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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner


The emergence of humor often marks the beginning of recovery. We begin to laugh at our predicaments and crack jokes about the people instead of criticizing them. We begin to sympathize with others who we think are worse off than ourselves. Although we may still take a superior attitude, we are beginning to learn new cultural ways.

How we relate to the people and culture at this stage is particularly crucial, for the patterns of adjustment we form here tend to stay with us. If we develop positive attitudes of appreciation and acceptance of the host people, we have laid the foundations for learning their culture and becoming one with them. On the other hand, if we remain negative and aloof, chances are that we will remain foreign and never identify ourselves with the nationals. And since we are models of the gospel for these people, it, too, will appear to them as distant and foreign.

Not only is our first year, indeed our first month, crucial in molding our lifelong relationship to a culture, it is also the time when we are most adaptable to it. We have few preconceptions of what we should do and a strong idealism that has motivated us to come. Since we have not yet settled into comfortable routines that blind us to what is going on, we are willing, at this stage, to identify closely with the people and make their culture our own. In this sense, culture shock is not simply an experience to be endured. As the Brewsters point out (1982), it is, in fact, one of the most significant and formative periods in our whole missionary experience. To use their term, it is a time when we are "bonded" in one way or another to the new culture. Paul Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries

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