Diary of a missionary: One year on and so many changes

Just over a year ago our family of five moved to Santiago, Chile, to serve as CMS missionaries. Previously I’ve written about our journey hereand here. It occurs to me that I’ve been putting off writing, because I didn’t know where to start. From the moment we stepped off the plane we’ve faced changes and challenges at every turn. Welcome to Santiago!

How can I even begin to list the things that are different here? We drive on the righthand side of the road and all the cars are lefthand drive. You have to be careful which way you look before you step off the curb! The common greeting is a kiss on the cheek (a detail I love because it provides the opportunity to get up close and personal with friends and strangers alike!). The main meal is lunch, which can be a full three courses, and dinner is more of a snack. Actually many people don’t eat dinner, they eat once—a snack comprised of tea, bread, avocado, eggs, and cake if you’re lucky. The money is different, the milk is all UHT (ugh!) and school starts at 7:45AM.

Although some have been frustrating, I have found most of these cultural differences fascinating. I love observing how people act and speak. I ask my poor friends so many questions: How do you say X? Is it rude to do Y? Did he do that because he likes it or is it a Chilean thing? I also like to peek inside our apartments’ recycling cupboard, just to see what kind of things people buy (mostly pizza and soft drinks in case you were wondering). I’m thankful for our training at St Andrew’s Hall which taught me to be a learner and observer of culture. As a result it’s been a joy to experience Chilean life.

But Spanish. Google says it’s one of the easiest languages for an English-speaker to learn. Well, if this is easy then I pray all the more for my brothers and sisters learning Mandarin and Arabic! Language is socore to how we express ourselves and interpret the world around us. Not being able to understand can be awkward, disorienting and alienating. Not being able to speak is frustrating and embarrassing.

I’ve gone from being a minister’s wife, friend and mentor, to being a quiet observer and a student. My Aussie friends would probably describe me as outgoing, funny (hilarious), talkative and someone who always has an opinion. Yet I would forgive my new friends for thinking I’m quiet, clumsy and a little bit simple! At times this has been incredibly frustrating as I’ve lost the ability to make small talk or welcome a newcomer at church.[1] Yet at times it’s been freeing to sit back and listen during a Bible study, feeling no pressure to participate more than I am able. I can see the body of Christ at work and it’s OK that I’m the appendix.

Chile is changing me. I’m learning that it’s OK to sit quietly and awkwardly and not know what to say. I’m learning that it’s important to get out there and show up, even when you’re just going to feel uncomfortable. I’m learning what it means to serve Jesus when so many of my skills and capabilities have been stripped away. Even when I can’t do much for him, even when I do so much less than before, it’s OK because he’s in control. If I look at all that I can’t do, I begin to wonder why we’re here, but when I look to him I don’t doubt his purposes. So I think I can say that, after a year like no other, I trust him more.

I’ve changed a bit, but not that much. I’m still a child of God and a follower of Jesus. I still battle against greed at the shops and impatience when I’m tired. I still struggle and strive to devote myself to my kids and their growth in Christ. I still try to live my life for Jesus every day, waiting for the day that he returns.

It’s deeply comforting to know that when circumstances change, God does not. The many uncertainties and transitions of this past year have reminded me of his love and goodness, and his steadfast and unchanging character. I will change, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad, but he will remain the same yesterday, today and forever. What a joy to know that I can always cling to the Rock of Ages!

[1]Despite my lack of language skills I still try to be a welcomer. Even the weakest part of the body of Christ can serve!