Well, it’s hard to believe that we have been here 10 weeks now at this point. When you say it like that it doesn’t seem so long. When you say 2.5 months, well that seems a little longer. In any case, you are probably wondering how things are going, and how we are using our time in these days. Others may wonder how we personally are doing, and what struggles we may be having.
I love this new family picture we have. It’s a great photo of all 4 of us wearing our Paraguayan soccer jerseys (a must have) and posing in front of the River Paraguay here in the capital city of Asuncion where we live now. What I love about this picture in particular, is what is in the background. Behind us in the picture is an area known as the “Gran Chaco” a large sparsely populated semi-arid wilderness where 5 of the still unreached people groups of Paraguay are located. It’s hard to imagine that just across a river from a city of 2 million people lies a largely untouched space that is home to Jaguars, giant anteaters, and flocks of parrots. It’s possible that in the future, we could find ourselves living in the Gran Chaco.
But ministry is always a process. In the beginning of 1 Corinthians 3, Paul alludes to this process. He says that in the beginning of his ministry, he couldn’t give the Corinthian church meat from the Word, but rather milk. No doubt the Corinthian church needed meaty teaching, but it wasn’t the appropriate time for that. First the milk came to allow the church to grow, and then the meat would come afterwards. In the same way we are not ready to begin preaching the gospel to the unreached ethnic groups of Paraguay. If the Lord permits we will someday, but not today.
So, what are we doing today? Upon arrival to the field we entered a phase in which we were adjusting to life here in Paraguay. We were expecting this time to take about a month, but really it wound up taken about two. What were we doing to adjust? Well, physically we were doing things like looking for a place to live, setting up house, learning where to buy things, and getting a feel for the Paraguayan rythym of society. On the mental side of things we were wrapping our minds around listening to a new language, getting an ear for the sounds and patterns, learning basic etiquette in everyday situations, and also letting it sink in that we are here to stay…we aren’t going home.
That last thing is probably the hardest. It’s easy to sweep under the rug the things that rub you wrong. While some things are the same with life here in Paraguay, there is a vast number of things that are sharply different from what we consider normal, and our list of things is growing daily. At first we didn’t notice much. But we are constantly becoming more aware of things that seem strange to us, and those things have a tendency to affect one’s attitude. Like I said, no cultural difference is a big enough deal to lose sleep over…until you realize you aren’t going home. This new culture is YOUR new culture. This foreign land is now YOUR new home.
The experience I am describing is commonly known as culture shock, and it is undoubtedly hitting us. It’s not that the Paraguayan people or the country are terrible and horrific. Quite the contrary, the people are loving and the country is wonderful, but they are different. Not wrong, just different. And different is the new normal.
Having come to the end of the stage known as Field Orientation we have begun the process of National Culture and Language Acquisition (a phrase like that reminds me of Captain Barbosa when he says “such big words, we’re not but humbles pirates…”). Basically all that means is we are learning Spanish and the way Paraguayans are. We are doing this through our friends at church and friends in our community under the guidance of our consultants.
We look forward to completing this stage of the process with excellence so we can move on to the next stage: Tribal Allocation. It won’t be next week, or even next month, but we do keep the next step in front of us to remind us that this stage is just another piece of the puzzle to see an unreached people group reached for Christ.