The 5 Biggest Mistakes I Made During My First Year on the Mission Field

by Laura on April 11, 2012

Just last year, I was a culture-shocked newbie stumbling through my first months living overseas. {You can read from the First Year Missionary section of the blog here.} And we came as independents {we still are}, brought three small children with us, and probably arrived before we had technically raised enough money to sustainably stay. You could say we’ve done a lot wrong in regards to our transition into full-time missions.

But you could say we’ve gotten a lot wrong about a lot of things.

Regardless, here are a few pieces of advice I wish I had been given {and then been humble enough to listen to} during our first year overseas:

1. Learn the Language, First and Only. When we got here in April of 2010, we hit the ground in a full-out sprint. We gave ourselves very little time to adjust or get culturally-acclimated. Instead, we dove into ministry in a panicked frenzy. And while much may have been accomplished at the girls home we worked for, our long-term ministry and effectiveness have suffered because it has taken us so. much. longer to learn to communicate.  We’ve had individual tutors, we’ve done 6-week long classes for tourists, we’ve promised {and then re-promised} to do Rosetta Stone daily, we’ve made flashcards and more flashcards. And we still only have a workably-mild grasp of the language. I assumed we would be fluent by now, honestly, and it frustrates me that I still have to pre-plan my Asian phone calls.

Learning the language while you are in the thick of ministry is like trying to get your Masters when you have small children and a full-time job. You can still do it, but it is much harder and much slower and much more frustrating. Trust me, the three months or six months {or more?} you devote to simply learning the language and adjusting to your new culture will pay off dividends in your long-term effectiveness. 

2. Sandwich Vacation. I wish our family would have taken a vacation between when we left the States and when we showed up in Asia. The stress and emotional weight of the goodbyes at the airport are brutal, for you and for the kids. And the stress and emotional weight of diving in to your new culture are equally as brutal. I wish we would have given ourselves a breather between the two– a few days at some nice hotel or some beach somewhere to process the leaving, to rest from the moving process, to collect ourselves.  I think for the kids that would have made the “adventure” of moving overseas more enjoyable, right from the start. {I think it would probably be an equally great idea as a family transitions from living overseas back to home, too, for the same reasons.}

3. Do Not Dive In. Really, Stay on the Dock for a While. The tendency for go-getters is to go-get-some-ministry-on — especially if your term overseas is two years or less. Your plane lands, and the Great Clock of your missionary life seems to start its countdown.  And so you give yourself a week to get settled, and then you attack whatever ministry it was you came to do. I get this tendency. I’ve lived this tendency. However, I wish I wouldn’t have. Because it takes more time than you think to find housing and food and the closest place to buy lightbulbs. It takes time to begin to learn the culture, to figure out your role in ministry, and to look realistically at the effectiveness of your/your organization’s work. People that jump in too quickly tend to either A) Burn Out or B) Make a Mess of Things. It’s better to avoid both of those, I am thinking.

4. Beware of Going Solo. We did not come with a missions organization. We did not come with a team. We lived out in a rural area, where we didn’t know the language, at all. {Because, obviously, I hadn’t listened to the advice of other missionaries to learn it first.} The kids didn’t have a school to make friends at, and on so many levels we felt very alone. And while I’m not a big fan of some of the hoops missionaries have to jump through because of missions organizations and while I understand the risk of your team “not working out,” I do know that community is essential. Anywhere. 

5. Expect Disappointment. From yourself. From your marriage. From the ministry you came to serve. From the culture. From your finances. From the nationals and other missionaries. From your walk with God. From your kids. And while I am typically a sunshine-daily optimist, I know I would have done better during our first year if I had lower expectations. When you are gearing up to go, you can feel a bit like you are attending a perpetual pep-rally of sorts. And in some ways, you need this inspiration to just get on that plane.

However, when you expect to walk into your new very-foreign land with the guts of Hudson Taylor, making converts like Billy Graham, while toting kids around as well-behaved as the Duggars, well, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Grace, grace, and more grace. I guess that’s advice that translates anywhere.

