Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Group Lessons

[what's brewing: boy-oh-Boyardee!]

Last week our first short-term missions team arrived to spend two weeks working at the Children’s Home – work meaning anything from laborious work like repairing roofing issues that developed from the recent heavy rains, to spending hours doing crafts, playing hopscotch, swinging, singing songs and sharing an endless amount of hugs and laughter with the kids.

My interactions with the group this week has led me to a number of realizations:

- I have gained a lot more knowledge about the city, the language and the culture here than I ever realized. Until now, I have been the one asking questions and learning things. Over the past few days I’ve been able to respond to many questions for the group members with answers that come surprisingly naturally to me. Having the group here has allowed me to take a step back and realize how much I truly have adapted to my new home, my “adopted culture” as it has been insightfully named by a CG reader awhile back.

- Life on the field requires a lot of flexibility and adaptability. I am obviously aware of this on many levels as I face the challenges of life in a different culture, but I believe I am generally drawing upon a reserve of flexibility that I know is available in those moments. Having the group here has raised my awareness of just how flexible and adaptable I’ve been in order to keep my sanity. In some strange way, I have been relishing the feedback from our group members as they say, “I can’t believe you deal with this all the time!” What makes this feel good? Affirming that I am dealing with unexpected things all the time, and yet somehow those experiences have become normal to me. I’m adapting.

- Living far from my home culture has developed a strange reaction within me towards products from the US. Naturally I was quite overjoyed to see the instant pancake mix and bottles of Mrs. Buttersworth maple syrup that the team brought along. But beyond that, items that I didn’t realized I even missed, but most peculiarly even things that I never purchased or consumed while living there have a sudden appeal simply because it is familiar. Several cans of Chef Boyardee ravioli showed up in the donations the group had received and brought along with them. I have never purchased this item in my life and I don’t think I’ve even tasted it since I was a child, but upon seeing that familiar label, Jason and I both had a sudden craving for it. We opened a can and somehow, even though the taste was just as metallic and tangy as I remembered it to be, we savored the taste and convenience of readymade pasta that is simply unheard of here. Strange.

- My heart longs to worship with likeminded believers in my heart language. Some of the sweetest moments of this trip for me have been sharing the evenings of reflection, prayer and worship with the group. The sound of voices singing on key and blending beautifully as we sing familiar songs has tapped into an area of my heart that I believe I have unknowingly shut off since my weekly worship experience changed so drastically when we arrived. I am living here because I dream of the glory that will be revealed the day that people of every tribe, tongue and nation will worship before His throne together. But I now know, and can appreciate, the sweetness of worshipping with people from my mother tongue and nation.

Do you host short-term teams? What have you learned about yourself as a result of working alongside them?


Katherine said...

I've had the same experience with visitors re finding out how much you do know and feel comfy with in new country. Its also been fun to show off my language skills which before having an international visitor I didn't realise there was anything to show off.
And back in Australia I never ate chips/crisps/cold potato chips, but now that they are not around much I find myself craving them!

Katherine said...

me again.. I also had some "reverse culture shock". I discovered I must have become used to the way men and women relate here in Cambodia, less physical contact than in Australia. I only started to realise this when I felt uncomfortable around the men on the team- they stood so close to me when we were tallking, they hugged me etc- I guess I would have found that normal a few years ago, but now I don't.

Kara said...

You are succeeding in representing 'every woman' overseas! Each of those three points revived memories and deep emotions for me.

My experience with the first short-term team we hosted was how LOUD they were! And I enjoyed using my language skills, though like Katherine, I hadn't known I had much!

I experienced the familiar-food-dynamic when we were on furlough. Even a plain ham sandwich with thin-sliced lunchmeat and soft white bread, was an incredible experience.

And worship in English still brings me to tears, though for years I've felt that I can truly worship in Russian. I guess that's why they call it a heart language!

Thanks for sharing your great observations so skillfully

Brenda said...

