At the end of June, New Life sent Dan and Megan Eno –one of our youth ministers and his wife– and 7 New Life students on a 10-day mission trip to the Dominican Republic through CIY Engage. They were part of a 30-person team that included a youth group from Charlottesville and a handful of students from across the country. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be sharing Dan’s reflections from this trip. Here’s the first, where Dan talks about the culture shock he experienced:
Comfort zones. We all have them, and we all know what our own comfort zone looks like. I know how many new things I prefer to try before I want something familiar; I know how dense a crowd has to be for me to feel claustrophobic; I know how much responsibility I can carry before I feel like crumbling under the pressure. Unfortunately, God knows all those things, too, and something I’m learning more and more: God really enjoys pushing us out of our comfort zone. And our trip to the Dominican Republic was a perfect opportunity for God to give me a push…
God pushed me out of my comfort zone through the “culture shocks” we experienced. The Dominican capital city, Santo Domingo, is a tourist hot-spot with beach-front resorts equipped with all kinds of Western conveniences and comforts. I suspect an American could vacation there and not feel the slightest bit out of place. But we weren’t there for a vacation, we definitely we’re staying in a resort, and we DID feel out of place. The entire experience was one incredible series of culture shocks. We spent 10 days in the DR, and I experienced a different kind of culture shock every single day.
There were the “we’re not in Kansas anymore” kind of culture shocks, like the insane driving habits, the rules against flushing toilet paper, and the armed guards outside every major store. On top of everything else, most of us didn’t speak Spanish, so navigating the cultural differences was especially confusing.
There were the “holy cow, I couldn’t live like this!” kind of culture shocks, like the sparsity of A/C, the gross amounts of trash strewn about or piled up, and the surplus of night-critters. This short trip to the DR highlighted to me how much I take for granted, and how specific my idea of “normal” is.
There were the “wait, how do they live like this?” kind of culture shocks, like the barren classrooms at the public school we worked at and the level of poverty we saw both inside and outside Santo Domingo. We often had to encourage each other to “just keep smiling” and to “put on your Chick-fil-a face”; so many sights made us sad, but frowns and pity wasn’t going to help the people we were ministering to.
And then there were the “God, why do you allow this?” kind of culture shocks, like the wide-spread child prostitution we learned about, the leprosy colony we visited, and the orphans we got to spend time playing with. Those shocks made my heart ache, but also opened my eyes: I could think about the other culture shocks as “America-vs-DR” or “rich-vs-poor,” but I couldn’t categorize these issues. Maybe they aren’t “culture shocks,” but “humanity shocks.”
CIY had prepared us with basic DR info and trained us with mission-principles (like “God has been working in the DR long before this trip, and will be working there long after this trip”), but culture shock isn’t something you can prepare for. You can expect it, but you don’t really understand it until it’s staring you in the face. God used that culture shock to push me out of my comfort zone and help me realize: God isn’t shocked. He’s in control, He has a plan, and He wants to work through us, even when we feel completely out of place.
Have you experienced culture shock before? How has God used that to push your comfort zones in life? Share below.