Tag Archives: expectations

“You would think…”

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Assumptions are a dangerous thing.  They rank right up there with Expectations in their ability to raise you high up and then drop you flat.  Unrealistic expectations are very common with new missionaries, and a little education ahead of time can save you buckets of tears.  But Assumptions are culturally based and are harder to shake.  We bring our American assumptions about how we think things SHOULD function, and the challenge is to accept the reality of our new environment without labeling either culture with Superiority or Barbarianism.  That’s not an easy thing to do.

In our family, we have a tag line that most often precedes an assumption.  We say, “You would think…” before we make an observation about something mind-boggling in our reality.  For example we might say, “YOU WOULD THINK that they would have planned a detour route before they tore up the highway.” Or another assumption might be, “YOU WOULD THINK that someone would restock the shelves after I bought all the shampoo in the store last month.”  Oh, and the list goes on and on and on…

It’s rainy season here in Costa Rica.  As a matter of fact, it’s almost always rainy season here.  They have a joke that says we have two seasons in Costa Rica, wet and wetter.  A few months ago we were having a major problem with the connectivity of our internet.  Last year we had the same problem and we called for a repair guy to come out.  Several weeks later, someone came out and replaced a little box of electrical connections in front of our house.  He said, “There’s a box out here where your internet connects to the cable in the street.  It gets rain in it and shorts out or molds.  Then it needs to be replaced every few months.”

My first instinct was to ask, why don’t you use a waterproof box?  It rains more often than it is dry here.  YOU WOULD THINK someone would have thought of using a waterproof box in a city that was built in a rainforest!  My word!

Last night it happened again.  My assumptions about how things should be done took advantage of my sleepy state when at midnight the doorbell started ringing… and ringing… and ringing… and ringing some more.  We had a very hard rain last night and the electrical connection in the doorbell shorted out.  YOU WOULD THINK that people would ALWAYS use a waterproof box when installing electrical wires in an outside wall.  YOU WOULD THINK!  It seems so logical to me.  And when I’m tired and angry at being woken up every 15 minutes by the doorbell, it’s hard not to accuse the whole country of lack of forethought.

YOU WOULD THINK they would have trained us missionaries in how to handle cultural assumptions before they threw us into the deep end of the pool.  But sink or swim, this is how it’s done.  We have to guard ourselves against the frustrations that come when our cultural assumptions clash with the reality of the culture we now live in.  I say we have to guard ourselves because after a while, frustration gives way to anger.  Being angry about something in the culture is about a useful as being angry about the wind.  We can’t stop it nor control it.  All we can do is to practice tolerance.

What did I expect?

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There are two things that are difficult to know about yourself:  your true motivations and your pre-conceived expectations.  When we were in our missionary training days I remember one speaker talking about culture shock.  She said that we all carry our culture secretely within us.  At some point it will most definitely collide with something our new culture, but we won’t be able to anticipate the collision ahead of time because most of us are completely unaware of our cultural expectations.  They are as natural to us as our own skin.  I so desperately wanted her to tell me exactly what I would struggle with in my new culture, but she couldn’t.  And I couldn’t see myself objectively enough to identify my expectations.

But with time comes perspective.  This week I wrote this for an orientation for missions teams:

Be flexible and expect the plans to change.  Expect to ‘hurry up and wait’, expect things to go wrong, expect things to start late, expect traffic, expect hunger, expect exhaustion, expect to hear from God, expect to be changed, expect to see great things happen, expect to be uncomfortable, expect to have your eyes opened, expect to fall in love with missions, expect to have the time of your life!

After I reread what I wrote, I sat back and thought about it.  These are MY expectations.  This is very much a reflection of my expectations of ministry overseas.  So what do I do when one of these perky phrases is left dangling, frayed and loose?  These are the cultural things in me that have come to a screeching, shattering collision with Latin America.

I expected that learning Spanish would be easier than it is.  Anyone who says learning Spanish is easy has never done it.  The verbs kill me!  Fifteen tenses, moods and voices, multiplied by six variations in person…  These verbs are hard!  I expected to be smart.  I didn’t expect so many tears.  I didn’t expect feeling frustrated at not being able to say exactly what I mean.  I didn’t expect to mourn the loss of eloquence.  I didn’t expect that 6 years later I’d still have days when I don’t understand what people say to me.

I expected to make a couple of really close friends that I could minister to.  Instead I have a few really close friends that humble me with how much they bless me over and over again.  I came here to make a difference in the lives of others, but I think they are having a greater impact on me.  I came here prepared to love, but I find myself the loved one.

