I think one of the hardest things about coming back to America for some time can be summed up in the handshake. If you are American, then you've probably at some point in your life been taught how to shake a hand properly. Grab the hand firmly and look them right in the eye. You want to show everyone you are confident, self-assured, independent and strong. No wet noodle or fish handshakes allowed, those are only for the wimps, the cowards, the weak. Make sure you make a good first impression. We are taught to shake hands when we meet someone for the first time or when we haven't seen them in a long time perhaps, and you need that handshake to define the relationship, to prove that my handshake is as firm as your, I'm as strong as you are. Things are a little different here. Every time someone comes to our house they expect to be greeted with a handshake or a hug. It doesn't matter if they just came over yesterday. You still shake their hand today. And rarely do you get someone who will over squeeze your hand. And after the handshake you can keep holding hands as you finish up your greetings and inquiries about the family, etc... Actually you don't even have to actually shake the hand, you barely have to touch, but just enough to say that I'm with you, I see you, you are welcome. Greetings in this culture are so important, people are important, time with people are important. Things will still eventually get done but not at the cost of relationship, they will get done because of relationship. Everywhere you go there are people, walking up and down the street, whenever I go shopping in the market I have to take time greeting the people who are selling me their fruits and vegetables. Whenever I see someone I know, I must take the time to greet them. To touch my hand to theirs. Or they will wonder, why have I refused to greet them. Am I proud that I think I don't need them? So coming from this culture of greeting, community, relationships and going to the american culture of strength and independence can be really hard. Do you realize that in america I can spend the whole day without even talking to anyone outside of my now house? Not just staying at home, because you can do that in any culture, but I can go the supermarket, I can go to the car in my garage, go to the super market, buy everything I need, checkout at a machine. And come back home all without having to talk to anyone. I have never gone to the market here without talking. I don't think it's even possible. Well...maybe possible, but people wouldn't be very happy about it. First I have to greet them, then I have to ask how much tomatoes are today, because it can change from day to day depending on what's in season.
It's hard stateside because people who we love are too busy, and we can even take a month to try to get together because of their busy schedule and then if we are lucky enough to get a meeting with them, they probably only have one hour or two hours or 30 minutes, and if they tell you they only have 15 minutes, then that's all they will give you. There are even some we failed completely to arrange a meeting in the 5 months we were stateside the other time. I know, crazy right? Well maybe not crazy to you, but crazy to us who are so used to taking time with people. Here we never know how many people we might be serving supper to. And we have to be ready with tea any time, because we want our visitors to feel welcome. And we get people who just stop by. People who just want us to pray for them or counsel them. Then we go back to the states. We know no one else is coming for dinner unless we invited them. We know that no one is just going to stop by and say hi. We know unless we work hard to schedule meetings with people we won't meet with anyone.
That is why, even though we are so excited to be back stateside to see the people we love and to share what God is doing in and through us, we are also a little nervous and hesitant, because to be honest, it's hard. And to top that off, many people think while we are stateside we are on vacation, and yet for me, personally, it's the most challenging part of the work that we do. One, just the living in a different culture (How do you really choose one loaf of bread from the million options?) it is hard, then there's the asking people for money, not only the asking, but finding new people to ask, because, heck I've lived in a different world for 6 years and rarely have chance to meet new Americans, and if I do meet them, rarely do I have a chance to build a relationship with them.
I hope this doesn't sound like complaining, I'm not trying to complain. I'm just trying to express myself, to put down all these scattered thoughts in my head about why I'm hesitant to travel in just 10 days when I have so much to look forward to. Anyway, so if you managed to read this, because let's be realistic, many are too busy to read this, but if you managed, thank you for taking the time. And if you are willing to spend a little more time to pray for us as we transition to a different world and a different part of our work that can cause added stress, thank you. And if it's hard on me, imagine how hard it is on Ruudy who was born and raised and lived the last 30 years in this culture. And if I happen to see you, don't be afraid to give me a wet noodle or fish handshake, because I might just give you one too. And it might just communicate to me that I'm in this with you, I'm here for you. And that might be just what I needed to know.