I would have gotten more cross-cultural training, especially focused on the culture to which I was going. I would have taken more time in language learning. But most of all, I needed realistic expectations. Working in a foreign field is the same as being in a war. I know. I've fought in both and the similarities are striking. There is not much glorious about warfare. It may look exciting on TV or in the movies, but in the trenches it's a lot of hard work. And the enemy has ambushes everywhere. Often you can't tell the enemy from the friendly. And your friends get injured and killed. It hurts.
The culture won't make a bit of sense and you'll even resent the people sometimes, or think how they do things is ridiculous. But you will learn how to live there. You'll learn new cultural cues. You'll begin to see how they do make sense in your new culture. And in the learning, you'll grow to love the people. So learn to laugh at yourself!
Don't give up! When you go, determine that you're going to stay. It's like God meant marriage to be. It won't always be easy, but make it work! Don't expect the other person to change. Change as you need to. And there's probably no better environment to promote change in us than working in another culture.
Tim, who has served for twenty-five years with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Cameroon and the United States.
Boredom is real. I heard that before I left my home country. But now I have long periods of down time that I used to fill so easily at home. The first two months or so in a new place are the hardest, since you're establishing new friendships and a new pattern of life.
Knowing yourself is very important. I have been stretched a phenomenal amount, especially in the first months of my assignment. If you have any hidden personal issues, God will bring them to light. Be willing to deal with them as they come up; don't push them away. God needs to break you in order to use you.
Be teachable, and be a lifelong learner. It's easy to depend only on your ability to figure it out once you get there, since firsthand knowledge may seem more dependable than book knowledge and theories. It's not true. Know before you go.
It takes time to ease into the structure. At home, I had lots of energy to fill my day from early morning to late at night. But overseas, I tire so quickly. Realize that being stretched physically, emotionally, and spiritually as well as facing a new culture, language, and living situation wears you out. It's okay to slow down. Being a missionary is not about being superhuman and accomplishing a long list each day. Some days all you'll accomplish is a trip to the grocery store or a government office. It's about trust, obedience, and hearing the Master's voice.
Bethany, who is serving in the Middle East with the Assemblies of God.