We made it!
Tomorrow night will make one full week since arriving in Taiwan. We travelled about 32 straight hours to get from my parents’ house in Georgia to our new home in Hualien, Taiwan. During that trip we experienced no problems and were thankful to have a toddler who slept well on the planes and trains and has adjusted to jet lag even faster than her parents!
I’ve been in Taiwan twice previously, first for two weeks, then for a month. I don’t think I experienced any culture shock on either of those trips… I was a tourist, a visitor without strings attached, and I was swept away in the excitement of new experiences. Of course there were plenty of new and unusual things to adjust to, but I never felt overwhelmed by a desire to go back to the States or a sense of being out of place. So, coming to Taiwan this time, I figured I had a good three, six, maybe even nine months to enjoy life here before culture shock really set in.
They told us in training that culture shock will hit you when you least expect it, usually about things you don’t really even care about. For me, this has definitely been true. Shopping in the nearby supermarket I was panicking when I couldn’t find any women’s shaving cream… yes, it occurred to me that I could just buy the men’s or use soap, or any number of other reasonable alternatives, but between not being able to read the signs, find my husband, or ever feel “out of the way” of my fellow shoppers, I was close to a full-blown freak out. And that was on day three!
When God told us to come to Taiwan, he didn’t guarantee anything except His faithfulness. Our obedience isn’t rewarded with friendships, fluency, or easy cultural acclimation. I tried to be realistic before leaving the US, but honestly every time I pictured myself in Taiwan I was speaking Mandarin easily with lots of Taiwanese friends, seeing hearts open to orphaned children regularly. It requires a lot of trust for me to say, “Yes, Lord,” when our time here will initially often involve “trivial” day-to-day responsibilities and a lot (a lot, a lot, a LOT) of mistakes regarding things that the average Taiwanese person does correctly without a second thought.
When God told us to come to Taiwan, he didn’t guarantee anything except his own faithfulness. Our obedience isn’t rewarded with friendships, fluency, or easy cultural acclimation. I tried to be realistic before leaving the US, but honestly every time I pictured myself in Taiwan I was speaking Mandarin easily with lots of Taiwanese friends, seeing hearts open to orphaned children regularly. It requires a lot of trust for me to say, “Yes, Lord,” when our time here will initially often involve “trivial” day-to-day responsibilities and a lot (a lot, a lot, a LOT) of mistakes regarding things that the average Taiwanese person does correctly without a second thought.
Just before leaving the States, God put the word “power” in my heart and prayers. I thought God wanted me to pray for His power in our future ministry and our daily witness to those around us. Now, on the ground in Taiwan, there are moments where it’s hard to even think about how “power” relates to what we’re doing. Figuring out how to buy groceries, paying attention when people speak Chinese instead of letting others translate for me every time, getting Hosanna (and ourselves!) back on a regular sleep routine… these aren’t things I would usually even think to ask God to empower us for. They’re so… normal.
And I guess that’s part of my training from the Lord in these early days. I’ve learned how to live my normal, easy, comfortable life in the US without needing much of God’s power at all. I could rely on myself to plan our schedule, drive, ask questions, get directions, and make small talk. I knew when to wave while passing someone on the sidewalk, which direction to step aside if I was in someone’s way, and how to read people’s facial expressions. I certainly relied on the Lord in our ministry, but I had forgotten how to rely on His power for each moment, each breath. Now, I am out of step with the rhythm of life around me. I am constantly jostled by a new pace; nudged by this feeling that there’s something really simple that I can’t figure out. My new life fits on me like a shoe with a tiny pebble inside, and I am over and over again trying to kick it off, to return to my normal level of comfort.
This is where Jesus’ power breaks through. When I don’t want to take one more step in my pebbly shoe, Jesus promises His arm for me to lean on, to take some of the pressure off. When I am desperate to do it myself, to know what in the world is going on, and have some level of control, God says, “allow me.” And while it’s not always a fun learning process, I am truly grateful that God has not allowed me to continue through life in my comfort, relying on my own “power” to get through each day. As I learn to leave my independence behind, both culturally and spiritually, again and again I pray Psalm 23 which begins,
“The Lord is my Shepherd: I lack nothing.”
The good news about the ups and downs of culture shock for us is that there have been many, many “ups”! We’ve enjoyed delicious food and beautiful views, found the nearest breakfast shop we can walk to, practiced our Chinese at restaurants, grocery stores, church, doctors offices, and the market, and experienced the peace of God upon us as we settle in. We plan to wrap up orientation this week and begin language tutoring next week. The next few days will include a trip to Costco in the capital city of Taipei, a night market visit, and our first ever meal with all ingredients purchased and cooked by us with no help from other missionaries!
We greatly appreciate your ongoing prayers as we continue to learn the Taiwanese way of life. You can check out our most recent prayer requests on our Partner with Us page.
Praise God for His enduring faithfulness!