The very real effects of culture shock, Part 2

Part 1: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock.
Part 2: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock on the Christian, this time from a Christian worldview.
Part 3: What to do about those stresses


Top, Bottom, EPrata photo
In the Introduction to this Culture Shock series, I'd related several expatriate experiences I'd had while visiting abroad for longer than usual vacation periods. There are very real stresses which emerge physiologically, mentally, and emotionally when chooses to dwell in a nation in which one was not born. This fact also applies even when a person has moved from one nation to the next and their native language is spoken in both places, such as moving from the US to the UK, or Canada to Australia. Culture shock is a real event.

I'd said the earth is not our home. In that sense we believers are expatriates. Our citizenship is in heaven. The jarring difference between our home by citizenship and our home by residency is growing wider every day. Left, heaven above, earth below.

In part 1 I'd shared a list of stressors secular expatriates feel when living abroad. In this part, I'm translating those secular stressors into stresses Christians feel as expatriates living in a hostile world. Things are getting more disorienting every day.

I am writing from a westerner's perspective. America was founded by Pilgrims seeking freedom to worship. Puritans were almost successful for a short while in instituting a near theocracy. The First and Second Great Awakenings were events from times past on which today's Christian looks fondly. We fervently wish all to be saved, and we look back onto those past eras in America of the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, and even the early part of the 20th century, and long for the times when it seemed everybody believed.

However those are vestiges, mere shadows of a Christianity that even at the time, wasn't all it seemed to be. The word is hostile to Christianity. America is hostile to Christianity. it always has been. The Christians of any perceived Golden Era were merely cultural Christians, shallow believers going along to get along, pressured by the wider culture to conform. But most of them didn't really believe.

Today's Christian of a certain age grew up in church, the Bible Belt was a real section of the country where it seemed that everyone worshiped the same Jesus, and our nation was strong, thriving, respected, and great. God and country.

No more, if it ever was.

I personally believe the Lord is doing us a favor by showing us, albeit rapidly, how shallow the American Christianity was and is, and how few people adhered to what the Bible commands from us as true believers. However much we understand the head knowledge that we are considered as enemies, it still hurts when that fact is brought home to us. Head knowledge from accepting the word from the Bible and boots on the ground experience are two entirely different beasts, and it sometimes takes a while before the latter catches up with the former.

In rapid fashion, even the most head-in-the-ground Christian is beginning to experience lost friendships and splits over faith. More and more false teachers are being promoted by satan. The more believers point them out, the more furious fellow pew sitters, friends or even family become. It hurts to lose friendly or family relations, even as we know that it would occur (because Jesus said it would). (Matthew 10:35, Matthew 10:21, Luke 12:53).

Cultural attitudes toward work, finances, the economy, politics, our nation, schooling, sexuality, marriage, and even gender are changing fast. It's disorienting, even as we attempt to adjust to the changing landscape yet remain tranquil and calm with the peace of Jesus as our aura. Made even harder is that secular expatriates try to assimilate, but as Christians we must remain in the world and not of the world. We want to integrate, but not assimilate.
Integration occurs when individuals are able to adopt the cultural norms of the dominant or host culture while maintaining their culture of origin. Source
I'd posted in the last part that secular expatriates experience ten major stress-related triggers. Below, I reformatted those top ten secular stresses into stresses that hopefully may seem similar to today's Christian. Even without my re-formatting, a Christian would easily recognize the ten stressors if they wanted to apply them to their own circumstance.

1.) Long and unusual work hours due to the fact that Christians are never “off” and are always “on” and like the Father, always working. (Col 3:23, John 5:17).In these brutal days, there is all the more work to do, ministries to fill, and faltering friends to hold accountable or to comfort when tragedy happens.

2) A "trailing Christian spouse" who has given up a career to move abroad with her working spouse and is adjusting to not only a new country, but a new lifestyle, especially when the feminist culture mocks women for submitting to her husband. (1 Peter 3:1)

3) New stresses for our Christian children: school, new non-Christian friends, a different native language, counter-Christian teachers and teaching methods, and not to mention, full immersion into a culture other than their own. It stresses the parents to know how best to protect children from secular influences. (Proverbs 1:8).

4) As new Christians, our most comfortable support system of non-Christian friends and family have gone from being neighbors and parents to enemies of the Christ in us. (Matthew 19:29). Creating a new local support system takes a lot of time and emotional energy, and can be a stressful endeavor, especially for babes in the faith.

Finding a church so as to merge into a support system of comfort and accountability early on in your Christian expatriate life is essential. (Acts 2:42). Yet many churches teach false doctrine and babes are especially vulnerable because they cannot always detect the false, and instead of a new support system for growth in the faith, what they get is drawn into a pit from which, if they escape by grace of God, having then to start over and dispense with the teachings that have now polluted their brain. (Hebrews 3:13).

5) A certain amount of lost independence due to language barriers.

6) The dynamics of a Christian marriage inevitably change with the new responsibilities and roles that come along with a move of citizenship from the World to the nation of Heaven, creating stress for each spouse. (Ephesians 5:22-27)

7) For "Single Global Christians," between building a social network outside of work without the benefit of a spouse, and not having a sense of "community" or roots, being abroad alone can be both a stressful and lonely place, especially if one has been disowned for the faith or lives where there literally is no visible network and speaking of Jesus means death.

8) Finances. In many instances, the transfer of citizenship from the World to the City of Heaven reduces the Christian’s economic status in life. This is especially stressful when one has been immersed in hearing Prosperity Gospel and one wonders why “it’s not working for me.” For others, being a citizen of Heaven means persecution comes in stolen property, schemes to steal one’s home, or persecution where one loses everything.

9) Being Unhappy. Having a negative attitude or feelings about where you are; unrealistic expectations of your new life in your new country, and expecting perfectionism from yourself and the culture around you is a breeding ground for self-induced stress and a recipe for marital unhappiness. Your unhappiness is a feeling even your children pick up on.

10) Poor stress coping skills. Usually due to a lack of prayer and a lack of studying the Bible.

Over the last decades, who hasn't been influenced in perspective when watching grainy lack and white Billy Graham Crusades and saw thousands of seekers streaming forward? Who hasn't been affected by seeing many 'walk the aisle' at revival after revival? Which grandmother doesn't fondly recall the glory days of Christianity when the churches were full and everybody came to dinner on the ground?

Those days are all gone, if they ever existed at all. We ARE strangers in a strange land and the times show us that more each day. Yet still, many Christians are shocked at the hostility and unfriendliness in their work or in their social circle or even within their families.

In the next part: what to do about it.

Part 1: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock.

Part 2: Examine the very real effects of expatriate living and culture shock on the Christian, this time comparing the effects through a lens of the Christian worldview.

Part 3: What to do about those stresses.


Further reading

How can Believers be in the world but not of the World?

What does it mean for Christians to be in the world but not of the world?

Blog Series at Grace to You, In the World, but not of it