Month: October 2015

The Truth About Reverse Culture Shock

When someone experiences a death in their family, there is an expectation in this day and age that others will step up.

Your close friends might offer to make you meals. Your neighbors might offer to watch the kids, walk the dog, or run errands. Your small group at church might ask how you are handling the loss on a heart level.

But, eventually, it stops.

It might last a couple of weeks. Maybe even a month. Yet, slowly but surely, the meals stop coming, the routine duties pick back up, and the questions about how you are doing trickle into obscurity.

Though the extra generosity and kindness stops, the grieving often doesn’t.

I spent a year on The Sowers Project, just returning to America about four months ago.

For one year of my life, I lived in East Asia, doing campus ministry among unreached people, and serving on a church planting team.

This wasn’t just any old missions trip. It was normal life.

As I adjusted to life back in the States this summer, I was warmly welcomed. People constantly wanted to grab coffee, hear stories from my adventure, and listen to how God was working in East Asia.

Soon, however, the conversations dwindled, my stories became less and less intriguing, and interest in God’s work overseas seemed to halt.

But my grieving didn’t.

I don’t think the people in my life did anything wrong, nor do I blame them for losing interest. But I was left feeling insecure and confused.

Am I wrong for still missing my life in East Asia?

Am I annoying people with all of these stories?

Does anyone even care anymore?

I needed to grieve, but felt pressure to get over it faster. I needed a listening ear, but felt like no one had interest. I needed someone who understood, but they didn’t exist.

For me, the hardest part about returning to America has been the loneliness. It is not a physical loneliness – there are way more people here to talk to! But there is no one who can fully empathize with me.

No matter how much I try, and no matter how much my friends seek to listen, they will never truly know what that year of my life was like.

The truth about reverse culture shock is that it is a grieving process.

It might be too dramatic for me to compare it to death, but the similarities hit so close to home. I have lost a huge part of me. I have been shaped in ways that people can only understand intellectually. I made relationships with people that will never be the same.

But there is hope.

So many of my insecurities are lies. Though the questions about my year have stopped, it doesn’t mean my grieving has to. It doesn’t mean my friends don’t want to listen. It doesn’t mean I am actually alone.

Even more, when my friends fail, I can trust and rely in a Savior who never will. I find so much comfort in worshipping a High Priest who is able to empathize with every single one of my weaknesses.

Jesus experienced the ultimate culture shock, departing his throne in Heaven to enter a broken world where no one fully understood him, his teachings, nor where he came from.

I have a Savior who grieves alongside me.

When people ask me if there has been any reverse culture shock during my return to America, I usually go with a pretty superficial answer – mainly because that is all I ever thought culture shock was for a long time:

I never realized how big Americans are!

Traffic here is so much smoother!

It is so overwhelming to understand all of the conversations around you!

But now I know reverse culture shock runs so much deeper, and I want a new answer:

My life has been flipped upside down in so many ways. I miss people, rhythms of life, ministry, and food. And I think it’s going to take a while to adjust.


Why I Live Overseas

Living overseas can sound like quite the daunting task. Eating weird food, breathing unfamiliar smells and dealing with unknown cultures are all part of the stories we’ve heard from the businessmen and missionaries who have braved these strange new worlds.

Now that I have lived overseas for two years, I find myself thinking: Why do I live overseas?

My overarching reason for living here is simple: God created and loves the whole world. He loves people from every country and every language, tribe and nation within those borders.


The Israelites in the Old Testament were supposed to be lights to the Gentiles so they would be drawn to God. Many of the disciples in the New Testament ended up going far and wide to either reach Jews or Gentiles. For hundreds of years, missionaries, like William Carey and Hudson Taylor, braved rough seas to live the rest of their lives in another country.

Yet still, today, you may have heard stories about places that seem to be totally dry ground, with no one sharing about Jesus.

Where do we all fit into this? Growing up, the idea of living overseas was far from my mind. Sure, I went on some missions trips to other parts of the country, and I had the occasional missionary encounter at my church and in biographies, but I had no desire to spend my summer – or any length of time – away from American comforts.

That changed when I took a class called Perspectives. I would highly recommend going online and seeing if there is a class in your area. Perspectives showed me that 1. Being a part of missions is mandatory (whether through giving, praying or going) and 2. Moving overseas is not quite as crazy as it sounds.

Over time, this idea became more and more plausible until BAM! Now, I have lived overseas for over 2 years!

