Lives on Loan:
The Importance of Christian Stewardship
We never will learn to like onions if we never try to eat them...
Nobody Told Me They Have Onions
by Judy Lytle
Many years ago, a friend took his family to a drive-in
hamburger restaurant. The middle daughter, probably about six or seven at the time, insisted on ordering onion rings. Her mom and dad warned her she might not like them, reminding her she didn’t really like onions and had never tried onion rings. Nothing convinced her to change her mind, however, so they ordered the onion rings for her. When the food arrived, her parents noticed she was quiet, and her food sat before her uneaten. “Donna, what’s wrong?” they asked. With tears in her eyes, Donna replied, “Nobody told me they had onions in them.”
Shock to the System
New missionaries often say something similar about cross-cultural adaptation. We all study about culture shock and adapting to a new, radically different culture. It is firmly implanted in our heads. Anyone who asks about our new place of ministry receives an enthusiastic litany of details. We memorize facts about population, climate, language, and religion. We know all the data and statistics, and can’t wait to jump into our new ministry. But, when we get there, we find onions in everything! Even though we, like Donna, were warned, we really were not expecting it. What’s more, we genuinely don’t like onions.
Onions pop up in unexpected places and incredible ways. The language is difficult; we don’t understand why they have to use so many different verb tenses. The people we were prepared to embrace begin to irritate us. Why do they have to play music so loudly and at 1:00 a.m.? Even the Christians want to know all our business and have peculiar ways of doing things.
The weather is never good. It’s either too cold or too hot. It rains too much or not at all. The food is not to our liking, offensive to our palate, and we can’t understand what everyone else thinks is so great about it. Our missionary coworkers get on our nerves. We miss family and friends. Onions, onions, onions! Sure, we knew all this before we left the good old U.S.A. Somehow, though, it is different when we live it day in, day out. Suddenly, cultural adaptation is not just words on a page in a mission textbook. It’s real life.
The Best Advice
What can we do? The answer is simple: learn to like onions. It may take some time, but little by little our likes can change if we let them. We never will learn to like onions if we never try to eat them. The same goes with cultural adaptation. Until we get in there and make ourselves learn the language, enjoy the food, and appreciate the people, we won’t adapt. We will just continue to complain about the onions. To be an effective missionary, we must adapt. Until we do, we cannot be of full service to God and to the ministry to which He has called us.
I could write a book about cultural adaptation. However, when a plate of onion rings is set down in front of a new missionary, would he remember what he read? I doubt it. Sure, training and preparation are vital; but when it comes right down to it, my best advice is learn to like onions!
About the Writer: Judy Lytle and her husband Steve currently serve at the Bible institute in Chame, Panama. For more information about the Lytles visit www.fwbgo.com/lytle.