rotating header

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Advice to Oursevles

This is an imaginary letter from people we work with in East Africa to us . . . garnered from our own plentiful mistakes when we have had friends who were brave enough to tell us what we needed to hear.  It is compiled here to help all us North Americans listen and learn. It has nothing to do with this photo, but I like this photo . . 

Dear Cross-cultural worker -

We want a partnership with you, and we see you have a lot to offer us.  You have great training, and you believe in what you are doing here.  We respect that. We like the way you've brought your family to our place.  So let us tell you a few things that will help you have an impact and enjoy your time.

Short answer:  it's all about investing in relationships.  

As you come, we assume you aren't going to stay long, so we often hold back.  We also fear that you don't particularly like our food or houses, which seem inferior to yours, so we're reluctant to reach out to you.  You might think God told you to come here, but He didn't necessarily tell us!  So you need to come into our place FIRST asking questions about whether you are needed and where, and how you can come alongside us.  Then you will need to do the work to come across to us.  If you plan events where we can interact on equal terms, if you can share food with us, if you can stop and talk to us, if you can ask questions, it builds a bridge with us.  It makes us feel seen as human beings. 

When you come, learn our language.  Know about our country, notice good things about it, write some positives in your blogs and letters showing that you actually like this place.  Don't make everything sound desperate.  Don't make it sound like you're the only one working, all alone, taking credit for everything that happens.  Mention us. Pray for our country too!

God is merciful, and even though God is just, God doesn't keep a scorecard of everything we do wrong.  Sometimes it seems like you notice every single deficiency and call us out on it.  You even seem surprised when things end up going well in spite of our mistakes, as if it doesn't make sense since we didn't do it your way.  Try to understand our limitations, try to adjust to new ways.  Ask us about our family obligations, ask why we need time away, ask who is depending on our salary, realize that we don't have a buffer like you do.  Notice what kind of schooling options we have for our kids, and how it's different from yours.  In fact many of us are sacrificing to work with you, but we aren't admired for that, and when we go home no one buys us dinner or lends us a car, instead they ask us for help.

We do appreciate all you've given up, but think about it this way:  you sometimes want to complain to us about how hard it's been for you, yet your lifestyle here is still far above what we can hope for.  So don't expect us to feel too sorry for you.

Sometimes we will have conflicts.  All people do.  Here, we don't feel comfortable being as direct as you are. If you want to correct or change something, pull us aside and tell us quietly, never shame us in front of others.  When you show anger, we can't hear anything you have to say.  If it's something really hard or big, please find a person we can both listen to who can mediate for us.  That's how we do things here.

Our favorite things:  when you come with a commitment to teach, to pass on your role, to give us your skills, to invest in training us. When you treat us as equal partners, when you notice us doing something right and point it out, when you ask our opinion and we can see we have something to contribute.  When you introduce us with respect, or tell others to listen to us, let your children play with ours.  When we can pray for each other.  When you remember us after you leave, and keep in touch.

Thanks for listening,
Your friends who put up with you for the last 25 years


Linda Berg said...

Beautiful! You should write a book! Oh, already have. 😉 You should write ANOTHER book!

Unknown said...

Haha, how nice the letter sounds. Your love shines through it all and eventually one is able to see past the cultural differences