'Things we wish we'd known before going out on mission' - advice from the mission community!
We were recently reviewing some old discussions on OSCARactive and came across one called ‘What you would have liked someone to have told you about before you went out on mission’. It seemed like an interesting topic so we decided to pose the question again to our members.
Here’s their feedback, along with some points raised in the original discussion. We hope this will be food for thought for anyone who is about to go into the field (or those still considering if this is the right step for them).
“Practical things... take more copies of your birth certificate than you can possibly imagine ever needing, also take your marriage certificate, your academic qualifications, and your police check (and if you haven't had one then it might be worth getting one done through your mission organisation before you leave, as they are a nightmare to organise if you're not currently residing at a UK address). It depends how long you're going for of course; a six week trip and you might not need any of the above, but as soon as you get into applying for any sort of residence then you probably will.”
“A very practical thing I wish I'd been reminded to think about and plan for: keeping up to date with immunisations. Certainly where we are in Uganda, it's been really hard to get the right jabs at the right time. Having a bit more detailed advice would have been really helpful.”
“The old tax return - what a nightmare! We had to do lots of registering online, getting passwords and everything. If you want to do tax forms online, definitely set everything up before you leave. You also have to purchase some software to actually be able to fill the form online - again good to check out before you leave.”
“A useful book for cooking - More with Less (very helpful for those in developing countries). Oh and bring a pressure cooker (good for cooking tough meat!).”
“A bit of a plug but I wrote Steps on the Missionary Road, for first time missionaries. They're aimed at giving some spiritual support - something I wish I'd had a bit more of.”
Settling in and being effective in your new country
“Learn the language, learn the language, learn the language”
“We deeply wish we had known the implications for couples at different stages in language learning (or for couples who learn languages at different rates, which probably applies to quite a lot of people even if both parties were originally starting from zero.) When one of the pair is (or becomes) better than the other, then, like water, it takes the easiest course... everything gets directed at the stronger communicator, who then gets plenty of chance to practise in a million contexts, while the other is left out, doesn't get as much chance to practise, becomes socially more isolated, and also becomes reliant on the stronger communicator. This means that what is already a disparity becomes ever wider, and causes a lot of frustration to all concerned. Eventually we figured out what was going on, and made some simple decisions, like dividing tasks up so that the person who was struggling had more chance to practise without the other one being on-hand to bail them out. We also deliberately went in two different directions at the end of church so that folk were persuaded to interact with both of us, albeit separately. When we have since shared this scenario with folk, we get a lot of empathy from others who went through similar experiences, which is partly why it amazes us that no-one ever thought to say anything before (or even during!) the process.”
“I do wish that we had had some instruction about giving; there is more training now about Godly, wise, helpful ways to give, and how to be able to help people without making them dependent upon us - but it is a massively TOUGH thing even after being made aware of it. In town we'd often get people at the door with false stories and they would even then go down the mission station to another home with the same fake story. Then in the village there were others who had family that could help and we helped them instead and kind of crashed in on the culture...”
"Be a ‘learner’, as opposed to going there to tell people what you know. Scripture applies to all cultures, but we missionary-types tend to think that the application in our own culture is the correct one for all other cultures.”
"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care, therefore go with an attitude of serving and loving people, not with the attitude that you have something that they need.”
“You must spend quality time interacting with the community you go to. Otherwise the nationals will see through your well-intentioned goals and recognize that you are just there to do your own thing and not because you are interested in them. Some may even see themselves as targets of your ‘religion’.”
“If it is a Muslim country, especially, do not think that you can do anything significant in less than 2 or 3 years... because it takes at least that long to build up a relationship where an impact for the Gospel can be made... unless God intervenes with some unusual circumstances.”
"Be flexible. Expect that things will not go according to your schedule and don't allow yourself to get frustrated when things go wrong. Life on the mission field can be so exciting or it can burden you down if you let it.”
