We sat in the booth at a sandwich shop. By divine serendipity our paths crossed on “home” soil. She was back from Africa and I was up from South America. As we picked at our oversize, overpriced deliciousness stories poured out.
“Things are so rough in the village. The ladies tell me I need to hit my children. At any time of the day on the street someone was physically beating the kids. When they hit my own kids I didn’t know what to do,” my friend shared as she lifted her hands in exasperation.
We talked of culture, poverty, sickness, and all the other hot topics missionaries share. We cried. We nodded our heads. We even laughed together. Oh, what a hot mess it is when expectations meet reality.
Expectations are unavoidable. Our brains are hard wired to create shortcuts. We read cues and make judgements based on past experiences and learned responses. It’s natural. So we head into new cultural situations and our pea brains can’t compute how to process things that do not meet our expectations.
Then comes the real labor of reworking our hard wired synapses and electronic circuiting. We try to readjust expectations. We try to adapt to a new normal.
As a black and white thinker the grays and I have had a hard time getting to know each other. The miscues and confusion started to cause the concept of truth to blur in my heart and mind.
I began to ask: Where is the truth in all this?
As I began to manage the tension of truth vs. perception I began to ask a new set of questions: Might truth be more fluid like a river and not so rigid like an ice cube? Am I forsaking truth if I adapt to cultural understandings of concepts I once thought were rock solid? Can I put on a new set of lenses without losing my core identity?
I know I am not the only one who has wrestled with the expectations factor as a foreigner.
Let’s talk about this.
Which of your expectations have been challenged? What ways have you found to cope when you realized your expectations were unrealistic? How do we keep from falling over into hopelessness, cynicism, or hardness of heart when we adjust our expectations?
– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America