Jenny Knox serves with us in Sweden. She recently wrote this post for another Cru publication and when Victoria read it she thought it would be great to share with you. I agree. She really captures what it means to live as we do cross culturally. Enjoy.
My Contact Lenses
So at every STINT briefing (Short Term INTernational), they warn you about “stint goggles”- the idea that you will go overseas single and become attracted to someone on your team that you would never otherwise even think about dating. It’s not that this person won’t be a great individual, but you’re on STINT, you’re options are limited and this person is passionate about Jesus, so of course, you will think it’s a great idea.
I think ICS (Cru’s term for long term overseas) is more like mono-vision contact lenses. Basically, the way they work is that in one eye, your contact lets you see distance, and in the other eye, the contact functions as reading glasses for things close up. But the cool thing is that our brains work in such a way, that you don’t even notice unless you cover one eye.
So in a sense, I now have an “American contact lens” and a “Sweden contact lens” and most days they blend together into a comprehensive, though broader picture of the world, both are part of my “life” and it works…
For example, every American, or at least every southerner knows what to do in warm weather. And every Swede knows what to do in below freezing temperatures. I read an article by a North Caroline news channel during the recent cold snap and laughed at their advice on how to deal with cold weather because the Sweden part of me knows that in cold weather (and snow) you just put on your jacket, get on your bike and go wherever you were heading regardless. So now with my contact lenses, I’m good with both hot and cold weather and it works.
Or, how I now see both places as home- it’s easy to be there, comfortable and I like it. But at the same time neither place feels like home. In America, it’s loud, I don’t know why we need 20 kinds of bacon, and we clap. A lot. In Sweden, there’s almost always a rule for everything and I don’t know them. Or I meet with a student and tell her I’m going to pick up “Turkey,” the country rather than the food. Something like that happens on a daily (or hourly) basis because the moment I leave my room I could need to speak Swedish. I have two homes and yet I’m always a foreigner- but it works.
Or people… there are people in both places that I love and care deeply about, that I miss when I’m not wherever they are. And as long as I live here I will bounce back and forth- always being away from people I love. It’s not just that they are people who are part of my life and then I move and make new friends. They are people that are part of my life and I bounce back and forth. And yet, I’m never really understood by either group- there is always a part of me, a part of my life, that doesn’t compute or requires a lot of explanation and to be honest some days I just don’t want to explain any more. And so there is a third group of people- the other people who have contact lenses like me- maybe theirs read “America/Germany” or “America/Lebanon.” But they get it- they are also contact wearers and there isn’t as much explaining, but then I miss them too.
And then, there are the things that I close one eye on and see through only one contact lense…
Through my America “contact” I see things like: country ham- It will never be a part of my Sweden world (unless is comes in the mail and is savored for days), or college sports- specifically basketball, there is nothing comparable here and try as I might my roommates will still ask, “Wait, they show university sports on TV? Who cares?” and yet I love it and will get up at 3am for the UNC-Duke game!
Through my Sweden contact lens, I see that it’s only natural that children would dress up like cute witches on Easter and go around asking for candy. Or that having a “cozy” environment or evening, even if you are two dudes watching a movie, is one of the highest values and to be sought after. Or that having discipleship in the forest while picking mushrooms will lead to a more honest conversation than you might otherwise have.
But mostly, I love that the gospel is fuller and Christ is bigger because I get to see through both contacts lenses. Just small examples, but because I have an American lens, I see how important and Biblical it is that we value individuals’ uniqueness and God’s design in creating us differently in ways. We can, and should, rejoice over this because He loves to be creative and express his creativity. I also see that Jesus wasn’t afraid of strong words and as his followers we are called to speak boldly and yet graciously. I am reminded that I need to be willing to speak boldly about truth to non-believers and believers as well.
Because I have a Sweden lens, I understand more what it means to spend time with people and to enter into their lives. To spend hours together with nowhere else to be and to have a more practical example of what it means to be “with” others as Christ is “God with us.” Also, I understand on a whole different level what it means that Jesus is the light of the world. I thought I understood that before, but living in a city where it can be dark for 18 hours a day- light makes a difference-it changes everything. Every year you are reminded how important light is because in the winter you never really see clearly and then the sun begins to come back and it peeks out from behind a cloud and people stop in the street. They turn their faces towards the sun and enjoy. Christ is that light and living here I see more clearly what it means to turn my heart to Him.
The point with any kind of contacts is to help you see better, that you see more clearly with them than without. I hope and pray that becomes more and more true with my contacts. I love my contacts lenses. I like that I get to see the world through these lenses (and probably always will). There are plenty of days when it’s hard, when I’m tired of Sweden and when I’m tired of America. There are plenty of bittersweet tears when I miss people, and then I remember that Jesus also had contact lenses- his read more like “God/man.”
I can’t begin to imagine the “culture shock” He experienced. I wonder if those moments in the gospels when he says things like “Where is your faith?” and when he weeps over Jerusalem, if He was wishing those around him could see through his God contact lens? Or on the beach cooking those fish after his resurrection, I wonder if he was reveling having a man contact. I know my contacts don’t even begin to compare. But I am so thankful that he chose to come to earth and wear them.