Monday, November 17, 2008

Serving in Ghana

Patty Sommer--Ghana, West Africa

I was quite sure when I moved to the mission field that I would be the first missionary never to suffer from culture shock. I had heard it talked about, and I even had one missionary friend try to give me some advice about it, but I was sure I would never have problems like "everyone else." Boy, was I in for a surprise!

When we came to Ghana we were supposed to work and live with an older missionary and his wife near the capital for a year; we were not supposed to learn the language, because the national language was English; we were supposed to go live in the Western Region after the first year. Within the first 12 hours, all the plans had changed - the missionary was only going to stay for a short while because of health problems; we learned that even though the national language was English, hardly anyone could really speak it; a problem arose with our contact in the Western Region. Within the first 24 hours, we moved into a "local" apartment in a very poor part of Kumasi, in the Ashanti Region. Needless to say, culture shock hit hard and fast. I was also six months pregnant (that's another story in itself :) ), and my hormones were going wild. I couldn't understand what was wrong with me. Some moments all I could feel was anger. Sometimes, I was overcome with fear. And sadly enough, I even struggled with hatred. Nothing made any sense. What was up was down; what was black was white. I had come to Ghana to love these people and lead them to know Christ, but most days it was all I could do to drag myself out of bed. I began counting down the days until I could go home! In fact, I was so excited each morning when I got to tear off another day on my calendar! I think I probably had the worst case of culture shock ever!

The wonderful thing about this hard story is that in the midst of one of the darkest times in my life, Jesus was right there with me. There were many days that I took my eyes off Him, but He never took His eyes off me. One of the first lessons He taught me in this time was that all I needed to figure out was what He wanted me to do each day, and then do them. Psalm 61 was a wonderful blessing, especially verse 8, "So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows." The second lesson the Lord taught me was actually from a quote on my calendar (the one I couldn't wait to see disappear!). It said, "Whatever you can do,...Begin it. ~ Goethe. It seems silly that the Lord would use that, but it really caught my attention. I'd lost sight of the fact that God had brought John and I to Ghana, and He had a reason for everything I was facing. He didn't want me to give up; He wanted me to get up! He wanted me turn to Him in my weakness and seek His strength, not my own. He wanted me to do what I could, not spend all my time and energy worrying about what I couldn't do.

I would love to say that after the initial six months everything was perfect, but that wouldn't be the truth. Culture shock often has more than one level. After about two years in Ghana, I started really struggling again with fear. I was scared to death to go anywhere without John, and most days I didn't even want to leave my house at all. This was exceptionally hard for me (and John), because I've never been a clingy person. This is when God taught me another important lesson - that fear is one of Satan's favorite tools! I had to cling to II Timothy 1:7, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." What freedom that verse brought me! For a time I had to pray that verse almost non-stop, but the wonderful thing is that God proved that verse to me. As I relied on Him to take away that fear, He filled me with the power, the love, and the sound mind I so desparately needed! What a mighty God we serve!

And now, I've learned another reason that God gives culture shock. He gives it to us so that some day we can help others! II Corinthians 1 :4-5 says, "Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ."


Carrie said...

I always enjoy reading these. Thanks ladies for sharing lessons learned.

Karis said...

So interesting! These testimonies have made me think about my own transition process. I'm not sure if I've experience culture shock yet which makes me think that I haven't. We've only been here three months, and I am so overwhelmed with the language barrier (maybe the two are intertwined) and the busyness of life that maybe I'll look back and see that it was in my life but that I just didn't realize it because there was just so much going on with being a wife, mom, and French student. Then again, maybe it's yet to come and I'll know for sure when it hits. Hmmm...

The funny thing is that our mission board talked to us about topics like culture shock and we read books but honestly, now that I'm cramming French into my Momnesiac mind, all that stuff seems to have floated away. So, it's been good to read these testimonies of what others have experienced and learned. I would clarify this comment by saying that I really am smarter than this comment makes me seem but I'm not too sure about that. This language learning thing is sure different as a 30 year old with young children and no fast food places here, college dining hall, or convenience foods, having to use the little I know every day as we live in a French world, etc. than it was as a 18 year old in college getting As in Spanish. :-)

Leah (Parrish) Millan said...

Reading these testimonies just blessed my heart so much!! My husband and I are planting a Spanish-speaking church here in SC. The language barrier alone can seem insurmountable at times when you are in the midst of taking care of your family. Thank you so much for the encouraging posts!!