Sue Eenigenburg just published another book, More Screams, Different Deserts – Joy and Perseverance for Women in Cross-Cultural Ministry. Thank you, Sue, for sharing one of your stories with us this month. See the end of this email for how to order this book for yourself or a friend. — Diane, Editor
For me, becoming a cross-cultural worker was a lot like a trip I took as a child to a deer-petting farm. While growing up, I would get several new outfits whenever my family would take a vacation. One year I got a cute little short set with a blue top that had layers of ruffles. That year one of our stops was a deer-petting farm. They gave us a package of what looked like graham crackers and told us to keep moving as we fed the deer. I enjoyed walking among these beautiful creatures and feeding them. Soon I ran out of food and, at the same time, I forgot to keep moving.
The deer gathered around and, before I knew what was happening, they had begun to eat my shirt. I watched with alarm layer after layer of ruffles disappearing. I remember standing there calling for help and probably crying, unsure of what to do as my decorative ruffles were being eaten away. I think it was my sister who came over, got me moving again, and shooed all the deer away.
In moving overseas, away from my comfort zones and all that was familiar, layer after layer of my sense of spirituality was being stripped away. I didn’t think I was an angry person, yet I struggled with anger. I thought I was a spiritually mature person, yet I began to see that I didn’t know God as well as I thought I did. I thought my marriage was strong and found it shaken. The love that I had felt for these people I had never met turned at times into dislike once I got to know them. All that I learned in Bible school was helpful, but paled in comparison to what I needed for daily survival. I had been ready to change the world and discovered that I was the one who needed to be changed.
Of course, the deer analogy only goes so far. There was no useful purpose in losing the ruffles off of my shirt . . . except to feed the deer! However, God had a definite purpose in stripping away the layers of my false sense of spirituality. He replaced every flimsy layer of character or spirit that was mere decoration with a firm foundation that has made me more able to withstand anything trying to eat away at my life.
I am so thankful that Jesus Christ saved me as a young teen. He changed my life and gave me the desire to serve him wholeheartedly. I am also thankful that he rescued me once again as a woman in ministry. It has been a painful, joyous, dreadful, awesome, terrible, wonderful, failing, successful, amazing process in which his strength has been seen in my weakness. His power has been evident as he gave me grace in the midst of overcoming temptation. His love has transformed my apathy, and his faithfulness has shined through my own faithlessness.
By the time those deer left, I had only a few layers of ruffles left, yet in my life I seem to have a never-ending supply of ruffles that God brings to light and works to remove. I am thankful he continues his work in me.
Most of us, in order to be accepted by our agencies and sent out by our churches, have been examined and found “good enough” (for lack of a better term) to become cross-cultural workers. Normally we’re not murderers, though we may be more tempted in this area as we face challenges overseas! We aren’t hardened criminals, habitual thieves, or chronic liars. However, let’s not fool ourselves. We are still depraved sinners and need to be careful of sins that can easily beset us and weigh us down. I believe that we can be more susceptible to temptation in a cross-cultural environment. We are away from our normal support systems and comfort zones. It is easy to become lonely, to miss hearing our own language and fitting in. We can begin to rationalize bad choices.
During our first year overseas I longed to hear English and began watching anything that I could find in English on TV. There wasn’t much available, but I became intrigued with an American soap opera. I would have never watched it in the States, but when living overseas it seemed it should be alright to watch—after all it was in English and I needed to hear some English! On the soap opera, all the characters’ lives were so messed up because of immoral relationships and poor choices. Night after night I watched as sin was demonstrated as the norm for their lives. It must have weighed heavily on my heart because one day I actually found myself praying for the characters on the show! God reminded me that these people were not real. I knew I had to stop watching and start practicing self-control and pursuing holiness.
We must be alert, knowing ourselves and our weaknesses. I’m sure we’ve heard of those involved in ministry who would have been highly unlikely to become sexually involved before or outside of marriage in their home countries, but stumbled in these areas on the field. Once overseas it appears to be easier to fall away from our convictions. The loneliness can be overwhelming. When we first arrived in South Asia, I knew three people. I didn’t know where to go, and even if I could go somewhere, I didn’t know how to get back to where I was living. It was confusing; I wanted to meet people, but it was so hard. I missed friends from home and was tempted to spend too much time on the computer chatting with them.
I think the loneliness that we feel when working across cultures can cause us to be more susceptible to pursuing risky relationships. I’ve read that Internet pornography is a huge problem for male pastors and those serving across cultures; however, it is on the rise as a problem for women as well. Some marriages fall apart due to spouses connecting with old friends of the opposite sex on Facebook and pursuing those relationships. Let’s be on our guard, even in the midst of our loneliness. We need to know where we are most easily tempted so that we can be on the lookout, get rid of these sins, and run the race we have in front of us.
It isn’t just how we run, but what we are looking at as we run. We are to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. The Greek word for “author” contains the idea of Jesus being the pioneer or leader of our faith. He is also the perfecter of our faith. He completes it; he perfects it. To persevere in order to finish our race, we are to fix our eyes on him who knows what it is to persevere. He endured the Cross, finished what God called him to do, and sat down at God’s right hand. He looked beyond what he was enduring and ahead to the joy set before him. We, too, need to keep our eyes focused beyond what we are dealing with today, fixing them on him who is eternal. In any race, the runner is looking to the end, the goal. We must have an eternal perspective, one that keeps Jesus Christ in the forefront of our decisions, actions, and attitudes.
More Screams, Different Deserts
by Sue Eenigenburg