“Foreign” Missions

Ask any missionary who has worked in a country other than his own and he will tell you that culture shock can be a serious hurdle. In our own culture we have a certain way of doing things — a way which seems correct to us, but only because we have always done things that way. We have standards and customs with regard to practically everything…

  • How we speak to one another
  • How much personal space we require
  • What we eat
  • How we eat
  • How we dress
  • How we interact with others

Our cultural standards are everywhere. We just don’t see them because they are the context in which we live our lives — much like a fish doesn’t know he’s wet, water is just his world. Our culture is “just how it is.” But, take a trip to another country. It turns out the world, as we know it, really isn’t “just how it is.” People in other places speak differently, eat differently, dress differently, and interact differently. You’ll learn pretty quickly that one’s culture influences everything. It influences the way you see the world — the way you think.

Ask a missionary. They’ll tell you life in another culture can be a shock. It takes time to become comfortable there.

There is another, lesser known, phenomenon that is akin to culture shock. It is called “reverse culture shock.” This happens when a person leaves their original culture and lives in another culture to the point of becoming comfortable. They adapt to the way their new culture does things, which, in turn, will eventually influence the way they think. When the person returns to their original culture they are shocked all over again. This happens for a couple of reasons:

  1. Their culture is not exactly as they remember. It has morphed — as all cultures do.
  2. They are not the same. In adapting to a new culture people change. They are no longer the same. They will not fit into their original culture in the same way they once did.

In fact, reverse culture shock can be more difficult to bear than culture shock. A person experiencing this simply had a desire to “go home” only to find out that what they thought was their home was not.

This should be the experience of every Christian.

Before we are saved we grow up thinking like the world, acting like the world, setting our goals according to what the world tells us. We have a sinful nature — corrupt and distorted. We are incapable of seeing beyond our flesh. This is our world. It is our culture. And it all seems perfectly fine to us.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. — Proverbs 14:12

We have no other context. We are completely incapable of understanding God or the things of God.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. — 1 Corinthians 2:14

But…

When we are saved we are made into something entirely different.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. — 2 Corinthians 5:17

Our eyes, once shut, have now been opened. We have been adopted as sons and daughters of God’s own family — members of a new kingdom, one completely at odds with the world we’ve known.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” — John 18:36

If Christ is truly our King then our Kingdom is not of this world either. All of this can come as quite a shock. The things of God are quite different than the things of this world. No longer are our own desires the primary focus of our lives. Now, God’s will becomes paramount. No longer do we seek things for ourselves. God’s glory becomes our primary motivation for everything we do.

As time passes though, it is possible — even probable — that a new Christian will remember the things that he used to regard as important and seek to return to them. But, for the truly regenerate this is not an option. Salvation is a divine act of God that transforms a person from death unto life. And, it is a divine act of God that keeps him there.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. — Philippians 1:6

A Christian will grow in the Lord. He will become more and more comfortable with the spiritual things of God that were so abhorrent to him before — God will see to it.

But here’s the thing. As a Christian grows he will experience reverse culture shock. This fallen world will be revealed for the corrupt distortion of God’s creation that it is. He will learn that the world he used to think of as his home is not.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. — Philippians 3:20-21

Christians are to be set apart — different — from the world. We hold no allegiance here. This is just our mission field, and we should regard it as nothing more.

We live in a world where people don’t speak our language. They aren’t motivated by what motivates us. They don’t understand us. But, if we have been saved, then we have been commissioned to take the Gospel to this lost and dying world.

We are all “foreign” missionaries. Charles Haddon Spurgeon once put it like this, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.”

The question I leave with you, dear reader, is this…

Are you experiencing more and more reverse culture shock?

If you answered “yes” then that could be the indication you are becoming more and more comfortable in God’s Kingdom — evidence that the one who began a good work in you is completing it. If you answered “no” it could mean you never entered His Kingdom in the first place and are an imposter.

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About Chip
Chip is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, TN. He served more than five years on the staff of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana as Director of Communications and Public Relations, editor of the Indiana Baptist newsjournal, and regular contributor to the Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. He currently earns his living as a writer. He serves his local church as a teacher and deacon and his local Baptist Association as a Seminary Extension instructor and supply preacher.

5 Responses to “Foreign” Missions

  1. Joeyanna says:

    Alright brother, now what to do when you have reverse culter shock in regards to the IC, because its what I have always known since being saved, but it doesn’t match up with Holy Writ so I am no longer comfortable there either (not just in the world). Was just studying and praying about this very thing again yesterday (well, most days, but indepth yesterday). Funny thing is that I was remembering some of my old ways (reconnecting with old Marines) yesterday and today, and while I become somewhat nostalgic, I would never be able to go back to those ways. As always, I am appreciative that you shared your wisdom.

    • Chip says:

      My suspicion is that much of what you find wrong with the IC is, in fact, the world. We know from Scripture that there will always be goats among the sheep. However, evangelistic practices in the mid to late 20th century really aggravated this problem. People were told all they had to do to be saved was to repeat a simple prayer, usually with the assurance that it would “only take five minutes” of their time. Often this came with no biblical understanding of who God is, what sin is, or what Christ did. The goal was to “get those baptism numbers up.” This meant more and more unregenerate people populated church roles. They brought with them their same old worldly desires and motivations, they just put a religious facade over them. They do “religious” things but their goals remain selfishly motivated. Christ described them in Matthew chapter 7.

      Of course, all of us are still clothed in corrupt flesh. Even a church comprised of nothing but regenerate believers is going to have problems. But at least in that context accountability is usually met with genuine repentance.

  2. Pat Noble says:

    I agree that we are all ‘foreigners’ but it is not helpful to call all Christians “missionaries” is it?

  3. Grammy says:

    This quote from A.W. Tozer goes along with this thinking. “The Spirit cannot fill whom He cannot separate, and whom He cannot fill, He cannot make holy, and whom He cannot make holy He cannot make happy.”

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