For Where your Treasure is, There Will be Your Heart Also

The idea of “culture shock” is often discussed among those who go abroad, particularly for the first time.  I’m not sure I agree with the idea that people become overwhelmed by new customs and ways of life, because I think any new situation can be stressful, whether in a new country or not.  It can be very interesting, though, to think about what truly is home, and what matches your own culture.  Culture is composed of a wide variety of experiences, values, and interactions, and even changes over time.
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My sister and I have the same culture, whether we’re in London or Casablanca.  Also, we’re good at matching our outfits.
In my workplace in Morocco, there are a lot of teachers who grew up overseas as missionary kids and then went back to the US and attended Christian colleges in small towns, where they studied education.  Many of them talk about how they don’t consider the US to be “home,” and that they feel more comfortable in places that remind them of their childhoods, in most cases in Africa.  Some of them even consider themselves to be from countries such as Ethiopia or Togo (the difference, though, is that if they were really from those countries, they would never be able to get such a good job at an American school.  But that’s another issue!)
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Probably not very many missionary kids have fond memories of crossing roads.
I would say that the biggest shock for me here in terms of culture is the fact that my coworkers are American, same as me, but didn’t grow up with my same values and culture.  I grew up in the United States, but always had friends from all over the world; in grade school most of my friends had parents who had immigrated to the US, from Germany, Italy, China, Canada, and Taiwan, and in college I lived in an international dorm and had friends from Egypt, Pakistan, and Japan.  I’ve grown up with a liberal point of view and a willingness to accept other beliefs and ways of life. I think of the opportunities I’ve had to meet people from many countries and many religions as the most valuable aspect of my education, and think of America as a country where every nationality and religion can be represented.
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We’re diverse, and we take photos at cool angles.
Identity is surely a confusing thing for those who grew up as “third culture kids.”  But isn’t identity confusing for everyone?  I’m always happy to learn about ways of life different from my own, and find it fascinating that my workplace is such a home of missionary kids.  I don’t always feel at home with that particular group of people, but I’m trying to see it as another opportunity to increase my understanding of the world.  And to my MK friends, don’t forget that you don’t have to grow up in Africa to have interesting experiences!
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This elephant grew up in Africa (and he’s not afraid of crossing the road!)
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MKs and Committed Knitters

The term “MK” sounds a whole lot like some sort of weapon, but in this context it actually means Missionary Kids.  Before coming to my current job, I had never met a missionary or the child of one.  I always thought of missionaries as ignorant people, kind of in the category as colonizers; people who come to an “uncivilized” population and try to convince people to be more like white men.  Missionary work also conjured images of religious fanatics knocking on doors and telling people they have to convert if they want to be saved.  However, I gained a new perspective on this profession from my roommate here, who grew up in Congo and Cameroon while her parents set up churches there.  The way she explained their work to me, it actually sounded a whole lot like what my mom does, but with knitting and crocheting instead of with Christianity.

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I bet this makes you want to wear hand-knit sweaters, too.

My mom goes to a women’s prison once a week to introduce the inmates to the world of knitting.  Whoever wants to participate can, so no one is ever forced to take part, but the group grows as the women tell their friends about it.  These women would otherwise have no exposure to the wide world of fiber arts, and it helps give them something wholesome to do and a project to accomplish.  If they are successful, they have a finished product to wear or give as a gift, and they continue to spread the word of crocheting by wearing what they made.

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I made this scarf as my first project as crocheter.

My roommate described her father’s work in a similar way.  He goes to an area where there is no organized or monotheistic religion, and starts by making contacts in the local population and telling them about Christianity without forcing them to do anything.  Hopefully, someone chooses to convert, and then becomes a sort of spokesperson, telling his friends about his experience.  Once the group grows, they create a church and bible school, which gives people a place to come and participate or even lead classes and services, a community to support them, and a connection to a global community.  If they leave their home country, they can connect with Christians elsewhere in the world.

I still wasn’t convinced that missionary work makes any sense after my roommate described it to me, so I asked someone from sub-Saharan Africa what he thinks of it.  I wondered what he thinks of white missionaries in Africa or in his own country.  I was a bit surprised to hear that he is very much in favor of missions.  He explained to me that he thinks that if you have a good experience with the church and feel that God has guided you in life and has given you support, both within yourself and because of a religious community, then it is natural to want to share that experience with other people who have not yet had the opportunity to be exposed to it.  For some people, that experience of personal fulfillment and the sense of community centers on a church, the bible, and word of God.  And for others, it centers on Ravelry.com, Weekend Knitting, and being warm in the winter.

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My personal calling in the world of fiber arts is that of a model.