After spending the last four and a half years living and working in Bangkok, Thailand, our family recently came back to the United States for a six month home assignment (furlough). My wife and I grew up here, though our kids have spent most of their lives (so far) in Thailand. For all of us, however, there have been many new or not-as-familiar-anymore aspect of life in America to get used to.
Many people have heard of culture shock, the experience of unsettledness and uncertainty when you experience a foreign culture. Fewer people, however, are familiar with reverse culture shock, the experience of unsettledness and uncertainty when you re-enter your home culture after being in a foreign culture for a long period of time. But I can verify that reverse culture shock is a real thing because our family is experiencing it. Although “shock” might be too strong of a word for it, there are certainly a lot of things to get used to again. Here’s a list of several things that I have noticed this past week about life in the United States, after having lived in Thailand for a number of years.
20 Things I Have Noticed Upon Returning to America
- Cars sometimes pro-actively stop for us to cross the road before we even step into the road.
- Plastic bags at the supermarket checkout counter cost 10 cents now.
- Roads are big and wide.
- It is VERY quiet at night - no construction noise, no racing motorcycles, no rattling of cars going over road gratings next door, no cat on the roof, no bumps in the night.
- Electrical outlets don’t spark when you plug stuff in.
- Things in homes are big and fluffy, very comfortable.
- Cars drive really fast in the U.S. It's as if they don't expect stray dogs or motorbikes to suddenly dart in front of their vehicles.
- Laws are really important to people here. Governments are serious about enforcing even minor laws. Statements like “It’s the law!” carry weight.
- It feels weird to have the steering wheel on the left hand side of the car. I feel claustrophobic because usually I have a whole lot more space in the car on my left hand side.
- Pedestrians take their sweet time to cross the road as if cars are not even there.
- It feels like every business wants you to fill out a survey.
- Washing machines are VERY big.
- Hot running water at every faucet. Ahhh.
- A pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream does not cost $12.
- Almost no median strips on the roads. I suppose that this reduces the temptation to drive the wrong way in the breakdown lane, which often happens in Thailand.
- I almost don’t recognize my own children because they are wearing blue jeans, hats, mittens, and other stuff that I never see them wear.
- It is difficult to just buy 1 pen or 2 razors. It has to be 5 pens or 10 razors. It doesn't matter if you only want to buy 1. You gotta go big or go home empty handed… Oh wait, I just found a single razor. One brand, one choice for just 1 razor. But if you want 10 or more, there are tons to choose from.
- Food products at the supermarket have names as long as 18th century books, such as “Organic, No Fat, Non-GMO, No Oils, Sprouted Honey Wheat with Flaxseed.” (this was a loaf of bread)
- Coloring books for adults (?!)
My kids have also had some interesting observations about the United States. Our oldest (10 yr. old) attended kindergarten here and was six when we returned to Thailand in 2012. Our middle child (7 yr. old) was two when we went to Thailand after last home assignment and remembered nearly nothing of the country. Our youngest (3 yr. old) was born in Thailand and this is his first time outside of Thailand.
Observations from Our Oldest Child (10 yrs)
- "There is a lot more Star Wars stuff to look at here"
- "The most difficult thing to get used to is everybody speaking English"
- "Everything is clean and orderly here. Why is that?” [I later pointed out all the trash scattered along the side of the road as we got onto the freeway. “See, America, has a trash problem too!”]
Observations from Our Middle Child (7yrs)
- "There is much more grass and trees here. Why aren’t there any skyscrapers at all?"
Observations from Our Youngest Child (3 yr)
- "There is no sprayer" [next to the toilet]
- "Where is the rice?!"
- "School bus!"
- "I see a fire truck!"
Overall, our family is really enjoying our time in the U.S. so far and have been blessed by many kind and helpful people who’ve given us rides, given us cold weather clothes, and called/visited to welcome us back. And Dr. Pepper. It was great to have Dr. Pepper again. It still feels weird to be here but with some time I am sure we will settle in and feel at home… probably just in time to leave again. But God is good and He provides for his children, so we choose to look for and rejoice in his blessings wherever we go.
