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Advice for New Missionaries

By Sunday, February 17, 2013 15 , Permalink 0
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When is it most likely for a missionary to leave the field? All to often missionaries leave the field before their first term is over and others leave after the first term never to return. No one doubts that the first few years are usually the most difficult.

New missionaries must simultaneously deal the overwhelming task of relocation, learning a foreign language, new schools for their children, unforeseen problems with visa’s and immigration, they must relearn how to drive, read a map, pay the bills and buy food.

Going to church can be an exhausting and daunting experience which may include new church traditions and unknown expectations from the national partners.  If that’s not enough add to it the possible need to adapt to a new climate, a lack of Western type medical care and worries about becoming victims of crimes that wouldn’t have crossed their minds before.


Part of our wonderful team of missionaries in Ukraine.

Now you might be wondering, “How does anyone make it on the mission field?!” The good news is that missionaries do survive and not only survive, there are many who thrive at the work God has called them to.

Part of the reason for success of any missionaries is good preparation. Recently our team of missionaries here in Odessa, Ukraine got together to evaluate the effectiveness of our ministries and make some strategic plans for the year.

I asked our team to write out some advice for new missionaries.  What kind of things would they have wished they had known or were they glad they knew before they came.

Here is the list they came up with. Some of the advice is specific to Ukraine or Eastern Europe but some of it is also broad enough that it could be useful anywhere in the world.

These are in no particular order.

  1. Make learning the language a priority (Check out my post on tips for learning a foreign language)
  2. Don’t be afraid to sound like a 3-year old
  3. Be aware of culture shock
  4. Be aware of the influence of your own culture
  5. Expect change
  6. Take time to learn the culture
  7. Cheating is normal
  8. Bribes are expected
  9. Sometimes Ukrainians can be blunt
  10. Plan to start events late and to end events late
  11. Be patient with yourself and others
  12. Don’t take all criticism personally
  13. Bring official documents with you to the field, i.e.-birth certificates/marriage certificate/diplomas
  14. Learn to be a good listener
  15. Learn to appreciate and accept your teammates
  16. Don’t feel like you have to have an answer for every question (humility)
  17. Keep your sense of humor
  18. You don’t have to respond and you shouldn’t respond to every request for help
  19. Be prepared to use public transport
  20. Dress warm
  21. Be prepared not to be in control of situations
  22. Be prepared to try foods you never thought you’d try
  23. Don’t look at the stray dogs
  24. Do everything you can to not walk in the mud/keeping shoes clean is very important
  25. Carry your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer
  26. Door-to-door salesmen never give free stuff away.
  27. Carry exact change

 Question: What advice could you add to the list?

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  • Naomi Suko

    I like the “Don’t look at the stray dogs” point. 😉 Great post, Papa. We miss you!

    • Caleb

      I could also add, “Don’t make eye contact with the police when you’re driving by!” Thanks Naomi!

      • Naomi Suko

        That’s some good advice. 😀

  • Dan Erickson

    As one who respects and believes in cultural and religious variety and freedom, I am often concerned with missions that do not fully understand the culture and deep-seated beliefs of the people they tend to before trying to convert them.

    • Caleb

      Culture is huge because it touches every aspect of life. Often we are not aware of our own culture until we go to live in another culture. It is vital that missionaries understand culture because without that understanding it is impossible to effectively communicate truth.

  • Loren Pinilis

    I laughed when I read “Dress warm.” I took a missions trip to the capitol of Mongolia – close to Russia and the coldest capitol city on Earth. Yeah. Dress warm, indeed.
    What’s the deal with the stray dogs?

    I don’t know a lot but one thing I’ve learned throughout all ministry is to be faithful in planting seeds and leave the fruits to God. I can imagine it’s a roller coaster ride emotionally.

    • Caleb

      Loren that sounds like a pretty cold place. Where we are in Odessa really isn’t that cold but I suppose it all depends on what you are used to.

      We have a lot of stray dogs that run around in packs on the streets. They can be very territorial. Most of the time you are ok , but if you stare them directly in the eyes they can get vicious.

      I think that’s great advice that you gave. Too many times we try to do everything on our own and blame ourselves if it doesn’t work of praise ourselves if it does. Thankfully God is in control of the results.

      • Rosalie

        I thought it was because you would want to bring a puppy home. That is how it is in Greece.

        • Caleb

          Well, our kids would like to take a the puppies home with them, but I’m not ready to add a puppy to the 7 people who already live in our apartment!

  • Naomi Suko

    Papa, I recommended your blog on mine:

    • Caleb

      Thanks Naomi!

      • Naomi Suko

        You’re welcome. :)

  • Lacie

    Wow….glad I found your website, It does answer some of our questions. :-) Thanks for sharing!

    • Caleb

      Lacie, this is a short list but hopefully it is helpful. It comes from missionaries who have all been there and are speaking from experience. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Debbie Crawford

    Remember God’s grace to you because you also are going to have to extend grace many times.