Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Coming to terms with cultural differences

About a month ago a young Christian form the USA joined our ministry in Swaziland as a volunteer to assist us mainly in our HIV/AIDS projects. His name is Tim Deller. One of the fun things that I experienced with him was to see him getting used to the new culture. Much of what I had said in earlier posts about my personal experience of culture shock proved to be true with him as well – mainly that I don’t see him experiencing severe culture shock. It would be extremely difficult to try and explain why he is going through the process easier than many other people I know. Probably it has a lot to do with his personality (very positive and outgoing). It may have a lot to do with the fact that he seems to yearn to learn from the Swazi people. And I think it also has a lot to do with the fact that he has learnt to laugh at things which do not make much sense.
In his last newsletter he wrote:
I’m Not an Idiot
I now have proof that I’m not an idiot. I need a medical clearance for a residence permit in Swaziland. So, this week I went to a doctor’s office to complete the Swaziland form. The certificate reads:
“I hereby certify that I have examined Timothy Deller and find that he is not mentally or physically defective in any way, … that he is not an idiot, epileptic, insane, mentally deficient, … and that he is not suffering from leprosy, tuberculosis, or trachoma.”
You might wonder what this examination consisted of. They took my blood pressure, charged me 60 Emalangeni (approx $10), and signed the form. Welcome to Africa.
I know a great number of people who would get so frustrated when things like this happen. Others will be furious. Others will make bad remarks about the country hosting them. A few will come to terms with the cultural differences and they will be really happy.
My natural personality is such that I am usually in a bit of a hurry. Standing in queues is more or less one of the worst things that can happen to me. But I realised a strange thing many years ago. As soon as I cross the border from South Africa into Swaziland it is as if I engage another gear or move into a different mode. There is very little in Swaziland that happens fast. Going to a bank or to the post office can become a nightmare. A few months ago disaster struck Swaziland when the border posts were computerised 😉
One can fight the system, but will never change the system and the only result will be that one will be constantly unhappy / frustrated / angry – most probably all three together. Or one can learn to come to terms with the differences, smile, be friendly and somewhere along the line bear witness to the love of God.
Reading Tim’s letter again, I thought it ironic that some people are certified idiots. As far as I know it is only in Swaziland that one can be certified as a non-idiot!


Thursday, December 6, 2007 - Posted by | Africa, Comfort Zone, Culture, Culture Shock, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Humour, Mission

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