Culture Shock or Bathing in Self-Pity

by Jason Stover

It’s the little things on a foreign field that begin to eat away at your psyche. In our area of Poland, all meat is bought and sold over the counter from the butcher, so grabbing a package from the freezer section is out of the question. Therefore, every two or three days, my wife and I are reminded of our status in the language as we struggle to communicate what stover_fuel.jpgkind of meat we would like and how much we want.

Simple trips to the gas station feel like that long walk to the principal’s office—you know, back when principals were feared for the massive paddle hanging on their wall. Most of the time, I rely on a mix of low guttural sounds and complex hand signals to explain what kind of gas and how much to the person filling my tank. When that hurdle is crossed, I walk into the station only to begin the entire process over again, hoping to point out which pump is mine.

We drop our kids off at school each day and choke through a few Polish words with their teacher, but if we’re honest we have no idea what’s going on at their school. The other day each of our boys came home from school with a brand-new toy tractor, and we had no idea why. Did they win a contest we didn’t know about? Did they find buried treasure? Worse, did they knock off a local convenience store?

The only comparison I can draw to the current frustration of this language barrier is an example from my childhood. I vividly remember the day my cousin decided to educate me in the art of “Chinese water torture.” He held me down and began to drip water on my forehead. For a while, I just laughed at him because it was only drops of water, but soon enough the dripping began to get on my nerves. My frustration went from being “funny” to “quit it” to screaming like a little girl until he let me up. At first, the whole language barrier was funny, then it went to “quit it,” and now I often find myself “screaming like a little girl,” hoping this language will let me up. It’s unrelenting, unforgiving, and downright discouraging.

As you can tell, I’ve been holding onto this little pity party for the last few weeks, citing the politically correct term “culture shock.” It’s kind of fun and makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. What’s wrong with being fixated on my feelings of frustration, discomfort, and discouragement? From what I’ve read, I’m not alone in these feelings either. According to David Wells, talking about “self” is big business in the United States. In his book Losing Our Virtue, Wells points out that by 1990 the U.S. was home to half of the world’s clinical psychologists, one-third of the world’s psychiatrists, and approximately two psychotherapists for every dentist (p. 121). These are amazing statistics for a country that at that time held roughly two percent of the world’s population. After only five months in a new country, I had let this mindset control me to the point that if Oprah had called, I would have gone on national TV and cried my eyes out. Well, I would have at least considered it.

Thankfully, God’s Word brought strong correction for me, and I was forced to see my “condition” as it truly was, a condition of the heart. I had been living in direct violation of Philippians 4:4 and had been ignoring Paul’s example in Philippians 4:11 and his charge to a young preacher in 2 Timothy 1:7. What’s worse is that this Elijah complex (“I alone am left, Lord”) has blinded me to the grace of God in my life and in the life of my family that is manifesting itself on a daily basis.

Thank God for my family. Our children are the joys of our lives. Our youngest, Aubrie, wakes up every morning excited about eating “cocoa pebbles.” When I say excited, I mean excited like “Oh boy, cocoa pebbles!” She is a daily example of contentment for me. At almost three years of age, it is obvious that God has gifted her with language acquisition. We first realized this giftedness when she was about 11 months old. We were praying at the dinner table. I closed with “in Jesus’ name,” and she finished with an emphatic, “Amen!” Ginger and I were in shock—and we are still in shock as we see her soak up the Polish language. She knows no stranger and has no fear of making a mistake. These are two vital attributes when learning a new language.

We love the boys God has given to us; at only four years of age, the transition from Chicago to Poland was a lot more real for them than we had anticipated. I’ll never forget driving back from Warsaw a few months ago. They just opened up about how they missed “home” and missed “grandma and grandpa” and most of all how they were “nervous about going to school in Poland.” I was rebuked by their courage as they choked back tears and walked into their Polish classroom for the first time. They had a grasp of what they were up against, but they walked forward. God, help me not to be hindered by fear. Their ability to see everything as a “great adventure” is an attribute I admire.

Finally, I’m so thankful for the wife God has given to me. We’ve been married six years, and I feel like I’m just beginning to realize what courage, devotion, and a heart for ministry she has. An MK, she grew up in Thailand and loves missions. Along with that, though, she has never had a geographical place she could call home. We got married and began ministry at Bible Baptist Church in Romeoville, Illinois. Soon that became our home. Some of the dearest and most dedicated Christians you will ever meet attend that church. After four years of ministry there, we bought a house, our house, a home for my wife. Ah, stability! I don’t think the paint was even dry when I first approached her about Poland—yet the house was the last thing on her mind as we weighed the decision.

I learned from her what she had learned from her family over the years: Stability is not found in a house; it’s found in the arms of an almighty God. Watching her here in Poland has been truly convicting. I know she misses our home and our church, yet she is so dedicated to the language, to the ministry here, and most importantly to our family. God, help me to have that kind of dedication! She is a warrior and my lover. Wallowing in “self-pity” was fun, but it was sin, and it blinded me to the goodness of God—which is inexcusable.

stover_fam.jpgJason Stover and his family are part of a church planting team in Siedlce, Poland. He graduated from Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI) with a bachelor’s degree and is pursuing a master’s degree from Faith Baptist Theological Seminary (Ankeny, IA). His sending church is Bible Baptist Church in Romeoville, Illinois, where he served as both youth pastor and senior pastor. God has blessed him and his wife with three children. Check out his family blog.
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