At the beginning of 2016, I set a goal of reading 50 books this year. It was an ambitious goal but I thought I could do it. It turns out that life happened, 2017 is upon us, and I only ended up reading 36 books this year. Not as much as I would have liked, but probably more than I would have read if I hadn't been aiming at 50. Out of the 36 books I read in 2016, I picked my 5 favorites and have included a brief review of each. These are not necessarily the best of books that were published in 2016, but are my top picks (in no particular order) among the books that I read in 2016. Read one of them and maybe you'll find a new favorite!
The Way Thais Lead: Face as Social Capital
This was an excellent, well-written book with lots of insight about the different types of "face" that Thai people (especially leaders) strive for... and fear losing. The author draws out the implication for relationships between leaders and followers, and drives towards a conclusion that presents an alternative indigenous way of leadership in Thai culture that flies in the face of less noble (but more common) alternatives. The author got his Ph.D from Fuller Seminary, but this book is very obviously for a general audience, so he stops short of offering any biblical or theological reflection on the topic of face and Thai leadership. All the same, this was a very engaging book with lots of colorful quotes from Thai leaders. It gives a good framework for understanding what is happening all around you in everyday social interactions. It is a must-read if you live in Thailand.
Miracles: A Journalist Looks at Modern Day Experiences of God’s Power
Long-time “Christianity Today” journalist Tim Stafford says that he did not write this book as an apologetic to win over those who deny the possibility of miracles, nor did he write it to dissuade those who rejoice at every miracle they hear about. Rather, he wrote it for people (like me) who believe in miracles but are skeptical about reports of miracles because they often turn out to not be true. This book chronicles the author’s own search for understanding, combining the personal experiences of himself and others, a survey of the biblical data about miracles, interviews with various church members and ministry leaders, and critical reflection on all of the above. The final chapter summarizes the author’s conclusions, the majority of which are solid and biblical, providing a hopeful faith-filled attitude towards expecting miracles, but is also grounded in a holistic view of God’s providence that emphasizes the various ways in which God works, both natural and supernatural. His sections on the nature, purpose, and frequency of miracles are especially good.
The one weakness of the book is that the author goes too soft on some extreme Pentecostal pastors and prophets who, in my judgment, go beyond the Bible and twist Scripture. His desire to be fair and even-handed is commendable but he is too generous to various miracle ministries and ministers, even as he often goes on to express disappoint with their exaggerated claims and abuse of Scripture. It seems that the author wants to counteract the unbiblical and unsubstantiated claims made by these ministers without turning off readers who like them. The fact that this book was put out by charismatic publisher Bethany House tells me that the author’s target audience is broadly charismatic/Pentecostal and evangelical.
The Girl in the Picture
"The Girl in the Picture” is about a girl and her family caught in the midst of the war in Vietnam. The girl, Kim Phuc, was the subject of the famous war-time photo of a young girl running naked out of a village that had been hit by napalm. It is a riveting, page-turning, biography, and gives a good window into what life was like for a normal family before, during, and after the war in Vietnam (not to mention an interesting picture of life in Castro's Cuba). I learned many details about the Vietnam War that I had previously just heard in passing but not really understood (such as the significance of the Tet Offensive). Interestingly, when Kim grows up she becomes a Christian through a church in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), although this part of her experience makes up only a minor part of the narrative. This book is a biography as well as a cultural and political history, and author Denise Chong gives a sympathetic and well-written account of Kim Phuc’s life and the global events in which she became an unexpected participant. You definitely learn about Cold War politics in this book, but the author seems to do a good job of telling the facts without turning the book into a political statement. It is Kim’s story, rather than a political agenda, that drives the narrative.
The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism
Covering post-WWII to the present, “The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism” presents a panorama view of how evangelicalism has grown and changed from a largely Western, North Atlantic movement to a broader, more diverse global movement. I greatly appreciated the scope of this book, providing balanced coverage of not only North American, but also British and Commonwealth evangelicalism, as well as other places in the world where English is used in Christian discourse. This was a pleasant change from many books about evangelicalism that are American-centric.
I learned in greater depth about later 20th century leaders and authors that I had only heard about in passing, and was not very familiar with. I particularly enjoyed reading about 1) how evangelicalism developed differently in Britain compared to the United States, 2) the watershed significance of the 1974 Lausanne Conference on World Evangelism, and 3) the tension between evangelicals (largely from the U.S.) who sought a narrow focus on “soul-winning” and those (largely from Latin America) who sought a more holistic definition of mission as applied to other areas of life and society.