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Allright, let’s play a game. Pretend you have the ear of a new missionary, heading to the field. Assuming they want advice, what would you tell them to do or not do? Is my advice off?

Not a missionary?  No worries, you can play, too. Assume you are giving advice to someone in their first year of ministry, parenthood, whatever season you’ve just walked through. What would you tell someone just starting out?

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Related. Wondering if Missions is Screwing Up My Kids | First Year Missionary {On My Awfulness} |  8 Reasons Not to be a Missionary  | Culture Shock

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{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

Jasmine Tell April 11, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Um.. YES!!! So spot on! I would also add that if you’re there for longterm, shorterm, midterm, whatever, connect with others, no matter which category they’re in. In my first year and a half here I’ve seen the all too easy tendency to not want to connect because someone is leaving soon. And when you desperately need community, you can’t do that.

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lauraparkerblog April 11, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Jasmine, yes, this is a good reminder. What is it about us that we automatically shut off people that aren’t going to be here long term? I remember a missionary lady telling me when we first got here to LIE and say were were staying for at least four years in order to have anyone invite us over to dinner. Sad, but so very true.

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Rebecca Aguirre April 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Your advice is excellent!  Great post!  I would give much the same advice as you have here.  

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lauraparkerblog April 11, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Thanks, Rebecca. :)

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Sharon@HikingTowardHome April 11, 2012 at 10:53 pm

oh my. I completely agree with every one. and yep… we did them all too.

The language was a killer for us, there is no rosetta stone for Cebuano just for Tagalog. So that was not even an avenue we could have tried. There is only ONE language teacher working with the ENTIRE missions community in our city and it was a large community (course we didn’t know this community until we were on our way off the field). And that language teacher only had ONE HOUR a week for us. With so much in English (menus, billboards, music, etc.) we weren’t ‘forced’ to learn it. There really was no “immersion” experience.

AMEN to the not going it alone. we did. and then  you are really left hanging when your home church decides that you aren’t “worthy” anymore because you allowed your daughter to play soccer in modest crops instead of big immodest floppy culottes.

I might add to this list:Don’t feel guilty about splurging every once in a while on expensive IMPORTED FOOD. (American food that you miss.)

Or feel guilty about enjoying an American fast food place. (Our Sunday night after church routine was to go to McDonalds every week. We also did Christmas and New Years there too! Yes, that means I did not cook a big dinner on either of those days.)

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lauraparkerblog April 11, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Love the advice about not feeling bad about splurging on american food! It is totally more expensive, but most times, it is worth. every. penny. Thanks, as always, for your honesty, Sharon! Love hearing from you.

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Beth Clark April 12, 2012 at 6:23 am

Once again I just laugh as I read your post (in a good way) because it’s so freakishly similar to us.  My hubs and I were nodding with every word you wrote.  I would say the exact same things and I completely agree with the splurging.  I’ve often heard from our supporters that they WANT us to do those things, not all of them, but most!  

The advice I would add is this:  we are responsible for the obedience but God is responsible for the outcome.  It’s not our burden to carry.  We said YES.  We went when and where He said to go, the outcome of it all is up to Him.  Moving overseas, living cross-culturally, immersing your family and kids into such a foreign way of living are all levels of surrender, sacrifice and stress.  Leave your country with the mindset of being a learner.  Enter the new place just as a toddler finding that bravery to stand and walk.  Be a learner and give the heavy expectations and burden of outcomes to God!

Learning the language is H.U.G.E.  We’re almost at the end of our 2 year mark and struggle, daily, with the language.  BUT-also remember you can communicate without speaking.  You can’t talk…but you can communicate.  It’s NOT easy-but we can just as easily over focus on language and miss opportunities as well.  Be diligent, practice the language and get out and communicate with those God puts in your path.

Lastly, what I do-still-is go to familiar.  Find the things that are familiar and just sit and rest!  I go to book stores in the AC malls and just walk around the isles b/c they’re in perfect order!  I find the coffee chains I can’t afford to buy but still sit in there b/c it’s familiar!  Sounds silly but really helps on those really bad “this culture drives me CRAZY” days!

