by Laurie-Ann Copple
Line images by Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple, copyright 2021. They are from Colouring with Jesus 2, which is currently available in South Africa via Takelot.com
As missionaries, we have been warned about culture shock before we enter our mission field (whether on a short term mission, or a long one). There is also a reverse culture shock that comes as you return to your “passport country,” as some writers define your “home” country. After a while, your mission country feels like home. This happened with me on my first mission trip to Kenya. After an initial culture shock, I became so African in many ways, and sometimes forgot I was white. I felt ripped apart when I arrived back in my parents’ home in Toronto. It felt so boring, so flat, after the intensity and colour of Kenya. Kenya will always be my very first African country. I was also called “Ann” here rather than Laurie-Ann, and I gives me warm memories when other Africans (and the Pakistanis) call me by that name. I go by Rab’ia with the Somalis, Mama Lala with the Mozambicans, but my full name Laurie-Ann with the South Africans. Still I get “Laurie,” and “Yalla” all the time. My actual nickname is “L-A.”
There is always a transition when you move from culture to culture – including sub-cultures within your own region. Canada is filled with people around the world, so this adjustment can be tricky when trying to communicate well. So there is a transition to acclimatize to a multi-ethnic country when you visit different neighbourhoods. South Africa also has this challenge – with 11 official languages and many tribes, as well as the white Afrikaaners and English-descended South Africans. Moving from community to community can be a wacky transition. Some provinces, and even towns, can be vastly different from each other (for example, Western Cape ways and Gauteng culture – it’s different, even the slang and pronunciation of Afrikaans is different).
Moving in and out of a culture by moving from one country to another is a higher level. It’s like climbing or descending a steep staircase, and the height is well over your head. Each short term mission (Kenya four times, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and Northern Ireland) prepared us to be flexible, which was very much needed in South Africa in 2016 and from 2017-2021. While I have been stretched on each of these times, it was in SA that I developed the phrase “TIA” (This is Africa). South Africa is a land of first and third world at the same time. We have enjoyed some of the first world comforts, but live as simply as we can. We work with third world kids and teens. They come into our home, and sometimes, even though we trust them, some things go missing (hey, just ASK us). We fight with their short-term thinking, where they can’t or don’t want to plan for their futures, when every week can be a struggle to survive in a township. Theft is common, as is violence, rape, and vandalism. Windows are broken as a gang dare. People steal from children and blind elderly widows. We are glad that we don’t live in that situation, even though our apartment is right in the centre of town.
So we encounter a variety of cultures here in Worcester – the kind Afrikaaner farmer families, the NGO colleagues (expats or locals), the African expat community (mostly Zimbabwean), the ‘coloured’ community (mixed race and KhoiKhoi descendants), English South Africans (expats from KZN province), and the Zweletemba residents (various black tribes). We have been blessed by people from each of these communities. Each has a different way of lifestyle, although all of them are African. We have adopted a bit of all of them.
In terms of grappling with cross-cultural living, often you are like a yellow plasticene ball. The host culture is like a blue plasticene ball. Once you mix them, the first ball (you) becomes green. You are forever changed. The shade of green depends entirely on how you mix. I love to adopt my host culture as much as I can, with still being me. Well, I like to claim the best of the best, although sometimes you may catch things that are not so great.
While we prepare to return to Canada to care for my dad (and have further medical care for Tony), I am at least preparing my heart to let go. I can feel the tug both ways, from the new people we love to family and friends back in Canada (Ottawa and Toronto). We are a green ball returning to a yellow ball culture. But it helps us greatly to have a purpose when we return – caring for my frail dad, who is getting pretty confused these days. He needs us.
All around the world we have been dealing with covid restrictions to counter the spread of an awful virus. Avoiding covid (in various ways) has become a culture in itself. Add to that travel between countries (an international move in our case!), our health situation, and hiccups that come with moving, and the stress level goes up. Moving is high on the stress level. International travel used to be fun for us, but is no longer. And saying goodbye to different friends, many of them forever friends, is hard. Saying goodbye to the teen girls we mentor is a heart tug. But they knew we couldn’t permanently stay.
So while we are in this vertical spot, where we don’t know where our foot will land next, we trust in our faith and in Jesus as our foundation. He carries us and roots us in him. The Holy Spirit is our dear friend who fills us with fresh hope for new beginnings, and that this is not the end. It’s just the end of this particular assignment. We are thankful for the many gifts South Africa has given us: deep friendships, laid back life, thinking in the now moment, joy in being with children, intense beauty in the mountains, by the ocean and in vineyards, and the deep satisfaction in knowing that we have loved many children well. South Africa also gave me the platform of colouring sheets and colouring books. I never thought that I would do this kind of ministry. It’s amazing – and I know this will be used in many other countries, including Canada.
So while we look ahead to Canada, and for a while, look back at South Africa, we are grounded in Jesus. He does not change like shifting shadows. We are thankful. To God be the glory.
Tony and Laurie-Ann Copple (usually Laurie-Ann)
L-A's devotional blog
TONY'S DEVOTIONAL BLOG
Tony's south african journal
TONY'S POST MISSION JOURNAL