I was warned that it would come. Some say it seeps in slowly among the day to day and others say that it hits full force on an ordinary day upon awaking. I have been looking for it…wondering if it has found me already. I have prayed for mercy to handle it when it shows up at my door…that it would be joined with the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding. I have prayed that it would be a “soft” blow and not take me down full force. I have prayed and prayed and then the Spirit of God whispered to me…”It is here. And it is good.”
For most expats, “IT” carries the name “Culture Shock.”
For me, it also carries the name “Identity Stripping.”
This “shock and stripping” is a steady peeling back of layers and layers of “self.” It is a stripping of identities that have so desperately longed for a position and title, that have hung like a trophy on the wall of my heart demanding an audience. It is many deaths over and over again. Daily deaths of small identities that I didn’t even know held such importance in my life. This is where the word “shock” identifies with me. As I live in this new culture, I am “SHOCKED” at the challenges that get to me. The things that rub me wrong and the “sinful self” that too often rears its ugly head…even when my desire is to love the people of this country.
This stripping, although painful, is exactly where Christ wants me to be. It is part of the sanctifying process that must take place to bring me to a place of complete dependency on Him.
For the past 5 ½ months I couldn’t put a voice to my feelings. Emotions were everywhere (sometimes still are)! Busyness from setting up a house and learning a language and trying to understand aspects of culture and helping kids adjust well clouded my mind and heart. I was afraid to say what was going on inside of me as I didn’t know if it was “normal” for newbies on the mission field to feel like this. (I am thankful the Lord has put some special women in my life to dish out some wisdom about these emotions). Questions of “Why are we here?” began to creep in and the daily thoughts of “Oh my goodness, this is real life” lingered through my head. (Okay, they still do!) But just as constant as all of these things, the faithfulness and grace of my Savior has been there as well. He brings refreshment to my soul and peace in the stripping. He has been patient and full of compassion with me as He slowly peels back the layers that don’t belong. The fog of voicelessness is lifting and I am beginning to find a new voice. There will be ups and downs, times of shock and times of peace here. But I am learning what to do with all of the feelings that I don’t know how to handle. I am learning to lay them at His altar and trust Him with the outcome.
Here is my first attempt to share what the Lord has been doing. I pray that it will give you a glimpse into my heart…as well as encouragement wherever God has you right now.
We walked onto that plane almost 6 months ago. With tears in our eyes, we left behind us a world that we knew and hundreds of people that we love so well. Before the day of departure, we journeyed through 2 years of intense spiritual, mental, physical and financial preparation for the mission field. And even before that, the Lord was at work for many years preparing us through both hardship and triumphs to bring us to this point. Even after much preparation, we were in for a treat. Nothing really can equip you fully for being dropped into a new land where you don’t speak the language, understand the culture, know how to drive, have many friends, a church family, relatives to lean on, where hurt, death and poverty stare down your back yard and where every single time you walk outside you realize how completely different you are from everyone else.
This culture shock…or identity stripping… began the moment we stepped foot here in Dar es Salaam. These last 6 months there has been no physical suffering for me (well, maybe insane traffic, power cuts, water problems and minor inconveniences). But really, right now I am not afraid for my life like millions of Christ followers around the world who are being persecuted for their faith or the millions living in hellish conditions. I have clean water to drink, healthy food on the table, the ability to go to the doctor if we get sick, a closet full of clothes, a vehicle to get around in and faithful/generous people who stand with us day in and day out through prayer and financial support so that we can thrive here.) My physical suffering is SO very little. Yes, we are going without things, but I dare not call that physical suffering.
Nonetheless…The peeling away of those things that I labeled as “Identity” DOES come with emotional pain. I “used” to be a good photographer and I “used” to be a good decorator, and I “used” to be a good communicator, and I “used” to be known by many, and I “used” to have a pinteresty home, and I “used” to be fit, and on and on the list of MY accomplishments goes. I am not saying that these things are wrong. Yes, they were talents and desires that the Lord had given me, but I am realizing that they were wrongfully categorized and held a place in my life where they didn’t belong.
The Lord has been showing me these last 6 months that pain DOES come from laying down those “false identities” and that this is an aspect of “suffering” that He has called me to. He is not ripping away passions or interests, simply calling me to place my deepest passion in Him. Furthermore, He is teaching me the joy that comes from laying down the ways I once clung to in order to find my joy in Him alone.
