A missionary doctor, nurse or health provider in his or her first term is all enthusiasm. After all, he or she may think, “After all that preparation, let’s get on with the real work!”
But those first few years show how much more there is to learn! First there is the adjustment to the new sights and sounds, then a new set of co-workers, then a new job, and of course there is langauge learning! We want to provide excellent medical care but face the obstacles that often exist in resource-poor settings.
On top of these things, in those first years we may also be working on:
- issues of marriage and singleness
- growing a family
- integrating spiritual and physical ministry into practice
- understanding how our role fits with the vision and strategy of mission and church
- doing things outside of his or her training, such as leading a team or projects
- conflict and team formation
- identity issues (“who am I really?”)
During this intense time of learning and growing, sometimes I am asked for advice on getting futher training: should I do an MPH degree? get tropical medicine? learn more about management and leadership?
Looking back over my own 30 years with SIM in medical missions, I think I tried to do too much too early. So my suggestion is this: take a longer view and then break it up into steps.
The complexity of the task means that if we try too much too soon, we won’t do anything well. So in the early years it may be best to focus on the basics: our relationships, especially marriage/singleness/family; language learning; and practicing what we have been trained to do.
Then it will become clear what is needed for later stages. Not everyone needs to go on and do a public health degree. Not everyone needs to go to seminary. Not everyone needs to become skilled in management. But everyone should grow in their understading of their gifts and abilities, and over time, take on new challenges. Everyone should grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10).
The process of discovering those good works prepared for us by God is a journey.
Let’s take it one step at a time.