An important theme which the author discusses at various points in the book, especially in relation to the hugely significant Pentecostal-charismatic movement, is the increasingly divergent streams of evangelicalism in the early 21st century that bring into question whether it is still possible (if it ever was) to identify a common core of beliefs which define evangelicals. As regards evangelical identity, there is a big question mark as to whether or not the authority of the Bible (sola scriptura) will continue to be a hallmark of evangelicalism. There are strong movements in many places around the world where following the leading of the Spirit as mediated through personal experience is prioritized over Scripture, and in many cases syncretized with an emphasis on this worldly health, wealth, and blessing as the core of the Christian life. This is true particularly in areas of Asia and Africa where animism has an important role in the background and worldview of Christian adherents. However, the author believes that reports of evangelicalism’s demise are premature and the movement as a whole has displayed an historical resilience and ability to redefine and refocus its center over the course of different eras. It is difficult to say where evangelicalism is headed, but this book provides a good overview of where evangelicalism has been during the last 70 years.
“The Diffusion of Global Evangelicalism” is book 5 in is a series on the "History of Evangelicalism: People, Movements and Ideas in the English-Speaking World"
No Graven Image
This is a phenomenal book but if I didn't know the author was Elisabeth Elliot, I might have guessed it was written by a cynical former missionary who abandoned the faith, or went emergent or something. "No Graven Image” is a novel about an idealistic missionary seeking to reach the mountain Indians in Ecuador, set in the 1960s. It gets right up in the face of just about every aspect of evangelical missionary sub-culture and its triumphalistic cliches and pat answers. The main action of the book takes place in the mind of the protagonist, Margaret Sparhawk, as her expectations of what a missionary should be and do are challenged by the realities of missionary life. She questions the unquestioned assumptions and party lines that missionaries (and their supporters) often employ. When the book came out, Elisabeth Elliot received severe criticism and it is not hard to see why. This was a devastating novel with a tragic ending, that bears reading by every missionary. Not every missionary will like it, however.
I made it through two very different history books this past month from two very different periods of time and parts of the world. Looking towards the end of the year, I've realized that I won't hit my goal of 50 books in 2016 but I might get to 40. Stay tuned!
The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters
So many books have been written on the American Civil War and I have read nearly none of them, so this looked like a good place to start. This book is a collection of various essays about the Civil War by respected Civil War historian James McPherson. Each chapter contains one stand-alone essay so you don’t need to read them in order if you don’t want. Each chapter was thoroughly engaging, discussing topics like Lincoln as commander-in-chief, the role of slaves in their own emancipation, the importance of naval warfare, the role and perspective of Europe on the American Civil War, and theories about just war as related to this particular war. McPherson has a pleasant readable style, with plenty of detail and flavor, without getting bogged down in the details.
Beyond Ourselves: OMF in Thailand, The First 60 Years, 1951-2012
This book is about the history of the mission organization I serve with in Thailand, so I was very interested to read about its history from the 1950s up through the present. I have heard bits and pieces about various missionaries, ministry, events, and changes since first coming to Thailand with OMF in 1999, but this book helped me to put together the disparate parts and better understand its ethos and internal organizational values.
I wasn’t sure what I would find when I opened the book, but I imagined that it would be like many other missionary histories, namely personal stories of missionaries enduring hardship and heartache but finally seeing people coming to Christ and churches planted. And this book did include that general narrative but I was surprised to find that it was more of a history of OMF Thailand as an organization as a whole than it was the personal stories of individual missionaries. In fact, in many instances the names of the missionaries involved in various events are not named at all, and stories that sound intriguing in their own right are passed over quickly, leaving me wanting to know more.
The major strength of the book is the way in which the authors, both long-time missionaries with OMF Thailand, chronicle the changes and development in mission strategies and priorities over time. Extensive use of minutes and reports from national and regional OMF leaders’ meetings, as well as interviews and correspondence with current and former missionaries, paint a revealing picture of how the organization has changed over time, from the boom days of medical missions to a more refined focus on church planting in the present. The authors were surprisingly candid in places, as they told of how OMF Thailand started its own church denomination in spite of not wanting to do so, or of internal tensions as the mission struggled to move forward in unity when not all missionaries agreed on what the priorities and strategy of the mission should be.
“Beyond Ourselves” is a valuable and informative book for anyone wanting to understand the changing landscape of missionary work in Thailand, as seen through the eyes of a organization that has been a major player in evangelical missionary work in this nation for more than half a century.
