Month: August 2015

A Day in the Life of a Language Student

Language learning is ministry. Not only are you portraying the love of Christ for the people in your learning as they see your respect for them and their culture, but every day’s efforts are serving Christ and are a sacrifice pleasing in His sight. Your daily language learning activities are a real way to love Christ and love the people, even as you are investing in future fruitfulness for the gospel among them.

Dan Sinclair, A Vision of the Possible

My husband and I have been language students in East Asia for nearly two years. Each day we have classes at the university, one-on-one time with a tutor, and personal study time. A large chunk of each day is devoted to spending time in the local community practising our speaking and listening skills, whether that’s going out for lunch with people, hanging out in a student dorm, or chatting to shop owners.

But how does it feel to be a language student?

Let’s see….when you realise you’ve just described the entire plot of Jurassic Park 4 to a friend using the language, it feels really good. When you can talk to someone and actually understand them, and they understand you, it’s a real confidence boost. And when you’re able to pray with someone or share about Jesus with them, it’s the best feeling in the world.

But those moments are few and far between.

Usually it’s uncertain, stressful, discouraging, tiring and pressured.

It’s the uncertainty of living in a culture that does not plan ahead – often invitations are immediate and made on the day, and can also be changed or cancelled that day too.

It’s the stress of not feeling in control – what you think is just a lunch invite with friends turns into an afternoon and evening full of activities where you’re expected to attend.

It’s the discouragement of not understanding even the simplest things people say to you, and wondering how on Earth you will ever learn the language.

It’s the awkwardness of being unaware of the social cues and the ‘meaning behind the meaning’. Making silly mistakes and laughing them off is one thing, but unwittingly shaming your friend in front of their friends and family is seriously embarrassing.

And then there’s the pressure we put ourselves under – pressure to ‘perform’ when we’re with our friends, to be a good host, or to be a good guest – to say the right things and give the right gifts, to be good company and to avoid doing anything that would cause people to lose face or that might damage the relationship…it’s pretty tiring!

Honestly, there are times when I think God’s made a mistake and put us in the wrong culture – we’re both introverts, both ‘planners’, and adapting to this new culture does not feel easy or natural. There are some days when it feels too overwhelming to even go outside, and there are some days when I just want to go home.

I think it’s helpful to validate these feelings and to say that, in the process of language learning and living in a new culture, it’s natural to feel these things.

But God also wants us to trust Him with these feelings. To trust that He not only uses us despite the stresses, the awkwardness and the uncertainties but that He uses us BECAUSE of these things.

His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9). In fact, the Amplified version says, “My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in your weakness.”

When I feel overwhelmed, entirely inadequate, and lacking in every way, God reminds me that He uses the ‘foolish things’, the ‘weak things’, the ‘lowly things’, the ‘despised things’, the ‘things that are not’ (1 Cor:26-31). He delights to use people who realise their utter lack and inability and who have no choice but to utterly rely and depend on Him.

So please pray for us and for all those engaged in language study. Pray that we would trust in God and not in ourselves. Pray against feelings of discouragement. And pray that God would use even the process of language learning for His glory and for our good.

What Moving Overseas Taught Me About My Sin

This post is more or less a reflection on life the past few days. Why? Three days ago, I moved back overseas to my home in an unreached area of East Asia.

It truly feels like I’m on an entirely different planet over here. Or at least right now, with home fresh on my mind and heart. That 13-hour flight is a pretty wild experience, sort of like a transporter to an unknown world. I’ve done that flight four times now, but for some reason, the stark contrasts between here and there are far more obvious this time around.

A friend had a quick reply to my last monthly prayer update and said something along the lines of “I’ll be praying that you’re living to be forgotten.”

Living to be forgotten.

He meant it in the sense that my desire for my own glory in doing missions would be replaced by desires to glorify God alone. I’m not entirely sure why, but that line has stuck with me.

Also recently, I was reminded in a book how our call as Christians is to come and die. I’m not talking about coming to the mission field and dying here; I’m talking about the general call for all Christians to die to themselves and live unto Christ.

Somehow, I forgot this is the sort of life to which I’m called.

I believe these are two things – my friend’s comment and the reminder to die – that God has placed on my heart for a reason as I returned to the field and am re-figuring out life here.

As I reflect on these reminders, I’m realizing a great need in my life, a need to die to my desire for having others think well of me. It’s a way I try to validate my existence. It affects every part of every day, and it crushes me when I’m not fighting it.

Early on in college, a friend told me that our sin is like an onion. The more we fight it and peel off a layer, God is gracious to show us the depth of our sin in the layer underneath, a layer of which we were previously unaware.

