We have now been in Mexico for just over a month. In some ways it feels like it has flown by and in others it feels like it has been a lifetime. This past month has been filled with the new adventures and challenges common to transitioning into life in another country. It has also been a time of comparing and contrasting what we have known, seen and experienced in the past, not only as cultural American but also as people who have lived in another foreign culture, Papua New Guinea.
Transition always means stress. Think about what transitioning to living and working in a new country includes: new home, new neighbors, new foods, new friends, new job, new language, new culture, new climate, new time zone (often), new routine, new budget, etc. Everything is new and different!
New Experiences & Challenges
Our new experiences so far have mainly included exploring the city for all the best places to buy stuff and of course getting our hands on some real, authentic Mexican food! Of course, you could also count finding a home and getting settled into it as an adventure… well, at least, it’s… interesting… I would say exploring the city and finding our bearings has been fun for me. The first week we were here, everyday we ventured farther and farther out, making certain sections of town slightly more familiar.
The challenges have mainly entailed navigating a new city (the driving is crazy here), language and culture confusion and… the cold. That’s right, it is FREEZING down here. Most people don’t realize that the city we live in is apparently one of Mexico’s coldest cities, as it has even been known to snow at times! Not only is it cold outside, but also inside because they don’t typically insulate their homes down here. With cinderblock walls, you can imagine how easily any heat escapes! Thankfully a couple from our home church has purchased a wood burning stove for us to put into our house, which is probably the most inexpensive and efficient option for heating. We look forward to getting that installed as soon as we can! Until then we bundle up in many layers each day inside the house and our slippers have been life savers on the hard and cold tile floors!
Aside from the new experiences, adventures and challenges, its been interesting to compare and contrast the on-the-surface similarities and differences to our home country, and for us, to Papua New Guinea as well.
Comparing & Contrasting
The city we live in is comparatively more western than other areas of Mexico as far as I understand. The accessibility of all varieties of goods here make it more similar in that sense to the States, especially when compared to Papua New Guinea. For example, many American chains have made it down here, such as Home Depot, which we have found VERY handy so far. There are also a lot of grocery stores with a much larger variety of items than we used to be able to find in Papua New Guinea. Entertainment options abound with movie theaters showing the latest US blockbusters, bowling alleys, and all kinds of other recreational actives. You name it, its probably here. (Speaking of entertainment, at many of the traffic lights down here, there is often some form of entertainment happening in the middle of the road while you wait for your light… the most entertaining of which has been juggling of flaming torches!)
It’s difficult to think of the ways that Mexico and Papua New Guinea are similar, but suffice to say they are both foreign to us compared to our American home, and that alone forces us to see them as somehow connected. They both have “strange” new ways of doing things (strange in a foreign sense, not necessarily negative). There is still a sense you feel of having your world turned “upside down” a bit as you have no idea what the “proper” way is to do things here. Especially since a few of the things we are SUPPOSED to do here are things we were NEVER allowed to do in PNG! So crazy to adjust too..I will say though, and again this is superficial only at this point, neither Mexico or Papua New Guinea is as orderly as the United States, and neither have the “well-oiled” infrastructure that we have in the US. The United States, even with all of its problems, is still very developed and very structured.
Regardless of all the surface similarities and differences, it has been nice to get to know just a few new Mexican friends, which has revealed to us yet again, that at a human level, foreign language, culture and upbringing aside, people are people with values, cares and concerns just like anyone else. This makes it easier to begin to relate.
A Fresh Start
While transition is always difficult, there is also always a lot to be thankful for. And with all the challenges, there are upsides to change if we can see them. When we feel overwhelmed by certain stressors, we do our best to focus on all we have to be thankful for!
On our way down here to Mexico, we stopped in to see our friend’s Dave & Irene who have a super encouraging ministry of care and hospitality for missionaries. While with them, Dave gave us an illustration that I thinks fits our transition to Mexico very well.
A number of years ago, as part of their ministry, Dave & Irene built a beautiful log home that serves as a missionary retreat center. While the place is beautiful, Dave shared with me that having gone through the work of building it, now years later he has seen that he would do some things differently if he had the chance to build again. He learned a lot through the building of it, and to be certain, it has made him a more thoughtful builder for the future.
As discouraging and difficult as our transition from Papua New Guinea to Mexico has been, there are many upsides. Yes, we had to leave Papua New Guinea, but we GET to live in Mexico. We did not complete our second foreign language we had been diligently learning, but we GET to learn Spanish. We left behind friendships, but we GET to build new relationships. We lost our avenue of service in PNG, but we GET to participate in a new ministry here. We had so many experiences in Papua New Guinea, good, bad and ugly, but they have all made us who we are here and now in Mexico.
Not every missionary GETS to restart. Its been hard, but this suffering has also given us wisdom and insight that we would never have had before, and we are grateful. It is a second chance to rebuild, to start fresh, to incorporate those things the Lord taught us in the past into our new endeavors in the present. Because of what we believe about how God uses hardships in our lives to conform us into the imagine of Christ, we know that God has used what we have been through, and is continuing to use it, to draw us closer to Himself and to make us more useful servants of Him. For this, we have every reason to be so thankful to the Lord for this privilege He has given us.
As we attempt to wisely draw from our experiences in the past, and as we will certainly make new mistakes, the Lord who transcends culture is the same faithful God no matter where we live and serve, and it is a privilege to spend our lives being a part of what He is doing around the world.
By the way, as an end note to this blog, I just want to say again how faithful the Lord has been to our family through every step of this transition. He has blown our minds again and again with His lovingkindness. He has provided everything we have needed every step of the way, not just in a financial sense, but emotionally and spiritually, especially in our darkest moments. We have never had a moment where we felt abandoned by Him, and we know in a deeper sense how trustworthy and how dependable He really is. He has been unbelievably good to us and we sincerely feel blessed to not only know and walk with Him but to continue to say thank to Him the only way we know how, by laying our lives down for His use. May His goodness be as real to you this coming year as it has to us over this past year.
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Ps 34.8