If would like a copy of “Beyond Ourselves”, please contact OMF Thailand.
I have been studying Latin with my kids for the past several months and it has been a lot of fun. However, some people might wonder how useful it is. With that doubt in mind, I wanted to share an incredible story that a Korean friend recently brought to my attention. For who knows if your study of Latin might come in handy for such a time as this...
"To sum it up..., several high court officials made a plot to kill ALL missionaries and Christians in Korea (their plan was to go in effect on Dec. 1st, 1900). Missionary Horace G. Underwood got a hold of their scheme before it became official and sent a telegram in LATIN (so that no Korean would understand the content) to fellow missionary Avison to alert him of the seriousness of the situation.
Avison then relayed the information to missionary Allen--who was/had been King GoJong's personal physician at the court. Allen immediately sought after the King's attendance; which resulted in King GoJong making a decree throughout the land ordering all plots against Christians to stop.
Literally, thousands of lives were saved with the help of a Latin message sent that day."
My friend who shared this story said it was assembled from several articles and books she read, although the only online reference is on this Korean language website. I’ve included the relevant bit below for those who can read Korean.
김인수의 한국 교회사
몇 사람의 개인적 원한으로 전국적인 기독교 박해가 획책된 일도 있었다. 1899년 서울에 전차(電車) 공사가 한 참 진행됐다. 이 때 경무사(警務使) 김영준과 내장원경(內臟院卿) 이용익은 대중들이 전차를 타게 되면 재원(財源)이 고갈될 것을 염려하여 왕에게 상소를 올렸다. 전차 건설이 완료된 후에도 전차 타지 않기 운동을 뒤에서 부추겼다. 그러나 외국인들이 국왕에게 이 일에 대해 불평하자, 원한을 품고 국왕에게 개신교가 끼치는 피해를 낱낱이 상소했다. 이들은 1900년 12월 1일을 기해 국내에서 활동하는 모든 선교사와 전국 기독교인을 박멸하라는 밀서를 보낼 계획을 세웠다.
이 무서운 음모의 내막을 처음 알게 된 사람은 선교 여행 중이던 언더우드였다. 그는 사태의 심각성을 깨닫고 지체 없이 한국인들이 읽을 수 없게 라틴어로 에비슨에게 전보를 보냈다. 에비슨은 이 사실을 알렌에게 알리고 교회와 교인 피해가 없도록 조치해 달라고 요청했다. 알렌은 즉시 국왕을 알현하고 사태를 보고했다. 고종 황제는 각 도에 전보를 발송하여 이의 즉각적인 중지를 엄히 명했다. 이로써 김영준 등의 음모는 불발에 그치고 교회는 일촉즉발의 위기를 넘긴 일이 있었다.
In light of numerous articles recently about how to discern fake news from real news, I have a suggestion that will take some time and commitment but in the long run will be more useful than trying to remember a list of fake news websites to watch out for.
Read books by reputable authors who are associated with reputable universities, and are published by reputable publishing houses.
For instance, if you want to know what the founders of America really intended with the electoral college, church-state separation, etc., then read a history book about the founding of the United States. How do you find a good book that isn't written by an ill-informed wacko with a severely biased agenda?
1) Is it written by a scholar who is recognized by his or her peers?
How do you check that? A quick look at the Wikipedia page for an author will tell you where they went to school, what school they currently teach at, other books that they have written, and (on many wiki pages), criticism or controversy surrounding their work.
2) If you are interested in a particular book on a topic, google "[name of book] book review" to see if their are any reviews out there by people who teach / write in the same general topic area.
3) Who published the book? A publisher like Yale, Oxford, Princeton, Cambridge, etc. university presses are more likely to put out a book with high standards for accuracy. Self-published books are not necessarily low quality, but with a reputable, established academic publisher, you have a much better likelihood of reading something substantial and well-researched.
4) Read the Amazon review of the books. Read the top 5 star review, a 3 star review, and a 1 star review. Also, a 4 star review will also tell you the pluses of the book, as well as reveal a few weak points.
Over the long run, reading well-researched, well-written books on various topics will give you a much better knowledge base from which to assess current news so you will be able to spot fakes and provide an informed opinion on the accuracy or inaccuracy of claims being made because you understand the broader context of the issue(s) in the article.