I expected to settle into the culture and to never feel home sick.  This was to be my new home.  Now I have two homes. When I’m here, I miss Minnesota.  When I’m in Minnesota, I miss Costa Rica.  It seems like I can never be whole.  I always ache for another place.  I know that aching is ultimately a longing for my home in Heaven.  We are not citizens of this world, we are just sojourners passing through for a time.  I long, I pine, I ache, I didn’t expect this unsettled feeling.

I didn’t expect to feel so lonely, but I am.

I expected that living on the mission field would be more like living on a missions trip.  I expected miracles and dramatic salvations every week!  I didn’t expect boredom.  And I didn’t expect feeling so dry.  I’m spiritually parched, just trudging through this desert one step at a time.  I don’t feel God every day.  I know he’s still there.  I just don’t feel him or hear him very well.  I expected a view from the mountain top, instead this looks a lot like a valley of dry bones.

I’ve always had good health, so I expected that to continue.  I expected it in an indirect kind of way by not ever even thinking about my health.  Today I went to the pharmacy to buy another box of pills.  I didn’t expect getting cancer.  I could tell something was wrong, but never in a million years did I think I had cancer.  I knew I felt really awful- like I was always on the verge of getting the flu.  I knew this was not normal for me.  But I didn’t expect the worst.  Now I have a new normal.  I have less stamina than before.  I ache everywhere and I’m tired, so unrelentingly tired.  I never expected to be weak.

Have you ever heard someone say, “If you lower your expectations, you’ll be happier”?  If that’s true, then why does that statement make me sad?  Maybe a better way of saying it would be “If you have REALISTIC expectations you’ll be LESS DISAPPOINTED.”  Most of the time when I find myself unhappy I don’t really know why.  But if I take the time to wade deeper into the sadness, I find it’s source springs from an unrealistic expectation that has burst open under the pressure of an incongruent reality.  And it is no one’s fault but my own.

So the final question is, after this cultural collision of expectations against hard reality, can I still walk away from the crash unscathed or am I forever living wounded like Jacob with his limp after wrestling with an angel?  I limp.

What have I signed up for?

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Excerpt from the Live Dead Prayer Journal.  Day 6 written by Jennifer Brogden, Sudan.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep.  Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field,’Come along now and sit down to eat’?  Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’?  Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?  So you also, when you have don’e everting you were told to do, should say. ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done’ our duty.'” Luke 17:7-10

Looking back, I had a handful of expectations that I thought were pretty realistic:  I expected [Sudan] to be hot, hard, dusty and dry, resistant;  I expected God to be faithful to His Word.  Most of my expectations were met without delay.  Daily temperatures over 105 degrees Fahrenheit for months on end, tears in my first Arabic lesson, huge walls of dust ushering in mere minutes of rainfall… and God was faithful to His Word.

He just wasn’t faithful in the way I expected Him to be.

I found it discouraging that language teachers weren’t interested in saying the sinner’s prayer after two years of life on life with them.  Neighbors were kind and hospitable but not ready for a Bible study.  Thoughts of Why am I here? and This isn’t what I signed up for started rapping in my brain.

…Everything in Sudan was exactly like I expected it to be.  Hot, slow, difficult, daily battles in the spirit realm, conflicts within and without.  Why was life such a struggle?  Why couldn’t I be content and satisfied?

Because I’d forgotten that it was my part just to obey, that Jesus is my just reward- that He can do as He sees fit with me, my family, and the work in Sudan.  Jesus makes every night without power and every delay over visas and permits worth it.  And only Jesus makes it worth it.

I didn’t expect God to bring me all this way to change what He saw in me.  But He has.  I needed Sudan more than Sudan needed me, and I didn’t expect that.  I thought God was bringing me to Sudan to change Sudan.  I did not realize that His primary purpose was to expose all the junk in my heart and change me!  I’m so grateful that in the “less” of ministry, as I thought it should be, I got more than I expected.

What do you expect dying to self will feel like?  Do you think it will be pleasant?  Painless?  Problem free?  What do you expect it to feel like when you live dead?  Do you expect people to understand, support you, praise you, clap for you?  Do you expect the devil to cheer and every demon in hell to yield to your noble aspirations?  Do you expect to be welcomed or affirmed by your peers and understood by your parents?  Do you expect people to get in line to support you financially?  Do you expect that your plans will be changed, your timing delayed, and your will continually crossed?  Do you expect to surrender once in an air-conditioned church, kneeling on a carpeted altar with a handy box of Kleenex perkily waiting to be plucked… and then from that point on to sail without contrary winds into God’s sheltered will?  Or do you expect God to wring the self out of you in a painful and lengthy process using circumstances and shattered expectations- and then surprise you with how good it feels to have His image stamped deeply into yours.

Click here if you’re interested in ordering the Live/Dead Prayer Journal or just browsing their website and learning more about their ministry to unreached people in East Africa.