot, “Is this a car sales business?” He had never seen so many vehicles in one place. He was stunned that people did not take buses. Why did everyone need his own car?
Juan could not believe all the church buildings. So many denominations. Such big buildings. Dad took Juan to a ministers’ seminar at Brownsville Assembly where Juan was profoundly touched to see hundreds of pastors in attendance.
After two weeks, Juan left by bus to visit Chilean friends in Texas and Alabama, where George Wallace was campaigning for President. Governor Wallace, who said he was Commander-in-Chief, conferred on Juan the dubious title of “Lt. Col., Field Commander, Confederate Army of the South.”
Juan returned, reluctantly, to Chile the day his visa expired.
Joe arrived home in March. He had had a wonderful time, first cutting the record with the Trío Asaph, then preaching at the youth camp in Argentina, and finally helping with church planting in Asunción, Paraguay.
As we drove home from the airport, he bubbled enthusiastically about Paraguay—the hot climate, the Bible institute closed for lack of students, and the new congregation Everett was forming in the barrio Republicano.
Fear gripped my heart. I snapped at him, “Why are you talking so much about Paraguay? You don’t want to go back to Paraguay, do you?”
“I didn’t mean to tell you so soon,” he mumbled. “I had no idea you would think that … this soon.”
He explained that he had been praying in the Bible institute chapel in Asunción. The Bible school was closed. Not one student wanted to attend, because an Argentine evangelist had swept through the country preaching discipulado, shepherding, a sort of religious pyramid scheme where each person is under a shepherd who is their sole source of enlightenment.
Joe said he knelt there in the chapel at a rough wooden bench and prayed, “God, have mercy on this place. Send missionaries to this country. Help these spiritually ignorant people. They are so poor. They feel so inferior. The climate is so hot. There are so few missionaries because almost no one wants to come to Paraguay. God, send someone here.”
And the thought dropped into his heart, “What about you? Are you willing to come here?”
Joe’s tears puddled on the bench as he surrendered, “Yes, Lord, I am willing to come here.”
Joe said that almost immediately he began to enjoy the hot climate, to love the people, and to have hope for students to attend the Bible school.
It was a touching story and I knew Joe meant it. But I had NOT been touched and I definitely did NOT want to go to Paraguay.
I had not seen Joe for three months. I was still in culture shock, and he wanted to change countries!
I cried. And I cried. And I cried.
I did not want to be severed from my Chilean family, both missionary and Chilean. I did not want to desert my friends who were suffering economically with Allende.
I was accepted in Chile, loved, needed. I had genuine friends. I could sit and drink once, tea, with any one of dozens of ladies while we talked about recipes or the veda, food shortage, or the Bible, or prayers answered and unanswered. Together we genuinely laughed and openly cried. There was no pretense, no façade, no hurry.
I did not want to be uprooted, again—to leave the comfort of friends in Chile and stumble into a perilous maze of unknowns in Paraguay.
“God, will I ever ‘belong’ anywhere?” I railed at the unfairness of having to adjust, again, to a different country, to another culture. Why was life so hard? I thought God’s yoke was supposed to be “easy” and his burden “light.” Ha! I knew by experience that fulfilling all this “religious performance” was both hard and heavy.
“Oh, God,” I begged, “Help me to adjust to this itinerary stuff. And help me to endure Paraguay.”
I didn’t know then that I needed so much more help than that. I didn’t realize my performance-based faith needed radical overhaul.