Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Cross-cultural training should be a must prior to any assignment no matter how 'easy' the expat thinks it will be. The head organizational psychologist for a G7 country's foreign service recently determined the highest degree of cross-cultural misunderstandings occurred in missions where the local population spoke English well. In other words: the greatest threat came not from the culture that was the most 'foreign', but from the one that was the most similar.
Source: Cross-Cultural Training for US Relocations, Robin Pascoe,, December 2004

Those familiar with David Hackett Fischer's book, Albion's Seed, will understand that even moving from one region in the United States to another can cause a surprising case of culture shock. Fischer divides the U.S.into seven cultural regions: 1)The Northern Tier, which includes New England, the old northwest, the northern plains and the Pacific Northwest; 2) Greater New York; 3) Midland America, which extends from Pennsylvania west through the Ohio valley and the middle west to the Rocky Mountains; 4) The Great Basin, which includes a predominantly Mormon Culture in Utah and parts of Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming; 5) The Coastal South, that extends from coastal Maryland to the Texas coast near Houston; 6) The Southern Highlands, which includes Appalachia, the old southwest, the Ozark Plateau, and much of Texas and Oklahoma; and 7) Southern California.

I will celebrate one year working at Missions Resource Network tomorrow. Early on in my new work, I was reviewing and writing about culture shock and realized I was experiencing what I was writing about. I immediately thought of Fischer's book and reread his last section. Though this is a pill of a book, I highly recommend it to you. When I read his section on the borderers, it helped me understand more about the cultural side of the Restoration Movement.

I've said all of this to say, that adjusting to a very similar culture is hard work. I remember too well my first two years of adjustment to living in Amsterdam. However, imperceptibly over the next 15 years my way of thinking changed. I had no idea how much until I moved back to the states. I have since found by experience and by looking at the research that re-adjustment is often harder for expatriates returning from more westernized cultures like Europe or South America. Some cultures won't allow us to sink into their culture. We are always reminded that we are different. But I must quickly add, reentry is hard on anyone who has embedded him/herself into another culture - regardless. I will also add that it is not the amount of time spent on the field either. It is how embedded the expatriate was in the host culture.

Regardless of where we live, the most important cultural adjustment any of us need to make is the one we make when we follow Jesus. Our citizenship is not here. In order to make those imperceptible and intentional changes in our value system, we must keep our eyes on Jesus and be rooted in Him. I like Hauerwas' phraseology: Christians are resident aliens.

Love's prayers...Dottie

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

For one human being to love another: That is perhaps, the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.
Rainer Maria Rilke

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
I John 3:18

Dr. Dale Hawley, my associate at MRN and grad professor at University of Wisconsin-Stout, put together a critical review of the literature on missionary kids and families for MRN sometime in the recent past. This review, along with 100s of other articles will be placed on the MRN website in the near future. I'll inform you when that great article-launching-day arrives.

In a nutshell some of the things Dale found out were that missionary kids do well when they see their dads in a positive light, when they understand and identify with their parents' mission, and when the family practiced the spiritual discipline of prayer within the home. Strong family relationships seem to be the key to healthy adjustment - whether on the field - in transition - or when missionaries return "home." Children need to have deep roots before they can grow wings.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Life does not accommodate you,
it shatters you...
Every seed destroys its container or else
there would be no fruition.
Florida Scott-Maxwell

Thanks to Nancy Hartman's (good friend at OC) recommendation I have begun reading a new series of books by William Bridges, who has authored several books on transitions with business applications. I'm reading two of his more generic books: 1) Transitions and 2) The Way of Transition: Embracing Life's Most Difficult Moments. There are so many ways to apply Bridges' material to the missionary experience, for what is the missionary's life but one transition after another. Bridges wrote The Way of Transition after the death of his wife.

