Culture shock. Whatever that is.
Sure we threw the term around in Cameroon before I came home but I seriously underestimated the effect 10 months in another culture would have on my sanity.
Sanity. Whatever that is.
In the airport an elementary age gal who I assumed to be Cameroonian turned to ask how long it took to get my hair braided in a clear American accent. I was shocked and thrilled to speak without having to modify my speech though I could hear her parents speaking Cameroonian French. They are “bush-fallers” or Cameroonians who get to leave the country, start a life elsewhere (likely Western-based) and come back on the holidays.
As I worked through airports in Paris, Atlanta and Kansas City I started to see white faces and it was strange. I had not seen lots of white people in one place at a time for 10 months. The more I heard American English the more I got excited to listen and talk with ease! I was stunned to find the ease was no longer there. I now had to reformulate sentences yet again in the calendar year so people could understand me. Instead of ‘schedule’ I learned to say ‘program’, ‘trousers’ instead of ‘pants’ which means underwear in Cameroon, handshakes now replace hugs and the European kiss if any physical greeting at all with Ebola on people’s minds. Suddenly I am in a place where no refuge is found in a cultural comfort zone. Nobody could have warned me about the bizarre impact being gone would have on functioning normally in my home culture.
Walking into the room at my parents’ house where I stored all my stuff felt like jumping off a cruise-liner mid voyage. I could not comprehend how I owned so much stuff! Not just me but closets in everyone’s houses were packed! The furniture is so plush and comfortable! The roads are so… smooth. The grocery store is so… full. I was warned to gradually ease myself into everything. Well I went to T.J. Maxx, a Mexican restaurant and the grocery store the same day I got off the plane. The grocery store was the last straw. As I stood in the produce aisle I lost it. Tears started flowing because it hit me that I would not be sharing a grapefruit with Jake for evening snack. I would not be waking up to fresh banana smoothies with the kids. I would not be sharing peanuts with the Children’s Home kids. Time would dictate a new routine of special moments with different special people here in Southwest Iowa. Home is good but I had to mourn the change in a way. The grocery store was too much. So was everything that first day home.
Guilt started to overtake me like it did when we first returned from out brief visit in 2013. We are so blessed with choices of stuff. Everything is so convenient here. Lights turn on when you flip the switch. We bathe in drinkable water! We throw away excess food! How do we stand ourselves? Well, God told me I could feel guilty or I could live in thankfulness for his blessed provision. So I did just that. I praise God when I turn on the sink, go through fast food drive-thru windows and lay down in my comfy bed. We are blessed for no good reason but blessed nonetheless. Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow!
I took my fake hair out after a week. Meranda at the Children’s Home did it so well it could have stayed weeks more but I was tired of answering questions about my cool hair. I want someone to ask me what God has done in my life! I want to tell everyone how I saw God become more than a history lesson or a band-aid for my problems. I wanted to dance at church, sing at the top of my lungs like a fool and hug everyone! But just as I had to adapt to the expressive nature of Cameroonian church services, I had to now adjust to the reserved quietness of my home church. It was so good to be home but I felt like a flower (one of the big, vibrant tropical ones) that had to be severed from the plant, laid out to dry so it could be neatly kept for archive viewing. My friends and family from my church in Bamenda came across my mind one at a time, how I wanted to hug and dance with them. I was hardly present mentally the first Sunday. After, it got better.
What happened was, after a spiritual retreat in Cameroon where God took me to the next level in faith, I came home and not much had changed yet everything had. I learned in a few short days that if I was not completely prepared to stand against the wiles of the devil with old habits that Satan would show up to remind me of my Achilles. What changed in me after 10 months was worthless if I put myself in situations that were guaranteed failures. The only difference between a true God-believing Christian and a non-believers is choices we make. Saved people are capable of just as much as unsaved people if they aren’t fixed on Christ. I was saved before I left of course but since being away from everything I learned to avoid I almost fell headfirst into where I was long before I came to Cameroon. We may go ahead one step in our faith during a mission trip but one step backward can be like 1000 if you do not guard yourself and stay fixed on God’s perfect will for life afterward. I felt like Peter for a moment in a life and death situation, I looked away for a moment and felt the water coming up to my neck but I simply lifted my eyes to Christ again, where they were fixed the past 10 months and my feet were firmly back under me.
Spiritual highs and lows are inevitable but in no way do I seek highs. I have always longed for continuity, dependability, something that would remain through the victories and failures of my life. My faith was on a high for 10 months so in order for that not to be fleeting I have to fight, challenge myself and tenaciously seek after the Lord to keep going higher. I was so overwhelmed by the stimulation of how beautiful our country is and the ease of life here that I saw how easy it is to slip quietly into distraction with the world. I am taking a stand that from here on, I am in this world and not of it. My eyes are fixed on Christ. I will not cater to the lust of my flesh, even if it is seemingly harmless. I will be thankful for life. I will love others more than myself and seek always to tell people about the power of Christ which is available to all of us by faith.
Am I ready to go back? Sure. But nobody needs to know Christ died for our sins and is alive today for our abundant life for eternity like Americans. We are so distracted that Christians will be hard pressed to entice non-believers. Faith comes from hearing and hearing the word of God. Not only do we need to stop listening to crap and start listening to God’s word, we need to be retaining it so we can speak it to others! I can simply hold on to words from the Bible and speak them in faith to create more faith in those around me. How simple is that?! Americans make Christianity so hard! We think there is an attendance rubric we must adhere to in order to be a successful Christian! Church is not a building. Church in not only on Sundays. THE CHURCH IS THE BELIEVERS! What am I doing as part of the church to help the rest of the church? I am memorizing Scripture so it replaces idle words I concoct on my own. I do not want to be the me before Cameroon or the me before I was saved. Every day I want to be more like Christ so others may find solace in Him.