Laura Stocks has completed 13 months of her 16 month global internship in Africa. As new global interns come from the classrooms of BGU to the beaten streets of Kenya, Laura and the others on her team do all that they can to relay their experiences to the new arrivals.
It’s strange watching people who’ve recently arrived on the field to make observations like my team did at the beginning. They notice the smallest details and want to understand the intricacies of the culture. It’s even more strange realizing how much we have changed since we got here.
Their ‘American’ identity is still so strong that it contrasts greatly against our faded and blended team identity. We’ve become much more laid back and flexible in order to mesh into the pace of life and the culture here, and even our individual personalities have mellowed and adjusted to fit with each other. I can just barely remember feeling frustrated at my lack of independence as a female and wanting to fill up every day with activity, but those things are very new and real for new arrivals.
In some ways I feel like a parent might. I desperately want this team to succeed, to fit into this culture and to effectively declare the love of Christ in this community. I want them to do more and go further than we have, but there’s the prideful tug of not wanting our weaknesses to be exposed by their excellence. If they are better at building relationships than I am, will I be able to rejoice for the advance of the kingdom or will I try to make excuses for why I couldn’t have done it, or even worse, why they shouldn’t be doing it?
I’m learning a whole new aspect of humility right now, and it’s not very pretty. It’s not that my team has been ineffective or necessarily failed in any way, but more so that our role was that of preparing the ground and sowing seeds in this region so that it can become fertile ground for the gospel in the future. I can look back and see God’s kingdom slowly advancing across this land and I recognize that we’ve had a part to play in this expansion, however subtle or insignificant. I am hoping that the stepping stones that have been laid, not only by my team but by generations before us, will enable this group to progress to the next stage in God’s plan for this place. The trouble arises when I look to numbers and outward results instead of to God for reassurance that I am doing what he has called me to do.
I can see enormous potential for this team to more effectively share the gospel here than we have, but I also see the danger that accompanies such an outgoing and dynamic group-that in a desire to engage and spread the kingdom, they will overstep culturally because of their newness and ignorance.
Unfortunately, ignorance is nearly unavoidable when crossing cultures. We’re sharing as much as we can of what we’ve learned and what has been passed on to us from others, but some lessons have to be learned firsthand. So when one of them asks ‘why can’t we do this?’, I have to do a little bit of wrestling with myself. Do I respond out of legitimate caution based on cultural aspects they are unaware of, or do I feel threatened by their boldness in an area I was unable to overcome during my time here? If I respond out of fear, I will not only pass on that illegitimate fear but I will hinder the advance of the gospel in this community.
No matter what it costs my ego, I don’t want to be the reason the gospel is withheld from these people! I want to encourage the inquisitive and adventurous spirit I see in this new group without letting them run into traps that would endanger their witness. What a fine balance to walk. I’m sure the only way I can live this realization out is by staying connected to the vine as Jesus taught his disciples in John 15. Apart from him, I can’t accomplish a single thing, whether or not I claim it’s for his kingdom.