Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lessons Learned from an Amateur Missionary

I've been thinking lately about the things I have learned since being here in Natal. September 4th marked my 2-year anniversary, and I think in 2 years I've learned quite a bit of what to do- and what not to do, when arriving on the mission field. I have a few friends who are in the same boat as I am, and a few who are getting ready to go onto the field, so I thought maybe writing these things down would be of value. It's also good for me to write these things down, lest I get too cocky and I forget. :)

1. An effective missionary goes on the mission field for TWO reasons: love for God, which is the most important, and love for the people whom he or she will be ministering to. One without the other causes a lot of pain and reduces the effectiveness of ministry.

2. Don't arrive to the new culture and begin criticizing things. Never utter the phrase "Well, in America we do things this way." You are not in "America" and no one probably cares. If you want to share the way things are done where you come from, humbly say "At home we do it this way," or "where I come from we do it that way," but never use those phrases to belittle the way natives do things. Use them to share about yourself, and that's it. I've learned that your new friends usually welcome knowing those interesting tidbits about yourself and your home culture if you share them in a way that is not condescending.

3. Embrace the culture from day 1. Will you go through culture shock? Absolutely. Will you be homesick? Of course. Will embracing the culture help you get through all of those things more quickly? YOU BETCHA. If your family always celebrated Christmas on Christmas morning, but your new culture celebrates it on Christmas Eve, spend your first Christmas on the field celebrating it on Christmas Eve. You will have a new cultural experience, learn new customs, have something to share in with new friends, and help you not feel soooo homesick. Feel free to celebrate privately on Christmas morning, but don't expect the natives to join you or change their plans for you. Maybe over the next few years you can share your traditions with them. If the biggest meal of the day in the new culture is lunch, rather than dinner, start eating a big lunch and small dinner on day 1. This will help your adjustment, your health, and cause you to not feel "inconvenienced" when you have to switch things up.

4. Be graceful. Do the people in your new culture have a tendency to always be running late? Are you a stickler for punctuality? Don't expect to change their customs with rage. Learn to expect what you know will probably happen, and be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't. Show grace to those who need it, because sharing the Gospel is not as bound to hours and minutes as it is to relationships.

5. Don't assume people love the United States. There is a lot of anti-American sentiment overseas, and arriving to a new country assuming that people will be impressed by you will only add to that. A lot of times the sentiments are unfounded, but a lot of times they are totally valid. Either way, don't try to argue your point. Show them with your behavior, your speech, and, most importantly, YOUR WILLINGNESS TO LEARN, that you represent an exception to what they think is the rule. Over time, you will become the rule (so be careful!)

That's all I can think of for right now, but I'm sure there's more. If you read this and find it helpful, please let me know and I'll share more as it comes to mind. Deanna, I'm specifically thinking about you and your team. Your message to me the other day got me thinking about this!

Have a good weekend!


Jamie S said...

Yes, helpful! I think I will print it off and work it into my LST training!

Hi, I'm Deanna. said...

Thanks Cris! Always good to be reminded of these things. I appreciate your help and support.

Cyndi said...

Words of wisdom and some are probably easier said than done. You are awesome!