A Former Missionary Asks for Help

A Former Missionary Asks for Help August 16, 2022

A former missionary sent me the following email asking for counsel. With his permission, I have adjusted identifying details and posted the message below so we can crowdsource advice on his behalf.

** Please leave your suggestions and advice for him in the comments. **

First, I’ll give you a 10,000-foot summary. Then, I’ll paste an edited version of the message. For ease, let’s call him “John.”

Big Picture Summary

After serving many years in China as a missionary, John found that he has changed so much that it’s difficult for him to adapt properly to working in American culture. He’s seeking advice and resources to help his adjustment.

John’s First Email


After many years in China, we returned to the US solely because the government would not allow our son to go to an international school. I returned for a head of school position at a very rural Christian school. Within 5 months, I was dismissed. To this day, my wife and I do not know why.

When I was dismissed, I contacted my friend and mentor (a former professor). He told me that my strength as an international worker was that I sat like a fly on the wall observing everything culturally for 2-3 years in order to fully respect the culture and the people, and then I changed as much as possible to be most effective in sharing my life as a Christian with them. He said that I will always have a problem working in America because when people see my white face and know I grew up in America, they will never understand that I am bi-cultural.

Presently, I teach HS Bible at a quality rural Christian school. By quality, I mean that the administration, faculty, and staff are solid Christians united in one goal of discipling the students to maturity in Christ. However, the leaders are, for the most part, all products of this small town, even getting their degrees from the same local university.

Therefore, as my wife says their scope of understanding is very narrow. They are good people, but they just don’t understand things like biculturalism. They see my white face only….

The Problem

This past week, I was pulled into a meeting with the HR Director (locally trained), Head of School (locally trained), and Secondary Principal (regionally trained). I was issued a verbal warning for email communication in which they concluded that I was being disrespectful to fellow staff by talking about them behind their back.

I immediately said that I was wrong and that it was a heart issue of arrogance and that from this point on I would focus only on being professional, polite, respectful, and communicating positively about fellow staff. This placated them and they were satisfied.

As the dust settled over the past week, I realized that I could in fact do it again, which would get me fired. Because in each of those email communications, I was trying to solve relational issues indirectly. The standard at the school is that you solve relational issues only by talking directly with the person.

But the root issue remains, this form of indirect communication is engrained in me, and I cannot say that it won’t happen again, or that some other bi-cultural engrained attribute won’t rear its head at some point.

Should I shift from indirect communication to direct communication as it relates to relational issues? Yes, I should. Not only to keep my job but also because God is always right. But if it is not this issue, it could be another bi-cultural issue that gets me fired.

Bicultural Training?

So, I realize that I need to “teach/train”/communicate with them that I am bi-cultural, that my bi-culturalism is Chinese/American. And communicate to them what Chinese/American biculturalism looks like in the workplace. If I were to find something that communicated how to manage a bi-cultural employee (specifically a Chinese/American bi-cultural employee), I would share that with them too.

Having this communication with them is the only way that I can keep my job. It is wise to do right now since the misunderstanding just happened and could affect my whole family. And frankly, defining myself as a bi-cultural employee, presents grounds for any potential litigation, which is something they probably would be aware of. (Obviously, I’d never communicate that).

So, I am reaching out to you to ask if you could help with any short articles on any of these topics (or good blogs/websites I could check out myself). My goal is to give them a couple of short (not-to-scholarly) articles to communicate this reality.

  • What is biculturalism”
  • What does bi-culturalism look like for a bi-cultural Chinese/American?
  • What does Chinese/American biculturalism look like in (1) social relationships, (2) hierarchical workplace relationships, or (3) in the American workplace?
  • How to manage bi-cultural employees (in the US)?
  • How to manage Chinese/American bi-cultural employees (in the US)?

I really hope that you could help me to communicate with them. I want to be effective, respectful, but also clear concerning their need to understand me as an employee in order that I can be successful for them….

Second Email

This morning I also realized that I need to do my part, my due diligence, to relearn how to be a good American employee (good American in the workplace).

Could you recommend any books/articles on either relearning your home culture or shifting from bi-culturalism to mono-culturalism? I actually highly value being bi-cultural and find it to be beautiful being bi-cultural. But clearly, in this workplace, I need to relearn how to be monocultural in order to appease them and keep my job.


What do you think? How can we help John?


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