“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company . . . a church . . . a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past . . . we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you . . . we are in charge of our Attitudes.” (Charles Swindoll)Wise words. In all the ups and downs of life overseas, this is a great lesson I need to be reminded over and over. Living in a culture different from the values and "way of life" back home is a daily challenge. The tendency is to consider "our way" the better way. Our opinions the more accurate way of understanding the way things ought to be.
Most missionaries living overseas go through a difficult time of cultural transistion when arriving on the field. At first everything is an adventure. The differences in culture and language are seen through romantic lenses. Eating exotic foods is something you do to be able to write home and tell everyone "Today I ate _____." This is usually the experience of those coming for short term visits. However, it only takes a few weeks of actually living overseas before reality quickly settles in. Then everything is suddenly viewed as inferior, illogical, crazy, irritating, etc. Attitude issues shift into "overdrive" about EVERYTHING going on around you. The noisy neighborhood, the trash on the streets, the traffic, the dishonesty, the weird food, unresponsive people, the rudeness...practically everything in our host culture gets judged from our limited, skewed perspective.
Attitude is indeed 90% of the game. Those who deal with their attitudes about the differences in life overseas usually survive and go on to become fruitful missionaries. Those who can't or won't deal with their attitudes usually end up going home sick, defeated, depressed, or burned out. James Yorke gives some helpful advise, "The most successful people are those who are good at plan B." Plan B being a change in our own attitude.
When praying for missionaries, please remember to pray for our attitudes. Even though I have lived 31 years in Ecuador, I still have attitude issues on a daily basis.