Culture shock

We have now been living in the US of A for a whole two months. We are here studying in Redding California until the end of May. We always knew there would be a certain amount of adjusting required in moving country and meeting lots of new people. Whilst american culture dominates our TV programs and movies you never quite know how much of a stereotype of the US has been presented. Which particular flavour would we discover!

Within a couple of days here at Bethel church we discovered however that the UK to US transition was only one cultural change we would face. The culture we have discovered here at the church is unlike anything I have yet encountered in christian circles.


Living in the US has required a little getting to used to. We seem able to understand other people’s accents but somehow we are not understood! You find yourself talking slower and more deliberately just to be understood so it is nice to come home to our Scottish flat (apartment!) and talk normally! Already strange american words are making it into our vocabulary:

  • Gas stations instead of petrol stations
  • catching a ride instead of getting a lift
  • “chips” doesn’t mean chips but crisps!
  • a biscuit is a scone and everything else seems to be a cookie
  • jelly is jam and jello is jelly (custard doesn’t seem to have made it this far!)
  • cell phones not mobiles
  • pants not trousers (jumper really confuses people)

I had to translate for Jo the other day in a supermarket when she asked for chopped “tom-at-oes”. The shop assistant looked blankly, “she means chopped ‘tom-ate-ohhs’!” I added and immediately they understood! Names are proving interesting also. Most people get my name but Jo spends a lot of time correcting people. Jewel? Joel? Jew? No J.O. JOOOOOH! Hanging longer on the ohhh seems to help!

We have even been asked if we speak English in Scotland! 🙂

Bethel Culture

Our main experience here has been within the Bethel church and school bubble, so we cannot really claim to have had much interaction with locals here in Redding (except the local supermarkets, although many of them are staffed by Bethel students!). The school in particular is an increasingly international community. Almost half of our class of 900 are from outside of the US. Our experience of Bethel and the people we have met has been overwhelmingly welcoming. The genuine love on show is heart warming and the belief imparted is transforming. People look for excuses to encourage you. You can be standing in the queue at HeBrews coffee shop in Bethel and someone will speak life into you about your future or simply tell you something they love about you. This can be really disarming! Especially from our Scottish culture, where I think we are often afraid to be nice to each other in case people become big headed! As if people can have too much hope! From what I have seen it creates a vulnerability and openness when done from a place of sincerity. The place of mutual encouragement inspires greatness in each other.

One of the core values here at Bethel has been termed “A culture of honor”. This concept is pervasive and seems to touch every area and arm of the church. The basic idea is taken straight out of Philipians and simply means honouring people for who they are, recognising they are created in the image of God and thinking highly of them. This honouring goes beyond what the other person does or says but comes from a decision to honour, choosing to be an honouring person. Practically this takes so many forms from listening to people, celebrating their victories, confronting issues because you care and having the persons best interests at heart in the process. In the school this has led to the situation that when anyone gets up to talk to us there is a 5 minute standing ovation in honour of who the person is, no matter whether it is a world renown speaker like Bill Johnson or simply a Bethel janitor! It is not insincere and it is not about creating idols but honouring everyone without showing favouritism. The effects of this approach to life and church are massive on me.

The feeling of unity within the student body here is really strong. I think that part of that is thanks to the clear and focused message Bethel has broadcast across the globe for years. The drum beat resonates across the world and calls in those with a similar vision and hunger for the Kingdom. Standing in a room of 900 people chasing after the same things with the same heart cry is a powerful thing. Strong leaders attract that kind of following. It has made me so aware of the importance of setting a vision and direction when leading people. Is such a clear vision possible for every local congregation? I am not sure.

Which Culture?

We have really been enjoying our time here in the US and we look forward to experiencing our first thanksgiving soon! With each cultural difference we find we have been trying to discern what is American culture, what is Bethel culture and what is Kingdom culture. For us finding this distinction is absolutely key.  God has put our home nation of Scotland on our hearts and we need to be able to apply what we are learning here back into that culture. Every culture has both positive and negative aspects. Experiencing another culture for a time allows you to appreciate the differences and gives you perspective to view your home culture with a fresh lens. There are things about Scottish culture I love and value hugely, at times however it feels like we hide behind our culture. We can’t do that we are Scottish (insert your own culture)! For me the culture we should be seeking to develop is one that is demonstrated for us in Jesus’s life and in the Kingdom he cares so much about. If we are called to encourage one another and our culture dictates something different then something has to give. Let’s rise above the ceiling our society defines, pulling on the good and leaving behind the less helpful. Let us redefine culture for the generations to come.

“Let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” is all about a clash of cultures!

One thought on “Culture shock

  1. Hi Neil, thank you for these blog updates, I find them a source of encouragement and amusement!

    That Scottish attitude of not encouraging one another is so true. I remember my first trip to the US and being struck by the response given to “hello, how are you?” Here we would answer “fine” or “not too bad” rather the americans would say “I’m good!” Seemed much more positive to me.

    Take care and keep the updates coming. Every spiritual blessing be upon you and Joooooooh…



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