We host many, many short term teams. We keep them small, 10 or less and actually host them in our home. Its a wonderful time to share our lives and vision with them. And I love it when they bring me treats from home, especially when they bring something that they love and want to share with me. Or when they read my blog and bring me what I absolutely love, like Kona Coffee!

Missionaries in La Ceiba, Honduras said...

Yes, we host short-term teams. I agree with another reader - how LOUD they can be! I've learned to adapt to water outages, power outages, inconveniences, no 24-hour Wal Mart, etc. Didn't even realize I missed it until my first trip back to the states in almost 2 years! Double-stuffed Oreos hold a special place in my now double-stuffed free life :-)

sarah said...

We also host short term teams as well as individual missionaries on a year round basis. I could relate to each bullet of our post today....it made me smile. The part that I loved was the Ravioli!!! It's so true, we too get excited over some things that we would never even buy in the US. It's all about comfort and home. Even after being 5 years on the field I still love to see things that come for home. Thanks for making me smile today! :)

Shilo said...

I just really enjoyed your post today, right to the depth of my heart. So glad that God gave you this chance to realize and rejoice in the great adjustments you have made since you arrived in your adopted culture!

Marti said...

Six months into a year I spent in Central Asia, I felt like such a beginning... still the village idiot, the only person in the city who still had trouble speaking the language. But when the STM team showed up, taking care of them was one thing I could do. It pushed me a bit but showed me how far I'd come!

The next STM that came through, popping across the border from a neighboring country, were thrilled not only for someone to take them to the bazaar but also to go prayerwalking with them - something my long-established teammates didn't have as much time for as I, the one who didn't work in the office or have a busy ministry, did. What a blessing.

Oh, and I won't pretend I wasn't grateful for the STMer who brought my favorite pair of jeans from home. Wasn't OK to wear them in our part of he country but they were sure nice to have on visits to the big city!

I've also heard some disastrous stories about STMs and other visitors from home. They can certainly put a stress on the fragile aspects of our lives and relationships.

Becky Aguirre said...

There is just something about meeting people from back "home" that is special, period, when one is so far from everything that's familiar! Growing up on the field, receiving the youth teams that came every summer was one of the highlights of the year! Fresh energy and enthusiasm...not to mention the stuff they brought. :) Even ordinary Juicy Fruit was special because it was (hushed tones) "stateside gum"!

Grammy said...

We are still in language school not in our serving country, but work teams have come through our church here. I offer to take group pictures and ask where everyone is from.. last summer a team came and when I found out they were from Maine and we had some mutual friends I cried.. felt stupid but just knowing someone knew my "home" was overwhelming...Can't wait to host teams in Ecuador!

Anonymous said...

When I have short-termers or newcomers with me, I am often reminded of the proverb: "The foreigner has big eyes but cannot see anything." Even though I am far from "seeing" everything, there are many things that I see but the new person doesn't (meaning - she does not know what she is seeing).
I have usually had only individual short-termers, not whole teams. When observing whole short-term teams (visiting others) I often had the impression (or is it more a fear?) that they think of their "contribution to mission work" too highly and expect the missionary to thank them on his/her knees, but don't see that they are often more a burden than a help, especially those that come for 1-2 weeks. I think the main purpose of having short-term teams is for them to get a better understanding of and vision for mission work, not necessarily what they can do for the missionary. That's what makes the additional work worthwhile.
Sometimes I even find it difficult to find something that visitors can do who lack language skills and knowledge of local conditions and materials. Despite all of that, I was very grateful when a group of visitors from my home church painted the whole house during their visit. :-) It was a huge blessing.

Kristy said...

I have been on all sides of STM work. I have gone on them as a college student, led them as a youth worker, worked for an agency that organized them, trained our staff and youth leaders to lead them, worked in third world and first world countries/teams and hosted them (different experiences) and now my husband and I are hosting in our home the latest addition to our team who are 2 year interns.

