Adaptation…not survival of the fittest

Last time we looked at discipleship, with 10 words, with a less formal perspective.  You can take a look at it here.

As “missionaries” meaning those who are sent out we have, and many of you have, done workshops, building projects, seminars, prayed, fasted, brought encouragement, and released bucket-fulls of blessing in a short condensed time.

With our time here in El Salvador passing 4 months this week, Kelly and I are now close to passing our longest stay out of the United States (6 months for her in Albania & 6 months for me in South Africa).  Things change as the months increase, and even more so now that we are doing this as a family, and not as single 20-somethings like we were before.

Here is the differences we have noticed:

1. Family – our ability to be effective becomes so much more dependent upon our family life, because unlike the short-term high-impact teams I have helped to plan and lead, now the majority of our time is spent living, interacting in daily life and just being a family.

Breakfast on the street, bean and cheese pupusas are Ben’s favorite, Ezra is not so sure

2. Adapting – I have learned to lie to myself…in a good way.  If I am struggling, frustrated, discouraged, I find ways, much as David did in 1 Samuel 30:6.  Other times I go for a run, or watch a movie, or even just go to sleep, and it gets better.  With a family, and children, it doesn’t work that way.  If things are not working, if they are not right, with children in tow…you cannot force it to be “OK.”  This constant pressure to change is called acclimating, and surprisingly it begins to go away after a few months…like becoming dark after a sunburn, balancing astutely after falling off of a bike, perfecting a karate block after being punched 100 times…learned behavior, adaptation.

Ezra found some baby ducks just around the corner from La Concordia…he also scared mom and dad by sneaking off during church to check on them…

3. Choose to Engage – Avoid Turtle adaptation.  Pick a country, any country, make plans to move there, and within minutes, you will find many experts on the dangers of this location.  In reality, it is true, most locations that need long-term missionaries wouldn’t need them if there weren’t inherent dangers to working there.  But once you arrive, and some of those stories prove themselves to be true, you have to find daily courage to not stay in your turtle shell.  This doesn’t mean that you refuse to go outside, but emotionally, relationally, with the language, transportation, dozens of things every day will test your willingness to engage.

Jared, Glen Pummel and a team inspect the days catch on the pier in La Libertad

4. Periodically disengage – there is another type of adaptation that I call ant adaptation.  The truth is, very few people who end up in another country are like turtles, if they liked to live life quarantined, they would never venture out.  But there is another animal, that appears almost the opposite, and can keep from engaging in a new land.  The ant is busy, always on the go, constantly moving…much different than a turtle.  And yet, it, or they…because they always work in huge groups, function in a quarantine.  They have highways defined for them, they work incessantly, they surround themselves with others who look the same, they are very admirable creatures.  Because life in a new culture can be so altering and challenging, for the sake of survival, and for the sake of justifying our call to a new place, within several months, we have slipped into self-designed highways of work and relationship and once in them, we get on the work wheel and keep cranking.  The challenge here is to continue to stop and re-evaluate…to get out of the ant pack occasionally and make sure where you are going is where you ought to be.  This doesn’t necessarily mean long vacations to a secluded island…it means have fun, enjoy life with the people you work with.

missionaries, church members and friends enjoy a soccer game during Ezra’s birthday.
Kelly with Ezra on his 9th birthday celebration

5. Talk – and I don’t mean only in English.  Getting into a culture requires language, and though so much is communicated in other ways, there is no real way to engage with people unless you can talk.  Get in there, eat a healthy dose of humble pie and start talking.  I just finished a phone survey asking how the service was at the repair shop the other week.  She started with “Is this a good time,” and I actually attempted and did fairly well with the rapid fire questions, until the end…after 5 minutes, and her repeating the final question several times I gave up, “no tengo una respuesta para su pregunta…” (I don’t have an answer for your question)  And that was my final answer.

Jared and Pastora Isabel talk under a shade tree in La Concordia, Usulutan

Wherever you are, you can choose to engage with another culture or person, or system of belief, take time to look around you today and be cross-cultural.

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