When you head into another culture to live among the local people, you feel clueless. You hope to understand them and become someone they can listen to, but you are clueless of how. When the culture is very different from your own, you can’t help but be clueless. Even when you visit your home culture again, you find yourself clueless. That’s what it was like for us when we moved to Central Asia 20 years ago.
We shared a courtyard with a young national family for our first term there. The house was small—our four kids shared one bedroom—but the small yard was a godsend for our young energetic family, especially when the alternative was a playground laden with broken glass and questionable characters.
Our neighbor Zoya, a young wife, came over one day. We talked about our kids. Happy that I was finally getting along in conversational Russian, I asked if she wanted another child—their little boy was the same age as our youngest. She flippantly answered, “Oh, I’ve already thrown so many away.” I was hoping I had misunderstood. But I knew the word she used was the same verb for throwing away garbage.
It pierced me, yet she showed no concern of wrongdoing. In the Soviet times, abortion was their method of birth control. It was just their way. At that moment I knew I was much further away from understanding them than I previously thought.
We will always be strange to them. It doesn’t keep us from loving them—or them from loving us. They still want to hear why we came and what keeps us here. And the people are so hungry for meaning. Yet, they are bound by a belief system without God while trying to appease the spirits.
We started with the recognition that we were guests here and that we didn’t understand everything we saw and experienced. It’s easier to rush into someone’s world to do what we think they need most. Then we feel good about ourselves and the sacrifice we made. Sometimes it causes us to do more damage than good. So our first term had a lot to do with this process of being close enough to the people to accept them and build trust so that serving them could be mutual and meaningful. We also learned to laugh at ourselves with them, getting over any self-importance. It was time-consuming and exhausting.
Living in a different country takes you far from your old world. It changes and challenges you. But as you seek after God, He asks you to let him remove the flimsy props you rely on so that He may strengthen your roots in Him. But the question is whether we are ready and willing.
The author and her husband have been serving in Central Asia for more than 20 years. They raised their children there, though they are now empty nesters. Pray for them as they continue church planting among the unreached people of Central Asia.