After about eighteen months of working towards my return to Australia following my long stint of living cross-culturally overseas in SE Asia and Zimbabwe, even so the experience of reverse culture shock has hit hard once again. Yes, there have already been lots of benefits of living back here like being closer to family in times of need, having running water and electricity twenty-four hours a day, hot and cold water, cooler weather (especially the lack of humidity compared to what I’ve experienced for the last nineteen years!) and so the list could go on. But the distance from the friends I’ve made and grown close to in another culture and all that I experienced on a day-to-basis sometimes hits hard. Those phone calls, sms and e-mails and photos are always very special whenever they unexpectedly arrive. Modern technology helps a great deal. When I first started out I relied on snail mail as the main form of communication with family and friends with the occasional telephone call. How things have changed!
My life has been enriched immensely by living amongst people of other religions and cultures for so many years. We came to love and accept each other and as result of spending quality time together had opportunities to share life stories and grow in our understanding of one another. As my friends accepted me for who I was, so I was able to share my faith and have them open up to me about their faith journey and discuss questions. It is wonderful to read how other colleagues are building on those relationships and having more opportunities to further help local people discover more about Jesus, the Giver of Life. We long for the day when there will be a core group of followers of Jesus amongst the B.I. people of SE Asia. We are privileged to be there “empowering communities to develop their own distinctive ways of following Jesus.”
Now I am back in Australia and learning once again what it means to live and survive here and one day to thrive again. In the same way that I often experienced frustrations living in another culture, each day there are frustrations of another kind that I feel here in working through various issues, which seem so foreign to me. In many ways Australia is still “the lucky country” that many people from other cultures are choosing to call home. I trust that lessons I learned whilst living overseas will help me to be as accepting of others who have come here in the same way as I was accepted and welcomed into the hearts and homes of my local friends.
Becoming part of a local church community and finding work in this next stage of my life’s journey are also providing me with new challenges. In the same way that the challenges of embarking on an overseas assignment are many and varied for new cross-cultural staff, so too are the challenges of returning to our Australian culture and society that has changed so much in the time many of us have been away.
However, I know that as my experiences of the last twenty-eight years have stretched me and caused me to grow so the years ahead will also provide further opportunities for me to be used by God in whatever way He has planned. The well-known verses from Proverbs 3:5-6 are just as real and relevant to me today as they were in my childhood – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”