Enough from me :)  Thanks for always writing so openly!
Beth

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lauraparkerblog April 13, 2012 at 6:12 am

Beth. We must meet. At some point soon. :)

On another note, I love and agree with this: ”
Leave your country with the mindset of being a learner. Enter the new place just as a toddler finding that bravery to stand and walk. Be a learner and give the heavy expectations and burden of outcomes to God!”

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Natalie Bunch April 12, 2012 at 10:07 am

As a wife looking to move overseas long-term with her husband within the next two years, this insight is invaluable. Most of this I’ve heard (and experienced) before, but it’s wonderful to read your raw honesty and perspective. I’m definitely going to need to learn (and pray!) more both before, during and after our transition. Thanks!

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lauraparkerblog April 13, 2012 at 6:13 am

Natalie- awesome! i hope i wasn’t too discouraging! Living overseas is a hugely stretching but hugely beneficial experience, for sure! Where are ya’ll looking to go?

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Gretchen April 12, 2012 at 11:00 am

Hi, there!  I would say, along with others who have said this, that relationships with people are very important, more important than the things we would check off our ministry “to-do” list.  This goes for finding community, but also trying to be connected with locals as much as possible since 1. they’re the folks we’re serving anyway; 2. they can help us learn language; 3. many other reasons, like helping us feel more connected to our host culture.  You don’t have to “reach them” for Christ or anything grandiose, but having friends who are local go a long way toward all the things above.  Also, make sure you have one or two (or slightly more) people you can be “real” with at home about all the ups and downs of life in a new culture, and who are at the ready to send home foods that will help you feel loved.  My supervisor would ask those of us on the field what we missed from home, and brought those things to us the next time she made a field visit, and it was WONDERFUL!  Can’t do liquids nowadays, but it was awesome to get Mint Milanos and peanut butter!  And remember that it’s not a sprint, but a marathon, and what doesn’t look like success to us just very well may be (see the relationships comment up above). 

Would echo the advise on finding a place to just be.  There’s so much more energy you spend as a foreigner and you need to be able to replenish yourself as much as you can.  My escape was going to the movies; it was such a welcome break from the language I was trying to learn, and often I would sense God speaking to me through one (Spiderman 2 ended up being one of those moments, as I was coming off the field and feeling really torn about the decision).

Anyway, I LOVE your blog!  Thanks for all your observations and thoughts and sharing.  Great insights and realness, and I feel loved as I read your words.

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lauraparkerblog April 13, 2012 at 6:18 am

Gretchen, yes, connecting with locals is huge and sometimes hugely overlooked by lots of missionaries. I am totally guilty of this one, myself . . .

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Lori April 12, 2012 at 12:15 pm

I have written you before Laura and in fact, I was just writing to Becky R. and I cannot wait to have an iced coffee with the three of you one day! :-)  Like I have mentioned, I have walked in your shoes and almost feel like we could have co-authored this blog together…  We have just left the same area of Thailand and are now in the States.  What advice would I give?  Renew your mind with the Truth of God’s Word.  KNOW that you are already complete IN HIM.  Don’t run from the uncomfortable times, but rest in His arms and allow Him to mold you into His child that trusts even when it is so difficult and disappointments on so many levels are present.  Realize that other people’s behavior is a reflection of where THEY are at, and not some defect in yourself.  Battle through the tendencies of others to protect their own hearts from living in a transient community and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE no matter what and whomever the Lord puts in your path.  YOU be the one who shows God’s love, attempts to create unity and community, but know that only Christ can fill your needs, in fact, ALL your needs are already met in Him.  Yes, learn the language, but give yourself a break too.  Allow yourself times for your brain to take a rest since it is always on “go” when trying to communicate, read and absorb the constant bombardment of stimulus by being out of your comfort zone.  Bloom where you are planted, don’t compare yourself with others and don’t get caught up with thinking you are doing God any favors by being there…  Just thank Him that He is choosing to use you.  Realize that He doesn’t NEED you, but He is allowing you to join Him in His work that HE is doing.  Remember that God is in the business of molding and shaping us into Christlikeness, and to draw you to Himself.  The journey is just as important, or more, than the “results”.  Run TO God, not away, when the journey is difficult…nothing is wasted.  Take advantage of the incredible experiences and opportunities that have been afforded to you & your family through your ministry placement, they will not be replicated any other time.  Teach yourself and your children who they are IN Christ, so that they can distinguish the Truth from the lies they will be faced with the rest of their lives.  Take advantage of all the teaching moments with them, instead of trying to “protect” them from the ugliness of sin they see around them.  Remember that you are God’s Beloved and that He is always present, good and faithful.  Enjoy the journey with your Lord!

