Air conditioning in 100 degree weather? Too expensive and fans work fine. Government documents you turned in on time with the proper notarization? But you forgot the under-the-table bribe. Portable hand sanitizer – what’s that? That was an earthquake! No, somewhere a cow just moved its horns. When faced with the reality that our cultural biases are no longer “the norm,” what happens to us?
For *Ethan, Charlotte and their three kids, the transition into their new normal has taken difficult turns.
“The hardest thing has been the culture stress,” Ethan said as he thought back over the one year he has lived in their African country. “Living (here) is so different than the West. It’s a big thing that’s kind of put a damper on our family and our marriage. It’s a strain.”
Culture stress transforms necessary, daily rituals and errands into catalysts of crippling anxiety. To leave the house and buy food for the family or wait in line at the bank become moments of dread (if forming a line is even culturally acknowledged).
Learning the language of the people you live among is step number one out of stress – learn the language to know the people and adapt to their culture. However, hope begins to fade after one year of study, when the foreign dialect seems too difficult to master and there are more plateaus in growth than conquered mountains.
For Charlotte and Ethan, it took years to even get to this point in their ministry. When they were first married in 2010, they applied with an agency that would send them overseas to work with unreached people. “We knew from the get-go we wanted to go overseas, but it was a long journey,” Charlotte said.
It took seven years for them to finally arrive at their new home and the road was filled with hurts and doubt. In 2017, after the births of their three children, the unexpected passing of a loved one and several months of holds placed on their application, they were ready to be sent. They were trained by their agency and their student loan debt was lifted by The GO Fund’s student loan repayment program.
Charlotte attributes every trial and test to the Lord’s faithfulness in their lives. “I see God’s hand of protection over us, protection from ourselves. I don’t think our faith was ready or where it needed to be to make that life change.”
Now, looking at the trials before them and remembering the journey behind, they focus on the one who redeems every struggle.
“This whole thing is about waiting,” Ethan said. “We’ve definitely grown our trust in God, to realize that he’s faithful – it’s a part of his character. It’s something about him that will not change.”
In the difficulty of language study, Charlotte has seen through cultural barriers and observes her language instructor’s relationship with the Lord. “Learning from their example has been a huge blessing. How can we work together to see the kingdom expanded?” Charlotte said. “I’ve been seeing my weaknesses in terms of giving and hospitality at times too. The culture’s so different here – to see things taken care of the way they know how, it has been a huge encouragement.”
Finding the “new normal” and adapting is never easy. It’s one of the many trials after passing through the barriers which precede the move overseas.
Through it all, Christ and his gospel prove to be more valuable. The task to share with those who have never heard his name is more imperative than the demands of our anxieties and culture stress. So, Ethan and Charlotte’s family pushes through. While culture, languages and daily routines shift and morph around them, they hold fast to the one whose faithfulness and compassion forever remains steadfast.
*Names changed for security