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