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lauraparkerblog April 13, 2012 at 6:19 am

Lori– sooo fun that we are real life friends with Becky. She is a gem, for sure! I love her.

And yes, coffee with all three of us would be so. much. fun.

And, loved that you wrote this: “The journey is just as important, or more, than the “results”.

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Carol April 12, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Oh my…there’s so much in what you wrote.  I’m not a missionary, but you said I could “play too” so, this is what I would tell someone just heading into the season I’m coming out of…

* When you think you won’t live through the day and you can’t do it another minute, you can.
* One step at a time is all you need to do, it’s not forever, it’s just today.  Get through today.  Use all the tools you have to just do today. It may mean just getting through each hour, one minute at a time.  But today is all you have to do.
*  Trust the experience, strength and hope of the people who have gone before you.
* Know what and who your anchor points are, cling to them like you life depends on it…it does.
* Have exceeding amounts of grace for yourself and others.
* God can and will do for you what you can’t do for yourself.

Those are some of the things I have said, and will continue to say, to people who are just at the beginning of the journey.

You’re experience, strength and hope will benefit so many new missionaries Laura.  It benefits me in my own mission field right here at home!  Keep speaking it out!
 

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lauraparkerblog April 13, 2012 at 6:21 am

Oh. My. Word, friend. This advice is so applicable, so rich, so truely learned, I know, by the writer.

Thank you for giving us this. It was so encouraging for me to read– esp. the idea of in the beginning especially, just getting through one. more. day. And trusting that God is the anchor, the hope.

Proud to call you friend.

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Clare April 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Best piece of advice I was given? Get as much training as you can before you go. Because once you’re out there its really hard to find the time to do it. And for me that included some time at a mission training college, learning (thankfully for my sake!) the points you’ve mentioned above, along with all other sorts of practical, psychological/emotional and theological pearls of wisdom from those that have been there before. For me it was an invaluable investment and I’m so thankful for that advice! I just wish it were as easy to put all I had learnt into practice…:-)

Also- an emergency supply of chocolate for the bad days is essential!

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lauraparkerblog April 13, 2012 at 6:22 am

About the chocolate, smile. :)

About the training– I CAN see that as much more valuable than I had given it credit for before I left.

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@ngie April 12, 2012 at 5:54 pm

This post, dripping with raw honesty, has the feel of “If I had it all to do over again…” Which in turns begs the question: do you think you ever will do it all over again? In another part of the world? In a part of the world close to where you are? In your mentality towards your current reality?

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lauraparkerblog April 13, 2012 at 6:17 am

Love your questions! Honestly, unless the Lord did something huge in us, I don’t know that we are looking to “do it all over again” in another place. Now, two years in, I feel like we are finally getting our feet on the ground and I think it would be hard to go back to ground zero in a different area. BUT, I always always want to be open to the Lord . . . always.

I think this post just stemmed from my heart to try to steer others around the pits we fell right into when we first moved– things we didn’t know to ask, didn’t know who to ask them of. i think with anything, any struggle/failure/learning curve, you look back and you can see the GOOD that came out of the struggle, the things you learned, the character that was built.

You are the expert, though– logging more than a decade now, right, overseas? What would you say is important that first year?

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@ngie April 13, 2012 at 11:27 am

Oh, no, no, no… NOT the expert. Climbing down off the pedestal and kicking it over to make room for a seat at your kitchen counter, pretty please? :) I think every single one of these you mentioned applies to every day of missionary life whether you have been livin’ it ten minutes or ten years. Language and culture learning, vacations, keeping your eyes and ears open and your mouth closed, community, disappointments, grace, grace, and more grace are all essential all the time.

