I am with my local family in the village hidden in the mountains, which is connected to the rest of civilisation by some bumpy, narrow and winding roads.
I am sitting with Lilian, a sister, on tiny wooden stools in front of a woodfire, discussing how to translate certain Bible passages into her native tongue, as Scripture is not yet available in that language. I scratch my head as I attempt to explain the meaning of the passages to her with my limited third and fourth languages, using reasoning, examples and metaphors to which a farmer with little formal schooling could relate.
But as we are finally getting somewhere and are ready to do some audio recording, the rooster begins to crow and the ducks quack, entertaining us with unwelcome background sounds! So we resolve to make some vegetable soup and feed the pigs, while we wait for the animals to calm down.
Later that evening, in a city a couple of hours from the village, I find myself in a group of highly educated individuals watching an English film and discussing it afterwards. We ponder such issues as conflicting values and socialism. We enjoy the movie on cushioned sofas in warm blankets, with the room temperature appropriately controlled by air conditioning. There is a large variety of delicious foods beautifully set out on the table.
In contrast to earlier that morning, everything happened exactly according to plan!
Most cross-cultural workers constantly live in between two (or more) very distinct worlds. I am no exception. One constant challenge in serving cross-culturally is learning how to survive as we drift between these worlds—let alone thrive. I remember during one home assignment being shocked when I saw pet insurance ads in a shopping centre, because all I could think about was how delicious the dog was in the village just the week before!
It can be extremely taxing and lonely to juggle two worlds: we often feel like we belong to both, yet neither. When I go from one world to the other, my head and heart need time to catch up; and in the meantime, my reaction is often to judge due to feelings of guilt or emotional weariness.
I wonder: “How come you don’t understand, it’s so simple!” Or, “How can we live so comfortably and indulge like this when so many people are struggling to live on so little?” Or, “Why do we have 50+ versions of the English Bible, when so many people haven’t even heard of Jesus?”
The more I am caught between worlds, the more grace I need: grace to understand, empathise with and accept those who are different, grace from others when I offend them because of my pride, and grace from the Father when I feel too tired to be kind.
Along with this grace comes a deeper appreciation for both the abundance of God in a luxurious meal without guilt, as well as the simple contentment from a bowl of vegetable soup without a sense of self-righteousness. Then there is being able to enjoy eating dog when I am with certain people, but loving my family’s pet dog wholeheartedly at the same time!
As the Father transforms me through each of these different environments, I begin to realise He is implanting His wisdom in me: the wisdom to withhold judgment and to ask questions in culturally appropriate ways, the wisdom to examine my own values and beliefs more humbly from His much bigger perspective, and the wisdom to discern how exactly the Father wants me to serve others.
It has been humbling to see how His wisdom has widened and deepened my relationships, as people are more willing to listen to someone who understands and empathises with them. Although I continue to wrestle with these distinct worlds, I find comfort in knowing that they are in fact the same world to our all-wise Creator, who gives me His grace wherever I go.
Felicity is a long-term worker living and serving in Asia.