Get Orientated: 10 things you need to know before going on mission

by Ann-Marie Wilson
Posted on 1st January 2009

After recently giving a talk on 'orientation'[1] someone asked me 'well, how many times have you been orientated?' When I said '14 missions with 8 agencies, over 8 years', I think they thought 'Is she commitment phobic?!'. That aside, I have experienced good, bad and mediocre orientations over my career, consultancy life and in missions since 2001, as I journied with God to find my call; I will offer you some tips that will enable you to do your own DIY orientation if no one else plans one for you!

So, here are my top 10 things you need to know...

Before you go....

1. Be in it for God!

There is a Biblical mandate for mission 'Go unto all...' (Mk. 16-18). Make sure you have accountability in your church/from good wise friends before you go, that that they pray for you whilst away.

2. Prepare Yourself - Pre Trip MOT!

'Check' your attitudes and values and leave your heavy 'baggage' at home! Travel light, and use tools like Strengthfinders[2], Myers Brigg[3], Belbin Team Types[4] and Honey and Mumford Learning Styles[5] to learn about yourself before you leave home.

It's also good to read up on the culture, religion, customs and practices of the people you are visiting. Learn a little language (50 or so words!); what/how they eat; what they wear in relevant seasons/weather - gumboots or flip-flops, skirts or trousers etc, short sleeves tops etc.

3. Clarify your Role

Check out what your role is, the boundaries of your responsibility/authority and where you fit in to the organisation, sending and receiving! Also find out who you will work with (peers), for (supervisor) and why (clients/customers/beneficiaries).

It's also good to clarity their expectations of you; what's appropriate for different genders and how they do friendships and relationships for all sorts!

4. It's in the Detail - Attend to Practicalities

Make sure you have budgeted; bought insurance; planned for emergencies; have contact details; organised travel etc.

Also ensure you know what you will be doing in as much detail as possible. Ask lots of questions and make sure you are not guessing (or wearing rose-tinted glasses!) to fill in the gaps![6]

Once you are there...

5. Prepare for Culture Shock

Immediately get into the new time zone, stop eating home culture food, and be 'curious and fascinated' by how different life is! Watch their news (even if in another language!) and take time to do what they do - it will help you adjust.

6. Be Healthy and Safe

Having had the relevant jabs and taken preventative medication, be aware of your physical, mental (thoughts) and emotional (compassion) life. Keep spiritually refreshed - keep up your prayer life, and church attendance even if difficult and in another language!

Assess travel risks and if unsure don't go! Wear seatbelts; lock car doors; avoid danger; make sure someone knows where you are; be aware - and pray lots!

7. Bless the Local Church

Get into the habit of counting your blessings daily, and volunteer for anything and everything! You will be amazed what doors it opens and how you will grow - even if not in your comfort zones. My 'unplanned' spontaneous opportunities have included preaching; street evangelism; teaching; healing; reconciliation; sharing testimony; counselling and many more! Share your faith in a way that they can understand and that is culturally sensitive.

8. Get to Know People

Someone once said to me 'don't get close else you will hurt when you leave'. I don't agree: get close, make friends, grieve the loss, leave a positive impact, and move on!

Share mutual and different experiences: laugh, cry, talk and learn together. Expand your horizons and keep up with people you meet to grow your network on our planet.

9. Be Fully in the Moment!

Don't focus on where you've come from, and limit your contact with home (SMS, MSN, Skype) - so you can be fully in the present. Be your best, be effective, be flexible and quick to forgive yourself, God and others. Leave notes of thanks and gifts behind you and remember a smile and kind words cost nothing!

After you leave...

10. Prepare for Reverse Culture Shock

Journal your feelings, and tell a balanced view - not all poverty and brokenness, but beauty, smell, tastes and sights! Share photos, but be careful on the web (no name, no one of 'you and them' together, if sensitive). Volunteer to share your stories, in articles, talks, at church etc - it will help your debrief!

Remember every day is a fresh stepping stone with God - see how you have changed, and prepare for the next step! My path is very clear as I look backwards, and semi-clear as I look forward - but God sees it all, so I don't need to!

More than anything, enjoy the ride!


Ann-Marie Wilson is a mission partner with Church Mission Society (CMS) and a member of St Barnabas Church, North London. She is seconded to Restored ( She can be emailed at