You’ve got what it takes to make it, Laura. I am glad to hear you are in it for the long haul.

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lauraparkerblog April 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Thanks, friend. Love your encouragement, as always, always.

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Chris Lautsbaugh April 13, 2012 at 4:21 am

Don’t underestimate how long “setting up your house” will take in a new place with new ways of doing things

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lauraparkerblog April 13, 2012 at 6:13 am

Chris, totally a BIG one. Just settling in and getting what you need to do life is a loooonnnggg exhausting process. One that we totally underestimated!

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Daniel Arnold April 13, 2012 at 7:59 am

good points!

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lauraparkerblog April 13, 2012 at 9:27 am

Oh I really really liked the advice about decreasing other books but the bible. Hadn’t thought of that but it’s a really good one. Congrats on15 months!!!
Laura

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Jenn April 13, 2012 at 8:05 am

Yes! Yes! Yes! This 15-month old missionary would call this some great advice!  All of it. I love this: ”When you are gearing up to go, you can feel a bit like you are attending a perpetual pep-rally of sorts. And in some ways, you need this inspiration to just get on that plane. However…”  Oh, that was exactly our experience before moving here! It does get you off the shore, but it sure doesn’t help with that expectation thing!Other advice for newbies? 1. Write, write, write. Pretty soon you’ll forget what it was like starting out, and you’ll want to be able to look back on all God taught you. 2. Increase Bible reading and back off of other reading sources for a few months. During a transition like that, or any difficult time, we’ve got to have our ears pricked to what God wants to tell us through the Word. Simply read your Bible and take time away from some of the noise so you can hear Him better.   

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Stephanie Gutierrez April 13, 2012 at 10:06 am

Laura, having also been on the mission field for just over a year (we’re in Peru), I couldn’t possibly agree more with what you said. You were SO dead on it’s crazy. It felt cathartic reading your post, and I hope that lots of other newbie missionaries can learn from our mistakes! Thanks for sharing :)

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Andrew April 13, 2012 at 10:41 am

Agree with all five. If you’d done 4., that might have looked after all the others. For almost all westerners, learning for the first time a tonal language (such as Thai) is a lot harder than we expected. And the Thai writing system is, of course, a monster. 
If you’re serious about learning language, then that means you are necessarily serious about learning culture, and that includes being serious about learning to live with local food too. It takes time (I think it took me about 2 years in Thailand before I stopped missing cheese, and about 4 or 5 years before I stopped missing bread) but you must try, must work at it. 
On point 3 (don’t dive in) I’d suggest, if possible, finding something small you can get into in a part-time, short-term / interim way, telling everyone you’ll just do it for, say, 6 months. That way you can get real in-the-local-scene experience, but you won’t have to live with the mess of your initial mistakes forever.

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Lana April 21, 2012 at 1:19 am

 The tonal language is hard but foreigners have an easier time with Thai than Asians do because Thai is such an open mouth language rather than making all the sounds in a closed mouth.

I agree on the writing system. I’ve taken spelling tests in Thai day after day but doesn’t mean I can correctly form any sentences. How many years did it take you to become fluent?

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Andrea April 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm

The best and most challenging advice my husband and I were giving about one year into ministry in Uganda (we are now 3 1/2 years in) from a veteran missionary couple was don’t expect the locals to adjust or even understand your culture.  You have chosen to enter their culture, and so you must learn to embrace and adapt to it – whatever that means.  We were initially so frustrated by cultural differences and just wished that some of the nationals would learn how to “talk our language” for once, but were humbly reminded it’s not about us.

Just stumbled across your blog a few weeks ago.  Thanks for sharing with such honesty about the highs and lows of missionary life.

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lauraparkerblog April 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Great point, Andrea– “They” don’t have to change/explain. “We” are the “invaders”, so to speak. We need to be the ones to adapt and humbly learn. I know for me, I can get so frustrated with the lack of “efficiency” here in just simple things– how to pay a water bill, how to get the fruits at the grocery store, etc. And I subtly become egocentric . . . which is not helpful or Christlike.

