A large portion of our Engineering Ministries International orientation week was spent dealing with culture. Culture shock, cultural differences, cultural barriers, etc. I could write a ridiculously long post here and barely create a wrinkle in the proverbial burqa. The learning we did during our week was just the beginning. It convicted me that I really need to spend some serious time studying as much as I can before we go on our first project trip. My already-long-reading-list just got a mile and half longer.
Over the course of a couple of days we played a few games and role playing scenarios that were quite eye-opening, like Barnga. We were grouped up then paired with the person across the table from us. We had about two minutes to read the rules to a card game then play it while timed and with no talking allowed. The game was a bit like Spades, where you and your partner are both trying to win tricks based on certain suites trumping others, so it behooves one to be able to recall who has thrown down which card already. I am positively horrible at those types of card games. I get nervous. Picture a cow at a meatloaf convention, only more insecure. Oh, and we had to remember our points without writing them down. Both our own and our partner's. Did I mention I was like the ONLY theatre major in a room full of engineers?
Anyway, at the end of each round the winning pairs moved to a new table. That meant for the next round we were playing different pairs. Apparently everyone's rule sheets read slightly differently because we started noticing some people assumed aces were high and others played them low. The more competitive people wanted to argue that (with intense facial gestures), while the more mellow types just let it go and gave up the win. I was too dense to realize it during the course of the game, but the point was to see how difficult it can be to work on a design team with people who are playing by a different set of cultural rules, plus have a language barrier. It was supremely frustrating. For the record, my partner and I were right. I mean, aces are ALWAYS high. Just like American culture is always correct. (har)
One evening we split into four groups and were given a very brief description of a culture and ten minutes to decide how we would behave in social situations given our description. Then we were either guests or hosts for one of the other teams who came to our "home" to share a meal. My team was a reserved culture that used indirect communication and was polite to a fault. I think we were Asian. At least I sort of felt that way, because the way we all behaved left me feeling like an extra in The Karate Kid 2. Kevin's group was a lot more like Americans. When they visited us someone asked how he was doing and one of his "family members" blurted out that he had been fired for saying a bad word. Another group plopped themselves down on our sofa and would not leave no matter how many hints we dropped. Someone I barely knew poured out his heart to us and wailed over his grandmother's medical condition. They also handed me a really huge fake plant and I spent the remainder of our visit with it on my lap, blocking my view of everyone else, which was good because I had trouble stifling the giggles.
The entire exercise was hilarious. When we gathered to wrap up we all shared our main impressions of each other. Descriptions like, "disinterested frat boys" and "dazed and confused" were tossed out. Almost without fail we all noticed only the most negative aspects of the other cultures without allowing much room for grace. Another good lesson learned.
Amidst all the role playing and discussion and presentations, the biggest take-away I got was the reminder that every people group on the planet reflects not only the image of God but the taint of sin. We are all meant to be like Him, yet we are all stained by the fall and our failings. We all owe each other grace and we can only work together to improve things down here if we are willing to keep our hearts humble and our eyes fixed upward.
I'd sit here and write more about it but I have to go tackle that reading list.
"Go to New Staff Orientation early," they said. "You'll get recharged and pumped up for your partnership development!" they said.
Oh, we got that. Also we got schooled.
Last week we were in Colorado for seven days of training with Engineering Ministries International. It was fun and exciting and exhausting and scary all at once. We did get all pumped up and energized for this next adventure. And we came to the conclusion that WE. KNOW. NOTHING.
Shocking, I know.
Before I explain, I should explain. No, EMI did not pull a bait-and-switch maneuver on us. They never tricked us into thinking we were all highly qualified and the new job would be some kind of breeze. In fact, if I think back carefully over the last two years I am quite certain I can recall at least four different EMI staff members and every missionary I know telling us they never have felt qualified to do 90% of what God calls them to do.
And if you think about it, this is a good thing. I mean, if I feel qualified and competent and ready to take on the world I am likely to get cocky. I will charge in with my pride and my camera and forget all about God. I won't think I need Him. And if ever there was a recipe for disaster...
So what did we learn besides how unqualified we really are? We learned more of EMI's history, scope, and influence. There were class sessions on strengths, spiritual gifts, and personality profiles. We did some role-playing exercises and games to help us better understand and move within cross-cultural settings. There was some time to pick the brains of current staff members and time for all of us to share our own testimonies. We met two Canadians who never said "eh" a single time the whole week. I am pretty sure I said "y'all" a lot.
There was a lot of information thrown at us. I thought I could bang out at least three good blog posts by now but I am still trying to process it all. In fact, it was so full that I am really glad we chose to go now while we still have several months before we actually begin the job. There are books to read, testimonies to hone down, and practical things to consider. For the next couple of weeks I will attempt to share as much of what we learned as I can. Blogging is a good way for me to process and help along the "mental marinade."
On our trip to Honduras with eMi in September of 2012 we witnessed something remarkable and yet very unremarkable. We saw Hondurans join hands with Americans to educate and disciple children who came from heart-rending poverty.
Escuela el Sembrador is a working farm school where underprivileged youth are able to receive a college-preparatory education, learn business skills, and grow as men and women of God. At the time of our visit, the director, a native Honduran, shared with us his heart and vision for his country. He told us that each year thousands of young people leave Honduras hoping for a better life elsewhere. Sometimes they find it and they send home extra money to those family members they left behind, but they rarely return. His point was this: how does a country get better if its young people leave? Yes, they send home money, but that just creates a welfare mentality among those who remain. No, Honduras's issues of poverty, addictions, and violence will not be solved by a generation that leaves it. It will only be solved when an educated and empowered generation stays.
By now you have probably seen and read news reports on the current border crisis in the southwest. While my heart goes out to any person whose life is so miserable that they would risk making such a dangerous journey to reach the US, I fully believe that telling our leaders to open those borders wide is the wrong answer. If we truly want to help those locked in a prison of poverty we need to aid people on the front lines who are fighting the real war. The people who have given over their lives to bring hope and healing. It is a slow process, to be sure. But having gone ourselves and hugged a few necks, spoken with a few workers, and glimpsed evidence of changed lives, we can tell you that being part of the solution on that end is far more rewarding than hoping some politicians do something on this end.
Maybe you cannot go to Honduras or Jamaica or any of those places, but you can help send those who are going or aid those who are already there. Maybe you can donate to a missionary or project with IsleGo Missions, help a student at El Sembrador through World Gospel Mission, or sponsor a child through Compassion International. The best things happen when those who are in the country and know the culture are given the resources they need to be fruitful. Speaking from even our teensy little bit of experience, we can testify that when you are the one helping to provide those resources is when the best things will happen in your own life.
From the Keiters:
Here is where we share our daily experiences of how God is using our life in the US and abroad with eMi to draw us closer and to make Himself known.