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09 March 2023

Culture shock


Malcolm and Ainsley are CMS missionaries serving in Chile, where they eventually hope  to train and disciple future church leaders at the Centro de Estudios Pastorales (CEP, Centre for Pastoral Studies), a Bible college in Santiago. They have been focusing on building relationships and learning the Chilean language and culture, but even this is on hold as they are currently in Argentina waiting for a visa to allow them to stay in Chile. Here they give an insight into the challenges of adjustment, written prior to leaving the country 

It was starting to feel like nothing in Chile makes sense. This didn’t come as a surprise because our CMS training at St Andrew’s Hall prepared us well for the culture shock that hits between three and nine months of living in a new culture.  

Malcolm and Ainsley with their kids Elsie, June, Calvin and Hugo at the perfect picnic spot in the Mountains near San José de Maipo.

Constant adjustments 

Despite this, though, the cultural surprises keep creeping up on us. There are the big things, like the way time is perceived differently here, and how that changes the daily rhythms we’re used to. In Chile, 4pm or 5pm is when the day is just getting started. It might be a good time to go on a four-hour mountain climb or think about inviting someone over for a meal. Bible study kicks off at 9pm, and we’re lucky to be home from an 11am church service by 3pm.  

The cultural surprises keep creeping up on us.

The other big thing is the language. It’s such a huge undertaking to learn a totally foreign language. Just when you think you understand it, you come across a new irregular verb or a very specific Chilean word with multiple different meanings depending on the context and no direct English translation.  

Then there are the smaller things that require constant micro-adjustments, like the fact that summer clothes aren’t yet in the stores when it’s the end of October and 26 degrees outside, or that the roads change direction depending on the time of day, or that we find out about an elaborate dress-up day at school at 6pm the night before.  

The Purdey children in their traditional Chilean outfits.

Loved and welcomed 

Church in a new language has been a challenge. We miss the familiarity of worship music and the ease of fellowship in English. This change has been a particularly tough one, for the kids and grown-ups alike. We are so grateful for the love we continue to receive from our Chilean brothers and sisters here as they persist through the language barrier to include us wholeheartedly in the life of the church. 

We’re starting to wonder when life will ever start to feel normal, but we continue to be loved and supported by our community here in Santiago, who endlessly offer us practical help and advice as we set up our lives here. We have also had surprising opportunities to share Jesus with some of these people in the process. Please pray with us for these gospel seeds to grow, and that we would continue to persevere in trusting God is sovereign through all the changes in our lives.  


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Robust preparation is essential to equipping missionaries for long-term service in new  cultures and often unpredictable circumstances. All our missionaries undertake five months of training at St Andrew’s Hall before heading out to their locations. Could you support this work by giving to CMS? Find out more at give.cms.org.au.