Me: “Apparently, I don’t know how to tie a bow.”
Ashley: “Oh…” (The lack of words conveyed the mix of surprise and concern in her voice.)
This was a snippet of a phone conversation I had with my sister my first week of work at the chocolate shop. Let me add that I’ve been tying bows my whole life! Something else I didn’t know is that, according to Farlex Dictionary of Idioms, the English language has an idiom “to tie up in a bow.” (Am I the only one who doesn’t know this expression?)
It means “to take care of, finish, or resolve something fully and completely in a way that is satisfying or pleasing.” I suppose that is fitting as that is the end result of tying a beautiful, perfect bow…where the satiny side is up, textured side down, both bottom pieces are facing the same direction–again, keeping the satiny side up–is tight enough so that it will not move around, and everything is equally proportioned.
This is one of many examples of feeling incompetent in a new situation, as exciting and fun as the setting can be and as grateful as I am for the position. It’s timely, though, because this is exactly what happens to those who move to a new country with a different language and culture from their own. I can speak from firsthand experience that incompetence is part of the daily routine in a new cross-cultural setting! I suppose it’s apropos for me, then, to be in a situation where I can relate to those I’m coaching.
And yes, I’m coaching! The couple I mentioned in my last post did move to Africa–praise God!–and we have had two sessions already. I’m also coaching my friend who’s learning Thai and meeting with my mentor weekly and doing the coursework. The unit I’m currently working on is coaching adult learners, and this very issue–the need for adults to feel competent–is addressed!
I’m having to adjust a lot with so many new things and so much to learn, but I am incredibly grateful for each role I’ve stepped into in this season. We all know that feelings of incompetence are not just for cross-cultural learners, but can greet us even in our hometown (as I’m being reminded)! Not sure if you may be facing similar situations that tug at your emotional strength? If so, I’ll include you in my own personal pep talk: may the Lord be the security we need in humbling circumstances, whatever our location or life stage. May He tie all of our loose ends up in a bow so that when we’ve made it through the trials, we will be stronger and more like Him because of it. Ooh–feeling “pleased and satisfied” how that all came together…assuming I used it correctly, ha ha! 😉
Last week was an exciting week as I launched into coaching! This calls for a huge thank you for those who have prayed for this as I’ve had several answered prayers that allowed for me to start sooner than I expected.
My first learner is a dear friend and coach herself, who is an intermediate Thai learner. Even though she could coach herself, she values the role of a coach and is game to take the role of a coachee. As thrilled as I am to coach her and am learning so much already, I needed a beginner level learner for the coursework. I’m thrilled to write that the Lord provided a couple going to Rwanda this August! We met last Wednesday, and they’d like to begin hopefully in August, depending on their leave date. In the meantime, my instructor/mentor gave me a case study to work on, and we met last Thursday to talk about it. It went really well!
I’ve been memorizing Psalm 20, and verse 4 states “May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!” Just to be clear, I don’t believe this guarantees us getting whatever we want in life; but I did feel like each session I prepared for and each person I met with last week was playing out Psalm 20 in my life. Please pray that I will continue to seek the Lord first and have His desires and be mindful of His plans. I pray that for you too!
Okay, now I’m off to the chocolate shop for my first day on the job. Stay tuned… 🙂
I said I’d need to explain the coaching, so here goes:
Often when I talk about language/culture coaching, I am met with blank stares or questions. A Language/Culture Coach can look differently in different contexts; but I’m interested in helping those–specifically missionaries–who are moving to a new country learn that language and culture so they can be successful and remain on the field.
Moving to a new country is a major event! If someone is moving to a location that speaks a different language, basic skills like speaking and listening are no longer possible! Let’s pause to let that sink in. Basically every area of life is going to be impacted and hindered–not just practically, but also socially and relationally.
