Lots of people talk about the missionary or expat bubble.1 This post won’t really address the reality of this bubble or go into a detailed pro’s and con’s about it. On reflection, I certainly did fear the expat bubble before arriving in Cambodia. And I’m still aware of trying not to be consumed by only having relationships with foreigners. But there has been a surprising find for me.
The reality and possibility of the expat bubble remains. However, what I hadn’t expected was the expat saddle. The expat bubble can be constraining and all consuming. The expat saddle, on the other hand, assists me in riding the ‘horse’ of cross cultural life. I couldn’t have made these same inroads into the culture without the help of all the expats that I have come across. The expat saddle is a wonderful support as we progress to riding the ‘horse’ of cross cultural life bare back.2
My relationship with expats, my expat saddle, has far from inhibited my entry into a new culture; it has enabled it in many ways. Examples include simply giving advice, or more substantially by offering help (mainly in time) to set up bank accounts and help us settle in. And it can be bigger than that, like paving the way for us missios who stand on the shoulders of giants, enjoying wins that have come from the hard work over many years of missionary service. These wins are things like being freed up to do language learning for a longer time period, which we now enjoy. As missios we stand on the backs not only of the supporters, but also of missionaries past and present. It is a great reminder of how dependent we are on others.
In coming to Cambodia, one of the things I am learning more and more is how dependent I am. It’s the opposite of what seems to occur in the West, ‘forgotten dependence’. In the West we are so set on being ‘independent’ and we pride ourselves on our abilities and skills and all that we can achieve. The reality of dependence can easily get lost in our focus on our own activity. Remembering my dependence shapes the way I look at myself (limited and weak, rather than an all powerful superhero) and shapes the way I relate to others, particularly God. In humility I realise that I am not the answer to my own or others problems and that I rely on another for life, for everything.
- That place where, while in a foreign country, you only end up interacting with other foreigners in your own language. ↩
- I’ve only ridden a horse, like, 30 years ago and I think I fell off on the last day of horse camp. While I’m no expert, I’ve heard that riding bare back is much harder than riding with a saddle. ↩