I wonder if you have someone you’d love to travel with? Someone to whom you often say ‘it would be so amazing to visit *insert place* together’? It’s been a dream of mine for a while to travel overseas with Lauren, one of my closest friends. In October that dream came true as we were privileged to join an amazing group of people headed to East Timor. But a few shocks were in store for both of us. I’ll come back to that in a moment …
The five of us touched down in Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili just after 4pm and excitedly made our way out to meet the East Timor WEC Leaders. By this point I was absolutely bouncing with excitement. The first shock was the heat. The humidity hit us straight away, and even in the evening we managed to work up a sweat from doing absolutely nothing.
Apart from the heat, one of the first things I noticed was how lovely the people are. One of the first stops we made was to the children’s program. Even though we were only there for five minutes we met so many new faces – lovely people who wanted to know our story, but I felt so awkward and inadequate because I didn’t know any of the language. I was desperate for a knowledge and understanding of the language so that we could share our stories with one another.
Wait, we’re staying where?!
Now a big shock hit.
We spoke about culture shock before leaving Australia, and being an experienced traveller I thought I’d be ok. But I was alarmed when I arrived at the place we would be staying and realised that not only did the place not have any air conditioning (a real struggle when it doesn’t get below 28 overnight) but there also wasn’t a flushing toilet or running shower! For the first hour Lauren didn’t really say anything. She was so overwhelmed and wondering what she had gotten herself into. Lauren is one of my favourite people, however unlike me has had limited overseas travel experience. She is also quite introverted and quite gentle and sensitive to new situations – unless you’re watching ‘High School Musical’ with her! Through this experience God powerfully demonstrated to Lauren that He was more powerful than her personally, gifts and struggles, and in fact was able to use them to further the Kingdom. Her quiet and gentle nature meant it was easy for her to connect with children and love them.
I had a friend ask me the other day- what do you do when you get culture shock?
I think the strange thing about culture shock is that it doesn’t always look the same, and can occur at the most random of times. I remember once experiencing culture shock walking through the high-end fashion stores of Japan. Not a place you commonly think of to experience culture shock.
So what did I do?
I prayed about it, a lot! I complained to God about things that I didn’t like and questioned Him about why He wanted me on this trip. And I vented to Lauren too. This is something we’re both so thankful to God about, that we experienced this together. It is so helpful if you can find someone on your trip who you can share with how you’re really going. It’s likely they’re also struggling too and going through it with someone else is so much easier than alone!
And then I tried to find the beauty in the place I was, however big or small. The delicious fruit we ate, or the beautiful sunset, or just the smile in the children’s faces.
And then I took it one day at a time, one movement at a time. Knowing that the itinerary we received was more of a guideline, but I could trust God was in control in it all.
The beautiful part was that after our first meal and talking with Thelly, an Indonesian WEC missionary in East Timor, who’s home we were staying in, we both felt so much more comfortable- well as comfortable as you can be in 33-degree heat and 80% humidity! We realised that we were capable of getting through this time, and even enjoying it.
Much of the time culture shock or fears set in because of preconceived ideas or expectations. So when our experience doesn’t match what we had in our mind we can be startled.
Understanding more about their culture was so helpful in understanding the people and gradually reducing the culture shock. It’s why long-term missionaries will spend the first two years doing cultural and language learning.
We didn’t have two years on this trip, but we did spend the first morning in Dili learning more about this interesting country. They have such a bloody and intense history of struggling to finally have freedom. The Museum of Independence tells the story of decades of fighting for a place to call their own. The videos were overwhelming to watch, but what hit me hard was these are real lives and real people, fighting for a greater future for their country.
During the next ten days we were able to see some really beautiful things that God is doing in East Timor, like children’s programs, church plants and health work. I’ll share more with you in my next post. In the meantime, if you haven’t read my first STOMP post you can do so here .
Thank you so much for joining me on this journey!