The reason that missionaries even dare leave behind their family, friends, comforts, and all that is familiar is for the sake of relationship. Ultimately they want to introduce others to Jesus whose relationship allows people to then get to know God the Father…and let’s not leave out the Holy Spirit who helps reveal Jesus and births the life that is meant to be continually relating to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I started to apologize for the theological detour, but no way! .
Imagine going through the blood, sweat, and tears (mostly figurative ) it takes to learn a second language to be able to at least communicate even if there is embarrassment or struggle. If that were the only hurdle! Language, however, is intricately tied to culture. When we don’t understand the culture of a group of people, we can master the linguistics but fail to communicate–or worse, send messages of arrogance or disinterest. This, of course, closes people off rather than cultivating relationships. As a coach, one of my roles is to help the learner understand where culture plays into their experiences, relationships, communication, and language-learning so that they can be effective in their mission.
While Jesus supersedes us on so many levels, He Himself is our perfect example. He humbled Himself to become not just man, but first a baby, unable to talk. He developed His skills which thankfully do come much more naturally as an infant and child as He learned Aramaic; but He still went through the language acquisition process. He absorbed the culture of the Bible because this was where He lived and what He experienced on a daily basis. Olive branches, mustard seeds, farming, fishing, sheep–He grew up with these; so He could communicate with the people of Israel because He spoke the language and knew how to relate to them culturally. He could also beautifully relate to and bring the Gospel to those outside of his home culture despite the cultural and linguistic challenges, which is the precise role of a missionary.
Even if we were all language gurus and culturally savvy and sensitive to perfection, there is another element that language/culture coaching can address. Cross-cultural living presents situations and needs that don’t exist or at least look very different from those in our home country.
Living in a different culture can be exciting and rewarding, but by nature it is stressful and depleting. The constant change and different ways of thinking, understanding, and communicating put more demand on everyday tasks, making it difficult to identify the stress.
Though not an exhaustive list and maybe a bit repetitive, a coach helps the learner identify their language needs, sets realistic goals, and helps them to stick to or adjust the goals. (S)he can help them locate resources and discern which ones are suitable for the learner at a particular time. A coach can help the learner recognize obstacles or challenges and how to address them and encourage the learner each step of the way. A coach is a fan and source of support, praying for and with the learner. A coach may help the learner identify cross-cultural stress when it is not obvious. These are just a few examples because people’s situations are complex, and each unique person in a particular ministry context will offer its own set of possibilities.
For this reason, I believe that every missionary could benefit from a language/culture coach! My desire is to come alongside missionaries who are preparing to move to (and sometimes already in) a new country with a new language and new culture. I also believe that short-termers would benefit from a coach, but that’s another article for another time. 🙂
Since I last wrote, things have been busy! To calm the suspense, I did get a car. :). I also unexpectedly joined St. Michael’s staff to help assist with the livestream, right in time for Christmas. Talk about a major learning curve! There’s still so much to learn, but we now have an A/V team, yay! I’m making progress and have enjoyed getting to serve the Church in a very different capacity than I have in the past.
As mentioned last post, I taught French at an elementary school this past year. Something that was reiterated this year is that I cannot pursue coaching while I teach. Teaching takes so much time and energy; and the coaching got put on the back burner. As it turned out, the coaching course I mentioned in a previous post wasn’t ready for winter/spring; so I’ve enrolled for the summer. In case it isn’t obvious, I did not renew my teaching contract for next year.
With the long-term goal of officially moving into the language/culture coaching role and resuming missionary status, I decided to make a few lifestyle changes to help set me up for the transition. First, the Lord provided a roommate and apartment to help reduce living costs. Second, He provided a second part-time job so that I don’t have to teach, but will allow me time and energy to devote to the coaching coursework and coaching.
That’s where the chocolate comes in. Starting July, I will be working at my favorite local French chocolate shop and patissier. If you’re in Charleston, come see me! I don’t get free chocolate, but would love to see you! I’m excited and looking forward to this new season, though there are still many unknowns. I would appreciate prayers both for SAMS and me as we discern possibilities–whether internally or elsewhere–for me to coach in the future.