Thanks for this input, Andrea!

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Jenn April 14, 2012 at 12:58 am

 You think your going to change the world and somewhere along the journey you realize you have done all the changing and the world is better for it.  I have stood staring out into the mass of nationals walking on the streets wondering how I could love them being so unlovable and I was hit by the truth that I hadn’t been seeing them through  Jesus’ eyes.  My culture had conditioned me to expect others to do what was right and if they didn’t I could surely voice my outrage…we have rights you know.  But Jesus culture says…no one has rights and the greatest thing I could do is love (even..no…especially in the face of an angry bitter hardened and broken national) and when kicked ask what more I can do to love better than I did today.  I am ashamed to say this but I realize that I am not alone that so many of us with good intentions come into a country thinking we have all the answers and will save the world not realizing that we have not embraced the grace.  Yes, grace and more grace.  I love that.  So get ready to change…get ready for all you have known to be challenged. Get ready to understand what cultural convictions you have been adhering to that don’t have credibility. 

Thanks for your great advice. I love how you communicate.

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lauraparkerblog April 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm

This caught my breath. I LOVE how you put it:

” You think your going to change the world and somewhere along the journey you realize you have done all the changing and the world is better for it. ”
Totally get this.

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Brittany June 17, 2014 at 8:07 pm

I want to quote you!! “You think your going to change the world and somewhere along the
journey you realize you have done all the changing and the world is
better for it.” I read this weeks ago and this hasn’t stopped resonating with me. I’d love to be able to use your last name as well though. Any chance of that?

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Amy April 14, 2012 at 1:27 am

Love your blog!  Especially this post.  We just finished our first term of 3 years in India and I can identify and totally agree with ALL of it.  Best piece of advice I was given before I went to India was to buy 100% cotton clothes, that saved me so much sweat (literally)! :)

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lauraparkerblog April 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Gotta love the practical! Thanks, Amy!

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adriel booker April 14, 2012 at 6:02 am

Yes to all of these! I would say… bring a few holiday items from home to help bring family tradition and culture with you – a few Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving items. And maybe even an American flag or table cloth for the 4th of July for the Americans. ;) Also, make friends and relationships with others important – even if their “post” is ending soon. And splurge on American food from time to time. Soooo worth it! :)

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lauraparkerblog April 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm

:) Yes, to the holiday items. We botched this one but wish I would have brought more.

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Mapavkov April 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Lots of things I feel we have learned or wish someone had told us.
1. Don’t be in such a rush to get to the field that you leave underfunded…it will add even more stress.
2. Make room in your budget and calendar for family breaks where you get away from all of the constant barage of needs and can just be together as a family and even rest in comfort like a nice hotel with AC and a pool.
3. Plug into the international/mission community regardless of preconceived notions of denominational barriers, language barries, cultural barriers, mission barriers, etc. YOU WILL NEED THEM!
4.Don’t be afraid to allow yourself some “comforts” like a decent, safe home, or internet access or “American” food.
5. Don’t be shocked or dismayed when you and your spouse feel more stress and fight more than normal for the first 6 months-1 year. The stress of moving cross culturally magnifies everything including your spouses imperfections.
6. Make a way to sleep well. This might mean a good mattress, a good guard, a good AC. Whatever it takes.
7. Brings things from home that will make your new home truly feel like home. Nicknacks, holiday items, small photos.
8. Make communication a priority. Skyping, emailing, even spending money on phone calls is important so you don’t feel isolated and abandoned.
I could come up with a much larger list but I will spare everyone…..
Two things my father in law, who is a 30 year missionary veteran, said to us before we left for Africa was
#1 Always, always get good rest. You can’t give if you can’t function.
#2 Make life enjoyable for your children, keep them a priority and maintain some ”normal” for your family, whatever that means for you. If you don’t they will resent you, resent missions and ultimately resent God.