A big layer was recently peeled off for me, and I’m seeing this sin come up just about everywhere. It’s utterly defeating to see how little I must believe that I’m a true, adopted, blood-bought son of the Most High king of the universe.

God is using my return to East Asia to continue showing me my need for Jesus.

It feels like I’ve forgotten at least half of my language learning in the States this summer, but I can still understand enough to know locals are mocking my language ability around me. This forces me to lean into Christ – into the truth that I’m not defined by my language ability nor by how awesome or not these people around me think I am.

I’m realizing how much I hate being incompetent at something when people around me all get it. It’d be true in sports, academics, and it’s being made crystal clear in these first few days back in East Asia. I simply just don’t get the culture, the people, and certain ways of thinking, and I’m not sure that I ever fully will.

I simply feel incompetent here, always. I believe Jesus is teaching me that life is not drawn from the well of competency. I’m found in Christ, and that’s the identity I fall back on, not being “competent”.

Tips for the Twenty-Something’s First Year Overseas

Photo used from Velvet Ashes' website.

Photo used from Velvet Ashes’ website.

We at The Sowers Project have been extremely encouraged by a blog called Velvet Ashes, an online community of women serving overseas. Last month, they posted a blog that was right up our alley, titled Tips for the Twenty-Something’s First Year Overseas. We wanted to share their post with you in order to give you a taste of what a year overseas could look like and how you can survive.


 

While some people enter the field with years of life experience under their belt, there are many of us who enter it with little to none.

I was twenty-two, bright-eyed, and inexperienced. Not only had I never been on a service trip in my life, but I was also a fresh college grad. I knew little to nothing about cross-cultural service, and just as little about life as a working adult.

Serving overseas takes an immense amount of adjustment and energy, and so does a college graduate’s transition to the “real world.” My year overseas felt like a double whammy of adulthood. Yet, the challenges God presented me with taught me vital lessons for first-year survival, and how to establish a support system. While I am an expert by no means, I know the following advice—some of it given by co-workers, some of it learned the hard way—is the kind of stuff I will always carry with me.

By all means, read up on culture shock. Culture shock is very real. It’s so real that investing in a book, or two, or three, is completely worth it. Going through the adjustment is already hard—going through it blindly is even harder! Only after struggling on my own did I finally invest in reading about cultural adjustments overseas. Since then, I’ve found this research-oriented approach applies to just about anything you encounter in the adult world.

Expand your understanding of culture shock by talking with your American co-workers. The ups and downs of culture shock can make us feel shameful and embarrassed—why does everyone in this new place seem completely at ease, while you feel anxious, scared, upset and, at times, downright insane? The reason:  they’ve all gone through it before. So ask them what it was like, and how they got through those first stages. Bringing this hefty topic out on the table will ease your transition and allow them to apply their expertise.

Educate yourself about your host country and its culture. Whether it’s through books, newspapers, websites, or conversations you initiate with locals and Americans, understanding your new home’s history and its people’s way of life will transform challenging situations into ones that are less baffling and more tolerable, paving room for fascination and even joy.

Find an expat mentor. Seek someone who’s lived in your host country for a while, is knowledgeable and fond of the culture, and could make a good friend. She will help you immensely. Without my mentor, I would’ve gone insane! She taught me so many things about my job, life, and faith. Pray for someone who will take you under her wing.

Seek out a local mentor. Not only can you gain a deeper understanding of your host country through this friend, thereby easing your adjustment, but she can also act as a bridge for you to become part of the local community. In addition, you’ll feel more welcomed. Because forming a friendship with a local will take more time and effort than with an American, ask your work colleagues, both local and expatriate, to introduce you to someone who has had ample experience with foreigners.

Make self-care a top priority. Take time out for yourself, and even more than usual—because of the hardships you’re facing, you need to be extra generous. Whether it’s extra time alone to decompress, or more time spent socializing, make it a priority. You deserve it.

Know that your struggles, though painful, are lessons of gold. Overseas, everything that was once familiar to me, that I had identified myself with, was gone. More specifically, the crutches of my own society that had substituted for my faith all those years were no longer around. The struggles I faced brought me down to the dirt and mud, and it was there, crying out, that I found Christ in a way I had never known Him—dirty and muddy, too, for our sins. Without those struggles, I wouldn’t have grown in my faith, and I wouldn’t have the relationship with Him I have today.

Trust that God is good. You may wonder the following:  What am I doing here? Why is this so hard?and Where is God? For me, these questions weren’t in the back of my mind, light and wandering—they were at the forefront, igniting panic and fear. But God is always with you; He will never leave you or forsake you (Deut. 31:6). As my closest friend and mentor would tell me, time and time again:  God is good. He loves you; He has a plan for you. And He will provide.

What tips would you add? 

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