“The real costs aren't the ones you can measure... talk to local people here and they will mostly wax lyrical about how we have "given up our first world comforts" to go to Latin America. They don't realise that we used to live on a dodgy housing estate! The real costs are about family... kids growing up nine-thousand miles from their grandparents; about professional status... my seven years studying in the UK is worth absolutely nothing here so although I'm legally entitled to work, my options are limited to unskilled jobs such as cleaning; about relationships... people put us on a pedestal as "spiritual gurus" and it is pretty rare to find people who are interested in changing that image and getting to know how we really tick... life can be a pretty lonely place at times, you have to find your own ways of support and survival.”
“On a practical note, I think it would have been helpful to have been encouraged to download sermons to take (depends on internet reliability of destination), and to be intentional about listening to them regularly (depending on your local church situation of course). I realised I wasn't getting spiritually fed enough, and had to get myself into better routines with this, which helped.”
“The most IMPORTANT thing is your relationship with GOD. If you aren’t keeping open lines with Him, and making sure you are seeking fresh revelation from Him every day, then you have nothing to give out to others... and that is what keeps me going.”
“Taking a Sabbath is important and regular retreats are vital.”
“Taking time off to vacation is a must (don’t worry about what your supporters will think, you will be more effective in what you do for the Lord if you take good breaks!)”
“Someone told me “Your biggest issues are going to be with fellow missionaries, so keep short accounts and don’t let things build up”. The statistic I was given was 80% of people leave the mission field during or after their first term because of issues with fellow missionaries – and in my first term the reason I would have left had nothing to do with the work, or the local people, it was all to do with fellow missionaries, so I can testify that it is true :)”
“I wished there had been more advice / discussions for single ladies on how to live as a single in a missionary community and amongst the local people - how to draw boundaries in the right places, being self-aware of where you are seeking your comfort / security / affirmation from etc. This may well apply to single guys and to married couples too. I think you don't realise just how vulnerable you are when you leave your normal social networks.”
“Find close heart friendships with local people, not just with missionaries / ex-pats. This is an important one, especially as missionaries often change a lot, but local people don’t.”
“Get used to saying goodbye, and don’t harden your heart to new people / short termers because you think “why bother, they will leave soon anyway”. You will be blessed by them even in the short time they are with you!”
“Having been returned unwell to the UK, I found out that I was unable to claim ESA as I hadn't paid NI contributions for the 2 previous years - I'd stopped paying as I'd already accumulated enough years to qualify for my pension which should start in September - but as I hadn't continued to pay I was no longer eligible for ESA - so no money for being "off sick". Thankfully my church has stepped in - otherwise it would have been very difficult.
Do ensure everyone, but especially older folk, know to continue paying NI contributions if they are going independently, or are responsible for their own funds etc, as it should be budgeted for. Those going with an organisation may find it is already paid by the charity or mission. If not - beware! It is possible to pay the lower voluntary charity workers amount of just over £5 per week - makes a big difference when returning home unwell - or wanting a pension at the end of mission! Do check it all out with DWP!”
Thanks to the members of OSCARactive who have kindly shared their advice.
Feel free to comment on this article. After approval, we will publish your comment here along with your name and country.
"A spot-on list that is helpful for those first-time missionaries out there. One thing I would add, though, is that when it is possible to learn the target language pre-field, it is a tremendous boost to both morale and long-term acquisition. The reason is that research in SLA has demonstrated that with most languages, and especially with inflecting languages (e.g. Arabic, Japanese, Russian, Hungarian), those who begin their journey with intensive formal training become far more native-like and have fewer language-learning issues and frustrations (some are mentioned above) so common on the field. Many blessings!" Marc T. Canner, USA.
"Very nice article. My wife and I are preparing to head to Uganda and this brought up some things that I hadn't thought of. Thanks for posting!" Dan Scott , USA.
"I appreciate all the detailed reminders. I SHOULD GET MY POLICE CHECK SOON. Other things, I have them scanned and wonder whether I should bring a printer along.
I highlight the important items for me and will make a list of must do until I complete them.
One thing I learn from another missionary (who will go to the field in July) All mission organizations are perfect until I join one of them, then that one becomes imperfect.
Pray that the Lord help me to reflect before Him on what I do, who I am expecially when conflicts arise. Pray that I remain humble before Him even what I receive from Him is different from that of others." Yih Jia Chang, USA.