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lauraparkerblog April 15, 2012 at 7:53 pm

This was a treasure trove of advice. I loved, and hadn’t thought of, the importance of good rest. I had read that an overseas missionary needs physically one more hour of sleep a night, too! I guess the results of being under stress.

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Lauren J April 15, 2012 at 9:25 pm

 For a couple getting ready to head to Africa this is fantastic advice! Thank you:)

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Jim2Romania April 15, 2012 at 12:36 am

Interesting observations.  I’m a new overseas missionary.  I became acquainted with people here over the internet, witnessing to them.  In the process I met Christians.  I visited here 3 times.  I met people, I met pastors.  I began the move to Romania in January, 2011.  I went home for 3 months, then arrived back in June, 2011.  I’m a single, 60 year old.  When I arrived back in June, I hit the ground running.  I do have a mission agency, I’m their first overseas missionary.  My mission is to use Christian films in an outdoor setting in the villages of one of the most Spiritually needy parts of the country.  I have Romanian helpers, many are young people.  In July 2011, I bought a van, the screen the mission sent from the USA, arrived.   A sound system was ordered.  My mission president arrived the last of July with his son to put the screen on top of the van.  By the end of the week we were ready to begin in our first village.  We took a van full of young people to teach Bible stories to children, songs and play games.  Others organized soccer with teens.  By night fall, a crowd had gathered to watch the first film.  By the end of the summer, we had been to 17 villages, had 34 evenings of ministry and more than 50 people had gone to help us during the summer.  Many have said all winter, we can’t wait until next summer to get back to the villages.  We knocked ourselves out, but God blessed tremendously.  I have been learning the language bits and pieces at a time, and that’s ok, I have great helpers.  During the summer I obtained a 5 year visa with the help of my Romanian pastor.  My experience is almost the opposite of your advice.  God is working here in incredible ways.  I have been going to help a Christian English teacher in a public high school during the winter and have made many friends of students.  Our team has been to a school for handicapped children.  We have been to a youth prison.  I have been in many, many churches.  I have pastor contacts coming out of my ears!  We just began our outdoor ministry again 2 nights ago.  The schedule is filling for the summer.  We have a team coming from my sending church in Michigan to work with us in June for 2 weeks.  We are posting pictures of our work on Facebook!  This is the 21st century and even in Romania, media plays a big part of the lives of the people.  I would not change a thing.  The language will come.  I only wish I could do more.  The hour is coming when no man can work!  God bless you!

Jim Morgan
Drive-In Ministries
Craiova, Romania
Facebook:  Cinema pe Roti  (Cinema on Wheels)

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lauraparkerblog April 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm

WOW! Sounds like a lot of positive things going on in your part of the world! We went for a few days to Romania several years back and worked with a missionary we knew and young people and it was the warmest group of people I have ever met, to date. Loved hearing your positive stories, Jim. Thanks for sharing a different perspective!

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Ashley L. April 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm

This is such a great post! I love your heart to bless others by sharing what you’ve learned. One thing that I am seeing as we end our 6th year is how much my passion and vision for our ministry and heart for this country have grown the more that I really get to know and love the nationals. For the first couple of years, most of my friends were other American missionaries, and we primarily *ministered* to Russians.  Over the past few years as I’ve learned to really find life-giving friendship with Russian women, both believers and non-believers, my heart and passion for the people and our ministry have grown exponentially. I feel so much more alive in life and ministry because of these friendships.  It is like I understand the reason for our work all the more when I get to know and love and can start to really understand actual tangible hearts and souls. Life also feels so much less isolating now that I realize that I am not limited to the small and constantly fluctuating community of foreigners when it comes to deep friendship.  At first I couldn’t imagine how I could have truly life-giving friendships across cultures, languages, and beliefs, but it really is possible and so incredibly wonderful when it begins to happen. I wish I would have known to strive for this earlier and to have put forth the effort to learn how to be true friends with Russians. It certainly wasn’t easy initially, but being able to relate becomes so much easier with time.  I’d encourage younger missionaries to give prayer, energy, and effort to just learning how to be friends with nationals. Maybe this sounds like a no-brainer to most people, but to me it was really hard when I came face to face with the very large barriers between me and the national women during those first years. But it is so very worth it to make the effort in this area!

