Adjusting to a New Mission Field: My Own Country
by Nicole L. Hrangkhuma
Nicole L. Hrangkhuma, who was born and raised in India, enrolled at Fuller Seminary in 2000. She graduated in 2002 with her Th.M. and returned to Bangalore, India, where she works as program administrator for The Association for Theological Education by Extension.
I had been back in India for almost three months. On our way home from a Sunday church service in the city, my father, mother, sister, and I stopped at an open-air market to buy a few groceries. My parents shopped while my sister and I watched from the car. Everywhere vendors sold fresh vegetables and fruits, and all kinds of people milled around bargaining and trying to keep their shoes clean as they walked through the mud. A foul smell wafted through the air and made me wrinkle up my nose. As I took in the sights and sounds and watched my mother examine vegetables, I realized that I felt very reluctant to step out of the comforts of the car.
My parents returned and began piling vegetables in the back seat. One of the leaves of a vegetable that still had dirt clinging to its roots brushed against my head. "Yuck!" I yelled and jerked away. My family turned around, surprised, and my sister exclaimed, "I never knew you were afraid of a little mud!" My outburst suddenly embarrassed me. Why did I react so strongly to a little dirt? I always thought of myself as one who could adjust to all kinds of situations. I was never like this before.
This small incident made me think about my attitudes toward my native land. Since returning to India, many of the things that I had grown up with no longer felt normal -- and I was in the U.S. for only two short years!
Indian life seemed to have worsened since I left. The chaotic traffic made even crossing the street a scary experience. (I used to confidently maneuver a vehicle through Indian traffic, but now I was reluctant to drive.) I dreaded pushing through a sea of humanity just to board smelly, overcrowded buses. I hated traveling miles to use the Internet. I felt uncomfortable seeing barefooted pedestrians virtually everywhere and being stared at endlessly. I felt misunderstood when expressing my views and ideas. I forgot how to plan a budget based on an income of rupees rather than dollars. I saw corruption everywhere. I prayed every day for the opportunity to return to the States, longing to go back to "familiar ground."
A major difficulty was facing people's misconception that I was materially well off because I had just returned from the States. During a work trip to Bangkok my colleagues expressed surprise that I didn't shop at all. I replied that I did not have money to go shopping and jokingly added that poor people like me need to budget carefully. One of them answered, "don't say that you are poor. People know you have just returned from America and think you're playing the pity game." These words hurt. I didn't consider myself as poor, but this didn't mean I had resources to shop freely or donate huge sums of money.
Other problems arose because many people perceived me to be morally loose simply because I had been living in the States. Some thought that because I had been exposed to Western culture I would be open to drinking alcohol, clubbing, and casual sex -- despite the fact that I was a Christian and in the ministry. I found myself having to defend my honor. I had to travel to work on crowded buses, so dressing in formal office attire was inconvenient. Yet when I wore jeans and t-shirts (or any casual clothing) to work, I was perceived as an immature girl with no experience and had a hard time gaining the respect of my colleagues. I also learned not to wear sleeveless tops or miniskirts in order to avoid making a bad impression.
My comfort zone was gone. I was on new ground, and I felt I was always in a "no-win" situation. People began to speculate about my marriageability. Their conclusion that I would be suitable only for Westerners was a thorn in my patriotic pride as an ethnic Mizo.
After several difficult months, I realized that I needed to readapt as a new person to a new culture. I reminded myself that I am a missionary wherever I am and identified with Jesus' words: "Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head" (Matt. 8:20). The hope and comfort I received from the Lord enabled me to begin to once again take the challenges of Indian life in stride.
Here are several things that have helped me to re-adapt that might be helpful for others in similar situations:
- Consider yourself an ambassador for Christ and think of yourself as being in your mission field rather than in your own country;
- Remember lessons learned in SWM classes (such as Cultural Anthropology, Serving Cross Culturally, and Thinking Missiologically) and try to implement them in your current context;
- Think positively and try to see the good in every situation;
- Compare yourself with those who might be going through worse things;
- Try to distinguish between things you should address and those you can ignore;
- Find prayer partners to pray with regularly;
- Pray for good friends;
- Find a place to vent frustration (in addition to venting them to God);
- Thank God even when you don't feel like it;
- Every once in a while, allow yourself a good cry;
- Learn patience;
- Give yourself grace and time to adapt. Sometimes that is all that is needed.
I continue to experience God's amazing grace, which is sweeter and sweeter as the days pass by. Now I find joy in my struggles, hope in my discouragements, and peace in my frustrations. And in my uncertainties I look to the One who holds my tomorrows, and I know Love.