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What Missionaries Ought to Know About Culture Stress

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What Missionaries Ought to know… does not mean that the author sat down and decided what missionaries ought to know, but that missionaries themselves asked about these topics. During the author's 35 years of college teaching, he learned that if one person asks a question, others probably want to know the same thing; if two people ask, the topic was certainly one that others need to know about. This article covers things missionaries need to know because several missionaries have asked about each of them at one time or another.

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You feel tired, anxious, discouraged, isolated, angry, and homesick but cannot think of any reason why you should feel this way. You have been on the field for several years, but these feelings always seem to be there–increasing and decreasing. You wonder what could be causing them. It could be culture stress. You may ask, “I know about culture shock, but what is culture stress?” What is the difference between culture shock and culture stress? What causes culture stress? What are its effects? What can be done about it? Can it be prevented? Let’s consider some of these questions.

What is culture stress?

Culture stress is the stress that occurs when you change to a different way of living in a new culture. It is what you experience as you move beyond understanding the culture to making it your own so that you accept the customs, becoming comfortable and at home with them. If you are trying to become a real part of the culture, to become bicultural, you are likely to experience culture stress as you assimilate some of the conventions to the point that they feel natural to you.

Of course, if you live in a “missionary ghetto,” you may experience little culture stress. Early modern missionaries often lived in compounds that were physically identifiable as missionary ghettos. Today, even though some missionaries live physically in a national community, they primarily have relationships with other missionaries. A missionary subculture may develop that becomes focused on itself and preoccupied with group concerns so that the missionaries experience little culture stress. Those trying to become an integral part of the national community are the ones who experience the greatest culture stress.

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