In the midst of this we are grieving our life on the coast. Our daily realities of the past months are being redefined, and we miss the life and perspectives that have nurtured us. The kids’ faces are always at the forefront of my mind and I see each experience through their eyes, their opportunities. I pray for them, dream of ways to continue caring for them in some way, and long for redemption in their lives in a world that offers few positive realities to them when they age out of their current sanctuary.
I was thinking about them yesterday when we pulled into Quito in transition to Otavalo. A boy of maybe 11 got on the bus to sell battered fruit for a dollar. He was dirty, with sad eyes and clothes in worse shape than anything at the orphanage. At bus stations kids who should be playing at preschool, tug at our pants for spare change in return for the dirty candy they grip with tiny hands. In these moments I hear Fatima's words in my heart of why she sacrificed her personal dreams and dedicated her life to love and care for kids at the orphanage. Kids shouldn't be on the streets. She redefined the realities for the kids we fell in love with these past months who we may otherwise have met on city streets. She then helped me begin to redefine my realities, showing me that sometimes you can't look the other way but MUST sacrifice everything and take action.
Having spent many weeks grieving that "my" kids don’t have the kind of childhood I want for them (a.k.a. tucked in at night by loving parents in beautiful rooms, with full tummies of nutritious food, and every good opportunity before them) I failed to praise GOD enough for the grace that they are with her, and not joining the ranks of millions of children homeless on the streets. Food and clothes may run low, mattresses may stink, and classrooms may need more teachers, but they are loved by GOD, Fatima and others who have dedicated their lives to their care. Praise GOD.
It is examples and perspectives like this that we came to Ecuador to glean from. Being surrounded by different cultures always leaves us vulnerable, asking questions we are afraid to answer about what is and what should be. This week we have travelled from the coast to the highlands of the same country and have already faced new cultural realities. (The shock of transferring from rural coastal Ecuador through its two largest cities in one night will do this.) We intentionally left the coast a week before our scheduled flight to Texas to begin this process of transition early, knowing that the re-entry to the States is likely to be even more than its usual shock. That, and of course we really wanted to come to Otavalo again.
Culture shock is hard. Wikipedia defines culture shock as “the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life." I’d expand on this to say it is a personal rebellion to a way of life perceived as unacceptable due to the conflicting realities and values of one’s previous experience. We have never seriously struggled with culture shock when travelling, preferring the adventures of disorientation and experiencing new things to remaining unchanged by the same routines and customs allowed in our native culture. Our greatest struggle is always waiting for us when we arrive back in our homeland where excess and entertainment are dominant pursuits. During some of my worst re-entry experiences every part of my being seems to rebel against the status quo of "my" culture as personal convictions and perspectives have changed through experience and leave me a stranger in my homeland. This reaction is formally classified as reverse culture shock.
Reverse culture shock is, in my opinion, the hardest part about being a traveler. At the same time I believe it is the most important reason to travel. Stuck in one culture our immediate surroundings often define our realities about what is right/wrong; acceptable/unacceptable. In these situations Christians especially are more easily able to distinguish their role by staying just barely on the other side of these cultural "norms." Our primary goal in this season was to have a "cultural reset" as we've called it. We wanted to live in a culture as different from our own as possible. Mission accomplished. There are more drastic cultures, I know, but Ecuador has definitely provided a range of cultural experiences different from any previous. Most importantly, we were able to experience this “reset” together. We are learning to value what GOD has called us to rather than being seduced by the cultural justification around us. Outside of our native culture we naturally question everything because nothing is "normal." We rely on GOD to lead us and to define us, instead of falling into the formidable traps of routine, people pleasing, and status quo.
We were torn between wanting to spend every last minute on the coast, and needing to begin an earlier transition out of that culture to survive the inevitable storm of reverse culture shock, however temporary, of re-entry into the States. I may not like a lot of things about a lot of cultures, but I will always critique the States the most because they are my homeland and it's natural to expect more out of it. Many of you feel the same, as witnessed by many recent Facebook posts, for better and worse. We knew that spending our last week travelling would allow us the opportunity to begin the grieving and adjustment that transition always requires. If we are already in the travel/transition mode, it will be much easier to adjust to the good, the bad, and the ugly of our native culture, though I’m sure we will have a few total flip out moments like always.
Jesus is my favorite, for many obvious reasons, but also because He was a traveler – a stranger in His own land. He engaged the culture, following many cultural customs, but also challenged hearts and the status quo. Though I find joy and value in many cultures of the earth, they are all still part of a fallen reality. The only true Reality is the redemption and love of JESUS, whose Grace reminds us that we belong to a Kingdom beyond the false realities of this fallen world. Though I’m sure Jesus suffered from culture shock as he dealt with humans in the flesh, I know HE didn’t suffer that same shock at re-entry when HE returned to HIS Heavenly Kingdom that we are all homesick for. May His grace be sufficient in our weakness as we remember that we are strangers in this world, citizens of HIS Kingdom, forever and ever.