By Michael E. Brooks
“Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; By knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (Proverbs 24:3-4 NKJV).
One of the interesting benefits of traveling and working in other countries is that it exposes you to different cultures and life-styles. We all realize this in an intellectual way, but that knowledge does not always prepare us for the actual differences which we encounter.
That gap between our thinking and the reality of our experience is called “Culture Shock.” It occurs whenever one’s experiences in another place is a radical change from what he previously experienced in his own home, and from what he expects as “normal” behavior among all persons.
Obviously the greater the differences that exist between two cultures or places, the more severe the shock will be for those who go from one to the other.
After more than 20 years of mission work in various nations I feel that I have a pretty good acquaintance with cultural difference and that I am no longer particularly shock-able. For the most part I have been there and done that so there are not too many surprises left.
Some things however still interest me and cause me to reflection upon the wide gaps which remain between peoples of different places.
I have been observing the families which live on the campus of Khulna Bible College. We have a driver, cooks, and guard / housekeeper couples, all of whom live in housing provided by the school.
Whereas the men’s duties sometimes necessitate their going to market and leaving the premises for other reasons, some of their wives rarely go outside the gates. Weeks or months may pass with them never leaving this enclosed two acre campus. In fact some wives seem to spend at most a very few hours per day outside their own living quarters, which normally consist of 2 or 3 small rooms.
These Bangla wives do not seem to mind the narrow confines in which they live. They seem contented, purposeful, with little or no desire for wider horizons. That strikes me as considerably different from what most Americans choose.
We enjoy our mobility, our long travels, and our daily trips to town, or to visit. Most of us would soon grow restless and irritable if we were forced to stay at home all the time.
The fact is that one expectation is not clearly superior to the other. The wives here are not necessarily more deprived than those of other countries. They feel no compulsion to go outside. They are under no restrictions to remain inside.
They have simply adapted to certain conditions that make this lifestyle practical for them. And perhaps they have learned the truth expressed by the wise king in the proverb quoted above: when a home is built wisely and filled with treasures provided by God it is not burdensome to remain in it.
Paul, that ancient world traveler who could state that he had become “all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22), also said, “I have learned in whatever state I am in, to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
Happiness consists of mastery over one’s expectations and circumstances. We must learn to not let our conditions determine our state of contentment. Rather learn to be content, regardless of the conditions in which we might live.
Many missionaries are driven from the field by culture shock. They cannot adapt to the conditions under which others live.
But culture shock (i.e., dissatisfaction with one’s circumstances) can affect us even in our home countries. Let us learn not just to be happy IF (i.e., if things are as we want them) but to be content IN SPITE OF (i.e., of conditions which are not what we desire).
When we can do this we learn “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), and God will bless us beyond all our expectations.
By Michael E. Brooks