Thursday, January 14, 2016

Letters to a New Missionary: What We Wish We Had Known

Develop a good prayer team. Take time for closure. Bring lots of photos.

There’s lots of great tips out there for first-time global workers....but what about all those things that you don’t know to ask? Recently, I polled my friends working all over the world and found their top 17 things they wish they would have known before they landed on the field.

If a pile of veggies panics you, find some good recipes
 1. Know the cooking requirements of your country. In some countries, my friends don’t need to cook at all—it’s cheaper and easier to buy prepared food in the market or stores. Papua New Guinea is the complete opposite. If you’re coming here and you haven’t yet made a meal or two completely from scratch (and I mean mixes, premade tortillas, pressed graham cracker crusts, packets, sauces etc.), then I recommend you get cracking. I once knew a person who arrived here only knowing how to make spaghetti... Look around online for “cooking in your country” guides and buy yourself a copy of the Wycliffe International Cookbook (really tasty, easy recipes invaluable for overseas cooking).

2. Learn the history of your new country.

3. Before you join an organization, check out their member care, counseling, return-care, and support-raising assistance (and the people you’ll be interfacing with). Not all organizations are created equal, but the support you get in those areas can make or break your time on the field.

4. Be patient. We know every day that is between you and arriving on the field feels like an eternity, but in your eagerness, don’t reject the treasure delays give you, especially time with family and friends. God has a reason, and honestly, once you reach the field, you’re going to experience about five hundred times more delays than you did in your home country. Slow down and be patient.

5. Wait to offer your opinion for a few years... Well, maybe not quite that long, but just remember that until you’ve had your five-year anniversary in country, you’re still wet behind the ears. Things happen for a reason, and their is often a lot of history that you don’t know. Ask questions, listen, and be humble.

6. Know ahead of time what your accommodation will be when you arrive and what you might need to survive the first few days...because when those first few days arrive, you’ll be so jet-lagged and shell-shocked from the whole experience that finding your peanut butter jar to feed your whining children will feel akin to D-Day.

7. Ask what every-day items are easily available in your country
(also, medications and first aid). You don’t want to bring four years worth of toothpaste, if you don’t have to!

8. Give yourself (and your family members) lots of grace. Transitioning across countries is hard, and the stress impacts different people in different ways. In fact, you might think you aren’t stressed, but we guarantee, you are. Give yourself a few years, and suddenly, you’ll think to yourself, “Wow, I feel normal today!” In the meantime, just know that everything will take longer and be more exhausting and frustrating than you think it ought to be. It’s okay—we’ve all been there.

One of my hobbies is art--I painted this Aslan portrait for a
 a Narnia display at this year's high school Banquet
9. What hobbies keep you sane? Try to brainstorm some clever ways to maintain your hobbies in new circumstances. What supplies do you need? How much?

10. Learn some practical tips for dealing with evil. Good soldiers come prepared.

11. Figure out the differences in technology between your home and field countries
so you don’t bring useless (or expensive to run) items with you (do you need an unlocked cell phone? What about DVD regions? Do you understand the difference between a converter, inverter, and transformer?)

12. How will you mark time? If you are moving from four seasons to two, you might find it difficult to mark time passing. Don’t be afraid to bring some decorations for your home country holidays and seasons to help you stay in touch.

13. If you don’t receive training in how to write a newsletter or talk to supporters, then find someone to teach you! (It’s confusing for a church to receive a newsletter with no photo, no contact info, and no name...)

You might be driving this gem!
14. Learn how to drive a stick-shift.

15. Ask established workers about their budgets. You may already have some suggestions from your organization, but ask around to find out how stretched people really are. Are there certain things you need to bring (especially for village living) or to budget for?

16. Be flexible. Be flexible. Be flexible. You might be asked to fill a role you never considered before...don’t put yourself in a box. Maybe you should try it!

17. There are always more needs than you can meet.
You are on the field because you want to give yourself...but beware of the other side of the coin, which is burnout. A worker who is crumbling into charcoal is of no use to anyone. Maintain strict boundaries, practice militant self-care, ask for help, and remember your task is to be faithful only what God has asked you to do—no more and no less.