Comfort in Culture Shock
Most of us experience some form of anxiety when we travel outside the comfort zone of our own country, language and cultural setting. This feeling of unease is called culture shock and although unpleasant, it is not life-threatening. Or is it?
Our first missionary term in Brazil was filled with multiple opportunities to experience culture shock. We adapted to two cultures, learned two languages and invented a writing system for one of them. Living with the Canela people in their jungle villages, we learned to live without clean water, plumbing, electricity, mail, and phone service. That’s fine during a few weeks of vacation camping, but a strain for six months at a stretch with three pre-school children.
The society to which we were adapting found comfort in a woven palm-leaf mat for sleeping, sitting cross legged on the hard clay floor, a pair of shorts for the men and a piece of wrap-around-the-hips cloth for the women. We learned to do without most things we had been used to for the first three decades of our lives. In all this, we experienced the fact of the Holy Spirit as our Comforter. We often needed to feel His comforting peace and Presence to relax the tensions we felt.
Back to Canada
After four years of adjusting to these stresses we returned to Canada for a furlough. I thought I had it all together. My motto was, “Bring it on! The God of all comfort and I can deal with it.” That is why it was such a surprise when one culture shock situation nearly cost me my life. Right in my own country!
My brother Henry had bought a used car for us and now accompanied me to the government registry office to register it and get the license plates.
A Major Culture Shock
I was surprised when, instead of waiting for an hour in a long line, it was our turn and the clerk called us to the counter, “We’d like to register this vehicle,” Henry said, handing the clerk the bill of sale and the certificate of insurance. She glanced over them, mentioned the fee which I handed over in cash. She worked her typewriter for a few minutes, then reached under the counter and clattered the license plates on the counter. She dropped the registration card, bill of sale and insurance certificate on top of them, looked over my shoulder and called, “Next.”
My mind still flooded with memories of enduring endless hours of Brazil’s bureaucracy, I picked up the papers and license plates and in a shocked daze slowly turned away from the counter.
“Let’s go,” Henry said and started walking to the door. I followed him wordlessly as nightmare remembrances of endless red tape whirling through my mind. I walked through the door, reliving the frustrating, sometimes day-long standing in multiple lines in Brazil to accomplish what I had just done in five minutes.
I was in full-blown culture shock as I crossed the sidewalk, stepped off the curb and took the first step to certain death. That’s when Henry grabbed my arm and yanked me out of the way of the oncoming bus.
His brusque life-saving action broke through my home-country, re-entry culture shock. As Henry drove me home, I explained to him what agonies I used to endure when dealing with bureaucracy in Brazil.
The fact that God had prompted Henry to grab and jerk me out of harm’s way so brusquely was a great comfort to me.