“Mom, you are going to have to prepare yourself. Time isn’t the same in other countries. You have to take off your American-time-consciousness and your need for control of your schedule in order to just go with it.”
No truer words have ever been spoken. You see, my daughter knows me. She knows I like to be in control. I am a teacher; therefore, I am a plan-my-life-down-to-the-minute-and-take-charge kind of girl. I have been doing it for so long it is natural for me to eat lunch in 17 1/2 minutes, no matter where I am. If I am to arrive at 10:00, I will be there at 9:58. I am conditioned to show up early because, in a school, if you are two minutes late to any place, you have disrupted the schedule of the entire building.
I plan things weeks in advance. Field trips require buses to be reserved, lunches to be ordered, tickets to be bought, permission trips to be signed, and all of these things have to be done efficiently or disaster happens. I have been on numerous field-trips-from-hell with an entire grade level of third graders. Once we were going to the Puppetry Arts Center in Atlanta, two hours from us, when a bus broke down on the side of the road, we went to the wrong Arts Center, and we got lost. We missed the puppet show and had to eat lunch on the busses on the way home. Another time, we were at a nursing home and our students had an assignment to write the stories of older folks. I had asked for the most coherent residents to be in the dining area so our kids could conduct their interviews. Instead, they pulled ALL residents into the hallways and released the kids to “go talk to someone.” It was a teacher’s worst nightmare. After one code blue, we left the trip hours earlier than planned to avoid traumatizing the kids any further. (And FYI, the code blue was NOT me.)
I think you get the picture, I have an aversion to unscheduled, poorly planned activities. Okay, okay I admit it…I am a control freak. Because of these types of experiences, I am a queen of time management and I kind of expect everyone else to be too. If I get stuck in traffic, oh my! If my precious schedule is compromised, horrors!! I begin to cut things off the list to get back on track. What, you don’t keep a running list in your head of your schedule at all times? I do. I don’t even realize I am doing it, but my family knows it’s there. I think managing a household with four small children is where it all started, but if I am honest, I know I have always been this way. I have also found, in America, my time sensitivities are cultivated by the culture. Which is why my daughter warned me before my arrival in Thailand. She knew it would be a struggle for me to let go of who I am. She also knew for me to truly enjoy the trip, I would have to do just that. Because of her words to me, I made a conscious decision to let go of time and to let go of the need to know the schedule. I decided instead to relax. Sounds easy enough, right? Just take off my American need to know and control. Go with the flow. I have to tell you it was not as easy as it sounds. Yet, I immediately saw the reasons for it.
There is this thing called a language barrier which requires more time than usual to navigate. Also, foreign currency requires doing math, in your head, on the fly, just to do the simplest of things. Then there is the fact that you don’t know the city, which requires you to ask directions. Did I mention the language barrier? When you know NOTHING about the culture, EVERYTHING takes longer. In America everyone else knows about time pressure, but in Thailand (and most other countries, I am told) there is NO time pressure. It is quite difficult to hurry when no one else is in a hurry. It is a lesson in frustration if you cannot drop your expectations and judgements. And planning ahead of time? Non-existent. You can arrange to have transportation set up, and they might show up on time, but it is more likely that they will come “after breakfast time” which could be anywhere from 8:00-10:00. I was amazed at the skill of our logistics guy to adapt our plans as these types of things came up. Remember, I have experience counting heads to make sure my entire group arrives, so I know the anxiety that happens when an unforeseen wrench gets thrown in and you have to improvise. Not an easy task. Especially with a large group. Add to that the fact, the people you are managing are adults with expectations as to how things should go, who do not fully understand the lack of time pressure, and you have a recipe for disaster with questions like this one.
“Shouldn’t AIM be able to control all variables in a foreign country, like language barriers, bus schedules, traffic, markets, currency exchanges, guides, available ingredients for food, weather, temperature, and time, to have a written schedule for us that includes each day of ministry, meals, free time and exactly what we will doing and where?”
In case you were wondering, the answer on that one is no. 🙂 My recommendation to parents going on PVT, is the same one my daughter gave me. Just go with it. Expect the unexpected. Let others worry about scheduling and timing. Be in the moment. Enjoy time with your racer whether it is doing ministry, exploring the area, or waiting on a bus. Let go of your need to plan, and trust that every interaction is ordained by God. Be looking for the people he puts in your path, even if the path isn’t smooth and straight. Allow your Racer to guide you. Let them lead. It seems odd to take the back seat to your children, but being so far out of your comfort zone will require you to lean on them, rather than the other way around. They have been doing this for a while now. You will be amazed at how well they have adapted to the uncertainty and the day to day challenges of international travel. Let them show you their world without imposing your own structures on it. You are there, with them, in their element…soak in it. How many parents get the chance to get instruction while in the field on how to be a missionary, from their kids? Not many. Do not let this opportunity be stolen from you by frustration with things beyond your control. Be flexible. When things unexpectedly change, Racers laugh and say “Welcome to the World Race.” By the time the week is over, if you embrace the experiences as they come, you will understand and be laughing too. What do you expect? It’s the World Race.