My Story: Cafe 1040–and normalizing the exotic

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Today, we’re hosting Cafe 1040. They exist to help mobilize the next generation of global workers to the 3.1 billion people have little to no access to the story of Jesus. We invite young adults to come walk alongside long-term global workers to see what their life could look like telling the story of Jesus among an unreached people group. Check out their Go. Serve. Love page here.

Taking his newly-acquired Arabic out for a spin in a Muslim country, Adam* thought he was asking for a large water. What he really said? “I want the greatest water.”

“No, no, no,” said his waiter in Arabic, “You want a big water. God is the greatest. You want a big water.” An excellent distinction.

When the “other” becomes normal

Adam was in North Africa for three months, “time enough for initial culture shock to set in,” he said, “I lived there.”

His time could be measured by his increasing ability to navigate daily life. “In the beginning, I was obsessed with color. There was so much color everywhere. I was always taking pictures.” In those days, simple grocery shopping was a challenge. “At first, I couldn’t easily get there from my apartment.”

And when he did find the market, the food was not in the form he expected. “They would kill the chicken in front of you. And if you didn’t know to ask them to defeather it, they wouldn’t.” Removing the feathering was extra.

“There’s a difference between memorizing words in a language and having to do something like making change.” By the end, Adam could get around “through alleys, like the locals,” and he saw shopping as less about where, and more about who. “I knew a guy for bread, another for pasta.” Adam had never really cooked for himself, and now he was finding, and buying, and preparing meals. 

“What was really exotic became monotonous,” he said, “What was ‘other’ became normal.” When Adam would travel outside his host city, on the way back he would talk about it as “going home – to my streets, my neighbors”. Living in a place has a way of, as he puts it, “normalizing the exotic.”

“What was really exotic became monotonous. What was ‘other’ became normal.” Adam from Cafe 1040 shares his overseas experience. Click To Tweet

headfirst into crazy

Bree* went to North Africa on a later Cafe 1040 trip, and experienced the same brunt of arrival. “It’s kinda headfirst into crazy,” she says. “The biggest culture shock for me was that I came from a huge church, a very biblical community, and I missed that.”

But that initial external shock became an internal change. Instead of a busy church life, Bree said, “I was relying on the Lord and His Word, and I realized He is all I need.” And God provided new ways for her to enjoy spiritual conversation, over the local ritual of mint tea.

“I was there during Ramadan,” she said, “and they enjoyed sharing it all with us”. Bree and her fellow expats did not observe the fast, but ate in the evenings when their hosts did. And over tea, they would talk. The girls talked about boys, and how both religious cultures “still have the same moral standards of purity.” They talked about fasting, and how Christians do fast, though not necessarily for a month. The guys noticed some differences, like how their hosts would pray over a meal, but didn’t pray for things like safety, as we would in western churches.

The group also experienced a different relationship to time. “The U.S. is so time-oriented,” Bree says, “but everything is slower there. Families would take us in off the street and spend time with us.” She found in her host culture a great patience, and a capacity to listen deeply. “I was shown so much hospitality. I was always asking people to slow down when they spoke so I could understand them, and they always helped me out.”

Adam spent some of his downtime playing chess with a local guy, noticing at first how different they were from each other. Then Adam won a game, in only four moves. He could read defeat on the other man’s face and realized that they weren’t different at all. “He wanted what I want: to be respected for my intellect, to be listened to”. Over time, Adam learned they both had similar tensions within their families. “He was human just like me. Everyone wants attention, power, and respect,” said Adam, “but he needs Jesus just like I need Jesus. We have a lot in common.”

External shock. Internal change

After returning to the States, Adam used his listening skills on campus, discipling others. He now hopes to have a similarly relational role in the corporate world, helping innovators find an audience for their work.

Bree also returned to university life, and found herself more drawn to international students. She began offering them the same grace she received when she was the outsider learning a language. When school is out, she’ll be going back overseas. For good. “I felt a calling to the area,” she said, “It became like home.”

Interested in Cafe 1040’s immersive cross-cultural training? Check ’em out on our just-launched Adventures tab!


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