What would I say to someone just preparing to leave to serve Christ in cross-cultural missions? Here are some of the things I hear myself saying to young people at SIM who are in orientation or training:
- Prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. Missions is a learning experience which spans years, not just months. We often go with high expectations of changing others but forget that also there are many ways we also need to grow and change.
- Don’t shortchange language. Take all the language that is possible. I had an experienced mission doctor in Ethiopia tell me at the end of his career, “I thought I’d just be able to pick up the language by working; I was wrong. I am sure I lost a number of patients just because I didn’t understand all they were saying.” [As an internist of course I believe the history is the MOST important thing in the patient encounter!]
- Don’t be surprised by the challenges of living cross-culturally. In our first term we experienced a home break-in; physical illness in ourselves and our children; delay in assignment; conflict with a fellow language school student who was later removed from the field; plus the adjustments to the sights, sounds and culture. Would I trade it for something easier? No! Was it something I could have prepared for better? Yes, by adjusting my expectations down just a little. Medical folks like me tend to go for perfection.
- Get cross-cultural training before you go.
- Learn to love people more. Ministry is all about relationships. Look at how Jesus cared for those around him. He observed them, listened to them, befriended them, lived among them, cared for them, spoke God’s word to them. People are the center of ministry, not projects and programs themselves.
- Embrace your own gifts and callings, but also your own weaknesses. God will use you as an individual with the strengths you have, but will also work through your weaknesses [which will be more obvious to you as you encounter the stresses and strains of cross-cultural living]. What an adventure! Live in His grace, not by your own efforts.
- Make friends, not only foreigners, but local people. You will treasure those friendships someday and they will treasure you. Find a mentor among colleagues but also among local people.
- Stay close to Jesus and the Word of God. Don’t neglect Scripture, Sabbath, and a balance in life of ministry to self, family and others. It’s amazing how often we can get busy with work [like we are trained to do] and neglect the inner life of the soul. “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.”
- Enjoy the journey. While it is not all bliss, it is deeply satisfying to be used by God to serve others with compassion and find joy even in little things.