As a person who has taught many a course over the last 20 years on human development, Bridges' statement that the stages in our lives are just the resting places between transitions rang so true to me. The transitions are where we develop our character. This has been true for me personally. I suppose some of my bigger transitions, besides marriage and motherhood, and the empty nest, were entry into a new culture and going through the frustration of what is called culture shock, only to find that reentry to my "home" culture was 10 times more difficult than entry into my "host" country had ever been. I suppose the hardest transition for me was the death of my son. That sent me on a God-hunt that has basically formed who I am today. I had eleven years to get ready for the death of my husband. In a sense mourning took place almost every day. Will this be his last birthday? Will this be our last anniversary? Will this be our last vacation? After Tom's death there really was no more, but I didn't go into the deep depression like I did when Paul was killed. I wondered why. I've basically come to the conclusion that God had already broken me. He didn't need to break me any more. Also, I had formed a pretty good theology of suffering. I had learned to be thankful - even for the smallest blessing. I appreciated every moment I had with Tom. What also helped was that Tom never stopped being a spiritual leader to me, whether by word or example. I was exceedingly blessed to be his wife.

Missionary transitions have everything to do with relationships - with being connected. Until we traverse "entry" into a new culture and "reentry" into our "home" culture, we are people estranged from others who think like we think, feel like we feel, dream what we dream and affirm what we affirm. For those non-missionaries reading this and wondering "what's the big deal" go to and read the story of Mr. Round Head. That might help a little bit.

Transitions make us form/transform our identity. That identity will be uniquely yours as mine is uniquely mine, but those who have been through the same transitions, identify with each other, regardless of how different we are from each other. I recommend William Bridges' books to you.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge
in him.

Children love their daddys. Although dads provide less basic care, dads tend to play more. Dad's play is noisier and more boisterous than mom's play. Dad's tend to invent new and exciting ways to interact with their children. When young children are placed in a strange situation and both mom and dad are present, children look to their dads for cues on whether to venture out or not.
In some parts of the world when evening comes missionary moms and dads and children are together at home, sometimes with no television. In these situations families make their own fun. In other parts of the world, evening is the best time for missionary dads to study with others. Whatever kind of culture you find yourself in, dads should never underestimate their importance to the family. Fathers are to nurture their children. They are not to exasperate their children (Eph. 6:4). Nurture is a male characteristic for Christian fathers. Here is a link to a web-site ( that offers dad's some hints on how to interact with their children. Some of the ideas may be too American to apply where you live, but missionaries are resourceful people. You will probably get a few ideas that you can use or adapt. Blessings and love's prayers to all the missionary dads out there...Dottie

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I will extol the Lord at all times,
his praise will always be on my lips,
My soul will boast in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice,
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt His name together.

Developmental psychologists look at moms and try to figure out what kind of mom is the best kind of mom. One study looked at children in kindergarten who seemed to have it together. They interviewed all the moms and then matched them to the children. They dubbed the mom's of the children who had good self esteem the '30 second moms.' These moms did their own thing, but if the child needed them, they stopped everything and concentrated completely on the child. When the problem was solved, these moms went back to what they were doing. The moms of the children who seemed to lack good self esteem were the 'hover' moms and the neglectful moms. Moms who hover over their children all the time or those moms who were there phsically, but who were not there psychologically for their children, had children who were clingy and unable to do for themselves.
I know you missionary moms have tons to do, but take out those 30 seconds throughout the day to be there totally for your children. It will pay rich dividends.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Missionary's Missionary

Well, I've succumbed to the world of blogging with my boss's blessing! This blog will be about missionary care and I will probably throw in an opinion or two along the way or brag on my grandchildren. I want this blog to be helpful to missionaries, but also helpful to the mission committees and churches who send missionaries to the field.

About 29 percent of North American missionaries return home each year for non-preventable reasons. That leaves 71 percent, who had they received some TLC - good missionary care - could have remained on the field a bit longer. Reasons for preventable attrition were 1) marriage and family reasons; 2) agency reasons (translated to my fellowship - eldership and mission committee reasons); 3) personal reasons; 4) team reasons; 5) cultural reasons; and 6) work related reasons. So, I will probably spend time talking about each one of these areas.

I will also post news items or helpful links that might be helpful to missionaries as I learn about them. My web page is Check it out.

Love's prayers....Dottie