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Inverted Culture Shock ; September 21, 2014

Some things about Bogotá, Colombia are not very shocking.

• The traffic, noise, and air pollution of a big city
• Being smashed between people standing on a crowded TransMilenio bus
• Spanish everywhere
• The armed, armored policemen stationed on many street corners, day and night
• Having to constantly be aware of my surroundings and keep an eye on my belongings
• The fact that McDonald's and Burger King are fancy restaurants
• The focus on physical appearance and obsession with fashion and beauty
• The prevalence of American movies, music, and pop culture
• The way people drive, and rush hour traffic jams
• The trash in the streets
• Street vendors selling food, pirated movies, clothes, jewelry, coffee, you name it
• Homeless men and women digging through trash to find things they can recycle for pay
• The cheap prices of food, transportation, and housing

All those things seem pretty normal and expected to me. Living in Quito, Ecuador for 3 months in 2012 definitely prepared me for Bogotá. Bogotá is larger, more globalized, and overall more developed than Quito, but the cities are also similar in many ways.

So, you may be surprised by the things that have been shocking to me.

• The bubble of American/English-speaking culture in the house I'm living in
• The casual, frequent use of profanity by my housemates
• The fact that a couple of them feel the need to drop the f-bomb every other sentence
• How normal it is for many of them to drink and get drunk
• Some of their choices of conversation topics
• Basically, the complete lack of reference to God in the lives of the people I'm living with

What is this showing me? That the truth is that I've been in Christian bubbles my whole life. I grew up in a Christian family with Christian friends. I went to a Christian college. Even in my travels to other countries I've been in Christian groups. In Ecuador I was part of a Christian study abroad program. In Mozambique I was at a Christian missions base. In Nepal and recently in Cartagena and Medellín, I was part of Christian missions teams.

Of course I've thought of this before, and have acknowledged that yes, I have led a somewhat "sheltered" life. But this new environment is really highlighting it to me.

I'm living in La Candelaria, the historic, colonial neighborhood of Bogotá. It has its own unique architecture and culture. It's the only part of the city that I would call "pretty." This is where tourists come to see the numerous monuments, museums, churches, and historic buildings that you can find around every corner.

It is also, apparently, where the foreigners come to live, learn Spanish, and teach English. Most of my housemates are now English teachers, who completed the CELTA course earlier this year. Hence, the fact that it's not Colombian culture that's shocking me at all. It's the culture brought here by foreigners and expatriates. There should be a term for that... I'm going to call it inverted culture shock.

It's creating an interesting effect in my life and thinking. It's similar to something that happened to me when I was about 14 or 15. I was in a time when I seriously doubted God's goodness and even His existence. My thought was that just because I grew up in a Christian family didn't mean Christianity was true. But God used the simplest little thing to revive my faith: the fact that many people don't know Him. (It happened one day through talking to people who weren't Christians on online discussion boards.) My perspective was reversed when I realized I already had what many people spend their lives looking for, but miss out on: Jesus. How could I doubt Him? How could I despise the gift of a Christian family, given to me freely? A Christian family meant that God decided to give me what everyone is looking for! I didn't have to waste any of my life searching, because I already had Jesus.

What's happening now feels somewhat the same. Everyone's searching for something to fill the void that exists in all of our hearts without God. The people around me are trying to find that fulfillment in things like alcohol, smoking, friends. Many of them are avid world travelers, and they find excitement and fulfillment in experiencing new places and cultures. This is intriguing to me because as much as I love traveling, the actual experience of being in a different country seems void and empty if you don't have a purpose and mission for being there!

What the people around me don't realize is this: what they're really looking for is Jesus.

Only Jesus satisfies. And He really is everything we need. His Spirit fulfills every need we can have. And He is greater and more satisfying than anything the world can offer. The sweetness and tenderness of His love and presence with us every day is greater than any other experience.

I'm realizing this is a key element of a missionary lifestyle. To be filled with the love of God and let it overflow into the hearts of others... and to live in such a way that makes them curious about what I have that they don't.

God has sent me not only to the "mission field" of Colombia, but also to the fellow English teachers I'm living with. Holy Spirit is leading me to love and pray for them, to honor God with my words and actions, and to declare the name of Jesus around them. Because Jesus is all they really need.

11:21 AM  |  

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