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. Phil 3:8
Jesus has called me, and you (sister and brother in Christ), to lay everything at His feet. He calls every Christ follower to this suffering of laying down our own lives…our own identities…our own kingdoms for the sake of His. This will surely look different for all of us, but none of us are exempt. What does this look like for you? I encourage you to ask the Lord to begin to “strip” away what is not of Him. Ask Him to reveal the identities you have been clinging to. Maybe it involves work, or health, or finances, or material possessions, or relationships. Maybe it’s control issues or fear issues. I don’t know. But I DO know that when we consider everything as loss for the the sake of Christ, we will GAIN CHRIST. And that is the far better possession.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer expresses in THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP, “It is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering that everyone has to experience is the call which summons us away from our attachments to this world. It is the death of the old self in the encounter with Jesus Christ. Those who enter into discipleship enter into Jesus’ death.” Oh how the “American dream” goes completely against this. The call to suffer is not nearly as popular as the worlds call to success and happiness and earthly comforts.
I am learning after 30 years of being a follower of Christ that the beautiful process of sanctification is the ongoing little deaths of “self” that bring glory to Christ and make me more like Him. He is love. He is patience. He is goodness. He is kind. He is self controlled. He is wisdom and grace and full of mercy. He heals the sick and brings hope to the hopeless. He poured out Himself so that we may live. What amazing love this is. Sanctify me, Lord. Make me look more like this for your glory.
The challenging thing for me to wrap my head around is, even more so now that I am living here in Tanzania…is that EVERY BELIEVER is called to endure pain and suffering with JOY and THANKSGIVING and REJOICING.
- Romans 5:3– we rejoice in our sufferings
- James 1:2 – count it all joy when you meet trials
- 1 Peter 4:13 – rejoice in sharing Christ’s sufferings
- Acts 5:41 – they went out rejoicing that they suffered
- 2 Corinthians 12:9 – gladly boasting in weakness
- Philippians 2:17 – being poured out as a drink offering
- Colossians 1:24 – rejoice in suffering for your sake
- 1 Thessalonians 1:6 – you received the word in much affliction with joy
But what about those ALL around me living in incredible and unfathomable suffering? The families outside my wall that I look down on when I look out my window. The ones who sleep on dirt floors and walk far distances to get dirty water and can’t find work and don’t have education and have no money for a doctor for their sick child and wonder how they are going to feed their children today. What about those that are used for the sexual pleasure of evil people or are sold into slavery or are beaten daily or are…. THEY LIVE RIGHT OUTSIDE OF MY WALLS and I can’t turn a blind eye to them anymore.
What about them? What about the unjust suffering of millions? Are they also called to “REJOICE” in their suffering? To count it all JOY?
I have wrestled with this question here. I have asked the Lord the “why’s” and “how’s” of what I see and what He wants me to do. And the answer is always the same: Count yourself as LOSS so that others may know me. Take on my life. Suffer with me. Lay your insecurities at the foot of the cross and share the HOPE that you have. Be the voice in despair. Be the broken pot overflowing with my love. Tell people about me. Tell them of eternal salvation through faith in Christ. Tell the rich and the poor, the widow and the orphan, the broken and the seemingly “put together.” There is hope…and His name is JESUS.
Friends, this is NOT just in Tanzanian. This is all over the world, including where God has placed you today. It might look a bit different, but the hurting and the helpless (physically, spiritually, emotionally) right around you might just be calling out for help and HOPE. It is your neighbor, your coworker, the woman at the gym. It is the refugee that moved into your neighborhood and could really use a friend. It is the young girl who just found herself pregnant and the teenage boy who is struggling to stay clean on the streets. It is the friend who is struggling with addiction and the family who just lost a child. This world is full of suffering on every corner. May we open our eyes to where the Lord has us each day and lay down our lives (our time, our resources, our comforts) to share Christ with those around us. He brings healing. He brings restoration. He brings hope. Are we willing to “suffer” with Joy so that others can know Christ? (I am speaking this LOUDLY to myself as well.)
It is when we begin to count all things as loss (garbage) for the sake of Christ that we will know that the value of Christ surpasses all the things the world can offer. Now we see in part, but one day we will see in FULL.
In all of this brokenness, I am reminded through scripture that our troubles in this life are so temporal. They are “light and momentary” and they are achieving for us an eternal glory that FAR OUTWIEGHS them all. (2 Cor 4:17) Friends…we WILL share in His glory if we are found in Him.
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17)
I take great JOY in knowing that someday when all other “identities” are stripped away, I will stand in the highest identity that I can have, one that cannot be mustered up with talent or determination or gained with riches or material possessions. It is the identity that ONLY comes when we put our trust in Jesus Christ. And it is my true identity NOW. I am secure now as a daughter of the Most High. I am part of a royal priesthood….a holy nation found in Him. Will you join me in this journey of laying down our own agendas for His best plan? Will you rest with me in His sovereignty and allow Him to have His way with us? Will you suffer with JOY with me because of the hope set before us. The hope of eternal life?
Thank you Jesus!