It is hard work. It is a blessing. It is overwhelming. It can be chaotic and helpful at the same time. Sometimes I felt like a glorified tour guide and other times I was touched deeply by a group or person who saw a need and was able to help in a very practical way.

I have worked with junior high groups, senior high groups, adults, medical groups, construction groups and performance teams. All shapes and sizes. All lengths of trips. And yes, generally the benefit is more for them than for the missionary on the field, and yet every missionary I've worked with has appreciated the contribution, no matter how small, that was made.

I became a missionary through my short term experiences and so I highly recommend them for everyone. Even where we are now, we will be taking college students on an STM to a neighboring country sometime in the next year or two. It is in those teachable moments where you can impact the next generation of those who may become future members of our team.

And yes, packages of crystal light or kraft mac and cheese (even though I make a great mac and cheese myself) are wonderful comforts of home. So is the fellowship and encouragement and joy of being able to share what God is doing in experiences rather than just words on a paper.

Anonymous said...

Hello Coffeegirl!

Tales about short-term teams are common discussions when I get together with my missionary friends. Like the time a team member bought a monkey off the street, oh that was a hoot! We get some good laughs.

I agree with Jutta (malianta) that the trip is more for the team members. They gain a world awareness and a passion for missions that is incomparable and usually life long. I love having teams in because I get to see that transformation take place and it is marvelous.

The hardest part of having teams is the goodbyes. The best part is the connection that takes place and the new friendships that are forged.

Cindy said...

We just finished hosting our first team...after 10 years! What a blessing they were.
We have many, many short termers that come through, but this team was from our sending church. It was great to 'see' things through their eyes...things that we take for granted now. We saw what a barrier language can be to newcomers.
What struck me the most was the questions..."Where did you buy these bagels?, Can we go buy some more of that yogurt that we had last night? I forgot my toothpaste, where is the nearest store?". What culture shock when they were told that most of these things were made from scratch...not the toothpaste...but baking soda works great! Their eyes were as big as saucers...
The treats they brought us from the church were wonderful. As one other reader commented, so many of these things I never bought back 'home', but oh...how we are treasuring them! :)
Praying at night was a highlight...being with those who have been with you on your journey for so long...and hearing their prayers was such a 'delight'.
Yes, it was work...yes, there was confusion with the language barriers...but God was faithful. I am trusting that they took back so much more of what we do here.ctoph

jpierce said...

I love the beautiful writing,the intensity of feelings and the ideal of love in these first two chapters. The imagery is so lovely. But there is also something inside of me that says their views of love were so idealized that they couldn't stand the test of time and real life. Who could live so intensely and so reflectively all the time? No wonder they decided not to have children. THAT would take some of the "ideal" out of each day. Children would have indeed demanded time, energy and a focus taken away from the couple. Their singlemindedness about the relationship became indulgent to me--I could feel when it went over the top and I began to say "No" to the description of what they were trying to accomplish. Not to say that the book isn't compelling and interesting. Just too much to seem real.

Coffeegirl said...

Wow, each one of you have added something so great to this post - I am smiling from ear to ear both at the comments you've shared and to hear that this is truly a common experience among us all. I admit, I felt a bit ridiculous posting about that ravioli!! This is all such great feedback - the reverse culture shock pieces via short term team interactions, how LOUD they have been (so true!!) - each comment has been so good for me to read. @ngie, you are right about the goodbyes being the hardest part. It's hard to believe how quickly those meaningful bonds can be made.

I appreciate the aspect several of you have brought out about the nature of short-term work - the work it can create for the host, but the incredible ways it impacts those on the trip. I was also influenced greatly by my missions trips as a high school student, so there is a soft spot in my heart for these team members who require a lot of guidance, but are opening their hearts so widely to the work God is doing in the world. To observe that is one of the "priceless" moments in my time here thus far.


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