No Longer New: #15. Mission and self-awareness

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Is mission a catalyst for growing in self-awareness? Or was I just self-deluded before coming to Cambodia and this last season just so happens to have involved a growth in self-awareness? I guess the question underlying these two questions is: is a growing self-awareness incidental to the missionary or essential?

This is the question I keep asking myself here in Cambodia. We prepared for this case in our training. Over the past year and half I feel like I’ve have come to understand more about myself, as my expectations turned into experience. Obviously there’s still much more to learn–long way to go there, Craig. But, there is a saying that as you leave your home culture you learn more about it. So in learning about my home culture I learn more about myself; my tendencies, loves, etc. There is a sense in which we forget some of our home culture as we move to a new place. As we encounter a new culture, we lose touch with some of our first culture, such that there is a forgetting. We have less of those day to day experiences that get bound up with our home culture. But in another sense in encountering the new, you learn about the old because the new asks questions of the old, that the old doesn’t always ask of itself. So in this sense, self-awareness seems to come from the interaction of two cultures in one person. So in this sense, growing self-awareness seems essential to life as a missionary.

But in another way, maybe growth in self-awareness is more incidental to mission. That is, the growing self-awareness that I’ve experienced has come from being pushed to our limits. And this can happen in our home culture or a new one. As we are pushed beyond our boundaries (our abilities as a person), we learn where those limits are and so learn more about ourselves. In those extreme times we find the clash between our loves and abilities and our context or circumstances can show us more of who we are. This is not always a pretty picture or particularly uplifting. But it’s helpful nonetheless.

The safe answer is probably that it’s both incidental and essential. Growing self-awareness seems to be part and parcel with mission. I say ‘seems to be’ because I’m not convinced that it is guaranteed. Just like wisdom is not guaranteed with age, so self-awareness is not guaranteed on mission. The combination of a new culture and being pushed to our limits both play a part in our growing self-awareness. As missionaries, we are on display to the new culture, but we are on display to ourselves as well. The picture above captures our ‘on displayness’.

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