Field Preparation at CIT
When we first arrived in North Carolina after our long road trip from Orlando, the kids freaked out at the hills. How were we going to survive going up and down these (in their mind) huge mountains?! They had become accustomed to the flat terrain of Florida. It made me smile thinking “just wait till we get to France”. A few days later, we went for a bike ride on a local trail. The girls felt like they were approaching sudden death on any slight incline.
As we prepare to move across cultures as a family, the hills are not the only ups and downs we are preparing to face. Preparing for this shift was the purpose of our time at CIT (Center for Intercultural Training) in North Carolina. It was humbling for us. Everything is about to be new again, and the challenges of adapting to a new life will meet us at every turn. The way we interpret our life (regarding Biblical and secular topics as Americans) is about to be flipped on its head. As we prepared, we put to heart that: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9. We took time to remind ourselves that this was not ours, but rather it all belongs to God and He has prepared all of it in advance.
One of the big issues we tried to tackle in our course was how American we are and understanding the nature of how we see the Bible through our American lens. No matter where we go, being an American has a connotation that goes with it. Just as we have seen with the diplomatic situation around submarines in the news, our home culture is going to play a role of unintended consequences. We can’t assume the “reckless cowboy” mentality and hope to encourage heart change. In moving across cultures, we have to be willing to mould ourselves to the culture, in order to be understood properly. This begins with us assuming the role of a curious observer as we watch how our new world works and ask questions rather than pass judgments. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 19-23 that he takes on the persona of the culture he is in so that he can work more effectively to explain and proclaim the Gospel. It is a humbling act to submit yourself to another in order to provide context they can understand. Who would find comfort or hope in ideas that do not make sense to them from their cultural understanding of life? Rather, we must come from a culturally relevant position, and become someone who is trusted. In developing our culturally relevant position, we look at the history that has formed the nation, their patterns or behaviors and go beyond those behaviors to the formation of their beliefs. That is the starting point towards the heart of the person.
Getting a firm understanding of the spoken language was something we spent a lot of time discussing and preparing for. Did you know that proper vowel formation is one of the key auditory indicators of pronunciation quality? So many times we have heard people who speak English, but their accent is too difficult to be easily understood. They have so much knowledge but if you can’t understand them, there is no getting past basic pleasantries. Just the mastery of the vowel sounds could unlock more meaningful and engaged conversations. So in class, we practiced the phonetic sounds not used in the American English language to prepare our mouths to work differently. Naomi worked hard on rolling her “R” sound which is commonly used in French words. After lots of practice, a mirror, tongue twisters, and laughing, she was able to generate a new sound. Mastery of this sound will help her build new relationships. Al-rrrr-ight Naomi!
We began to think about “putting on your French (or other language) mouth”. Naomi worked hard to get past feeling like she did not sound like herself but rather finally pronouncing words she learned in her study of French properly. It was interesting for her to think that her years of language study was not directed towards actually communicating or pronunciation, but rather learning verb patterns and tenses and things that could easily be assessed in a classroom environment. Working to now speak in a way that others are able to connect with is a key to moving towards transformational conversations and relationships in France.
Our time at CIT was excellent preparation, and I think there is much we learned that we can’t even put into its proper context. We feel well loved, and well prepared as we depart in a few weeks. We know there will be moments along the journey that things we learned will come into a fuller picture as we adapt to our new normals. We will be humbled and also grateful that there was a time to prepare. Just like the kids, the small hills will feel huge in the beginning. I’m sure we will be screaming for our lives until we find our footing.