Did this happen overnight? No way. I think everyone becomes more open to the idea of contributing globally as they interact more with people outside their own culture.

Has this mindset made my life overseas easy? Of course not, but it has helped me in life’s ups and downs.

Does having this mindset automatically mean God will ask you to go overseas? Not necessarily, but for me, it opened up the possibility.

Sure, cultural differences can be hard, but you are also rubbing shoulders with hundreds and hundreds of people who have never heard the gospel before! Yes, there are many needs in America, but how much greater are those needs overseas?

In the end, my desire to see God known in these places has brought me to where I am. Will I be living here for the rest of my life? Maybe not, but I want to use the time I have left here to proclaim His name!

What a privilege to be a part of what God is doing in any part of this fallen world! His name is being proclaimed, and His people (like me) are being changed for the better because of who they meet, what they are learning, and the trials they face.

If you take nothing else from this, I would encourage you to invest more time, energy, money and prayer into what God is doing in places and people far from you, as well as in people who have brought their faraway culture to your local neighborhood. This love for the nations will slowly grow in your heart, just like it did mine.

What fears do you have about living overseas? What is keeping you from making the leap? Start the conversation below!

The Key to Thriving on the Mission Field

My wife and I have been watching History Channel’s reality show “Alone” these past few weeks. Basically, a group of 10 men are separately dumped in an uninhabitable place in Canada under the premise of having to survive in the wild by themselves. The last one to tap out goes home with a half-million dollars.

After the participants are a couple of weeks in (with no camera crew, mind you; they do the filming and documentation themselves), they start talking about the psychology of survival, and I was surprised to realize how much it sounds like the psychology of living on the missions field.

As the days turn to weeks, the participants start to lose a considerable amount of weight. Feeding mainly on slugs, bull kelp, and the occasional fish, the originally bulky participants start turning into the not-so-intimidating, cheekbone-popping, pity-inspiring souls who can only talk about missing their friends, family, hot showers, and pumpkin pie.

Some of them look like they aren’t thriving in the wild, or even surviving, but rather hanging in there. You start to wonder how long they’re going to live on this meager diet before being dragged off the show in a stretcher surrounded by physicians and History Channel lawyers. Don’t get me wrong, I think those guys are heroes, in a sense: they leave their comfort zone and single-handedly tackle the elements head on.

This got me thinking about myself. This is my second time living in East Asia. Though I have my wife, I also miss friends, family, and pumpkin pie. I have it much easier than the guys living in makeshift shelters in the rain and snow, but after seeing them, I can’t help but ask: am I thriving here or just hanging in there?

We came to East Asia six months ago with a team of four people, and we still have another six months to go on our commitment. This is definitely a short-term thing, but I don’t want to return home in a stretcher, defeated by culture shock and homesickness.

I want to thrive.

I want to go back home with victories under my belt instead of a tail between my legs. I want to inspire people from church back home to follow our lead, to head into the wild with nothing but a Bible and a calling. But… can I accomplish that?

Like the men surviving in the wilderness, we, too, have to eat to have energy. But in order to survive culture shock – adjustments, constant change, strange and new things, and all manner of difficulties in bringing the Gospel to the unreached – this nourishment must be a spiritual one.

During our time on the field, we’ve found one restaurant with cheeseburgers reminiscent of home. Every time we go, I hold back tears of joy, as I sink my teeth into inexplicably delicious cheeseburgers.

Aside from these things that are good for our taste buds, we need things good for our hearts. Where do we go to get that? Where we can buy a spiritual cheeseburger?

It’s closer than you actually think. It’s called God’s presence, and man! Can He cook! Psalm 16:11 states that “…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

All over the place, we see people living pleasure-driven lives. We strive to feel good. We’re driven by comfort, pleasure, and happiness.

However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it all depends on the source of your comfort, pleasure, and happiness.

If you tap into God’s presence – being in His Word, praying, singing worship songs to Him, simply spending time with God! – you can get the provision your spirit needs.

Yes, sometimes, life is hard. 1 Thessalonians shows us that some people might be living in situations so stressful we think we might even die, but Romans 8 says the problems and hard situations of this life are nothing compared to what life will be like in God’s presence for eternity!

Do you spend time with God, enjoying Him? Have you recently taken time to rejoice in Him? If not, you might be having a spiritual diet based on insects and algae.

Why not seek Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think? Why not switch over from merely hanging in there to thriving?

What are some other ways to really thrive – whether at home or on the field? Start the conversation below!

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