Last month, Tom and I spent a week in Colorado Springs at EMI’s Orientation for new staff and interns. We flew in early one Sunday morning, enjoyed our reading and coffee (the things you can do when you don’t fly with a lap child!), and nervously/ambiguously shared with a woman sitting next to us that we were traveling for “work.” (!!)
Our itinerary for the week was packed full of seminars, discussions, and other learning activities. As someone who has scored highly on “input” from the strengths finder, I absolutely loved it. (Input basically means that you have a craving to always learn more. If you know me personally, I’m sure that makes sense!) Some of the topics that we covered during all of this drinking from a fire hydrant intake were: cross cultural training, asking ourselves “what is good mission?” and being challenged in our thinking about poverty relief, the theologies of risk and of suffering, emotionally healthy ministry, some nuts & bolts about joining staff, working through our individual life stories (and as new staff, presenting them to the entire office at the end of the week), and much more.
If I had to narrow it down to my top seminars from the week, then my first pick would be EMI’s CEO John Dallman’s talk on “Who is EMI? – Future: Where are we headed?” The visionary in me was completely soaking it all in as he cast his vision for EMI and their goals for the next 5 and 10 years. And while I’m of course excited to hear about EMI’s goals and it’s encouraging to see how much the organization has grown even in the last 5 years, I think what I most valued that night was the confidence that I gained in our leader. As we won’t be working in the US/Global offices (two different offices, but both housed in the same physical office in Colorado Springs), our opportunity for face-to-face connection with our sending office (the US office) is limited. Tom and I felt such encouragement and support as we step into the ministry of EMI by getting to hear from the CEO and hear his enthusiasm and vision. It’s not like we weren’t already, but we became even more excited about the intentional, strategic, and Kingdom-minded work of EMI.
My other top pick from the week is something that I actually wrestled with as we learned it. During one of the cross cultural seminars, they led us through the learning activity of listening to a short story called “Morning in Cairo.” The story was about an American businesswoman’s morning told from her perspective. Her morning consisted of interactions with her driver, her assistant, a fellow businessman, and some guys at a coffee shop. All of the interactions were cringe-worthy as this woman sank further and further into unmet expectations through awkward cultural communications (think: indirect vs. direct styles of communicating) and a misunderstanding of cultural norms in Cairo. As a listener, I felt sorry for her and I felt frustrated by the way those interactions were handled, definitely on the defense for the American woman.
We listened to this story story at the beginning of our cross-cultural training. During these seminars we defined culture, discussed our expectations, studied how Jesus did ministry, and located where we stand and where our EMI office’s country (for us, Uganda) stands on the spectrums of individualism vs. collectivism, direct vs. indirect communication, schedule orientation vs. event orientation, to name a few. It wasn’t until we wrapped up our cross cultural training that our seminar teachers brought us back that morning in Cairo. They read to us the same morning and the interactions, but all told from the local perspective (the driver, assistant, businessman, and guys). Needless to say, the American woman had crossed more cultural norms than was realized. Her own frustration and lack of fulfillment with her day was nothing in comparison to the mess and offense she had created (unbeknownst to her!). Several of those relationships now barely hanging by strings and she was in way over her head.
As much as it was satisfying to hear both sides of the short story, I ended that day also feeling a little anxious. Anxious because I am probably not that far off from the woman in the story. I’m know I’m full of Western ways of thinking and I’m sure I will blunder a bit as we navigate a new culture. After this week at orientation, I saw our upcoming steps of cross cultural living to be a bit more challenging than I realized. And most importantly, I saw a need of dependence upon God and listening to the leading of His Spirit as we live cross culturally. Thankfully, my anxiety recedes when I think about how the Spirit is always with us as believers, and I can rest in gratitude for God’s gracious provision to us. Our family certainly has a big task ahead of us with our move, and we follow the One who can meet all of our needs, including the need to lay down some of our cultural norms and take on new eyes as we form relationships.