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lauraparkerblog April 15, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Ashley, this is awesome advice and a great point about the nationals being a more consistent source of friendship rather than the ever-changing expat community. Hadn’t thought of that before, but it’s def true.

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Sera April 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Thanks for sharing your advice. It’s truly encouraging to me to hear the good and the bad of adjusting to life overseas. I have to remind myself it isn’t as “grand” as it seems. I’ll be joining my future husband in the Philippines next summer, so I have a lot to look forward to, and a lot to get used to. While I’ve had some cross-cultural experience after spending summers in Cambodia, I know it’s still going to be very different than I’m picturing. I have the next year to try and prepare myself, and I really do want to start learning the language now, so I have some sort of grasp when I get there.

What kind of advice would you offer to a newly married couple, moving overseas, doing the wrong thing by plunging in instead of waiting..?

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lauraparkerblog April 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Sera,

Congrats on getting married AND moving overseas soon!

I think maybe if you can both just take it super easy the first year. Don’t expect loads from yourselves but give your marriage time to grow. Beware of burn out early- you’ll be adjusting to marriage AND a new culture, so give yourself heaps of grace not to “accomplish” anything at first beyond just adjusting and loving your husband and Jesus well.

Congrats, again!

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Andrea Pavkov April 21, 2012 at 10:26 pm

My husband and I moved overseas 10 days after getting married. Many advised against it but we found it an amazing blessing for our marriage. In reality, since we were in the bush in Africa amongst a small missionary community we really had to rely on each other more and settle into our marriage with life very simple. I think often couples in the states and other western countries focus far too much on making their physical home exactly what they want, or spending time with their friends, etc. etc even once they get married. We only had each other so therefore we learned quickly to depend and rely on each other and solve our own issues instead of running “outside” for advice, etc. We wouldn’t change it for the world. We also had our first baby on our nearly 11th month anniversary:) I guess we were just rebels:)

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lauraparkerblog April 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm

I love thinking of a young married couple, out in the African bush. I can only imagine that that catapulted your marriage and your relationship!
And I happen to like rebels. :)

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lauraparkerblog April 21, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Oh, and Andrea, great advice on marriage, too . . . glad you wrote in about this. :)

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leeshinyoung April 19, 2012 at 5:12 am

Thank God I found this site. The advice here are really helpful. I’m also a missionary who once had a different expectations about mission work. Then it changed when I was in the actual mission field.  Unlike you, I’m under a mission organization who trains missionaries before sending them to mission fields. But like I said, it’s different when you are in the field.

May God bless you and your ministry!

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lauraparkerblog April 19, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Thanks for stopping in– yes, things are definitely different when you go from theoretical to practical. Glad you have tasted the fruits of good training though– that makes a difference, I am sure!

Take Care,
Laura

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Shelley A. April 19, 2012 at 11:01 pm

Your blog is so right on!  We are in our second year on the mission field in Colombia and we are definitely living through our mistakes as well.  I just had to laugh as I read your blog because I thought I was reading about MY life!! We also came here without language school (BIG mistake!), had unrealistic expectations and although we are with a mission agency, we’re opening up brand new work with no team (this means a severe case of loneliness at times).  Through it all I have learned so much about myself, my relationship with God and how to grasp onto Him in a whole new way.  I pray my experiences can one day help others who are headed to the mission field.  One of my tips would be to plan on extra “entertainment”  money for you and your family.  To keep sane in this difficult country our family of six often finds refuge in the small things like going to the mall for ice cream or going horseback riding or going to a nearby water park.  We also splurge on American food at times as well.  Nothing brings us comfort the way a good ol’ hamburger or pizza does!  Blessings to you and your work in Thailand.  Keep on keepin’ on.

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Ly April 20, 2012 at 11:19 pm

ALL comments are so right on!  I wanted to add one piece of advice that I don’t think is presently in the list – but if I’m wrong, please forgive the repetition.  (This was given to me before heading to the field – and what great advice it was.)  Hire a house helper – and don’t feel guilty about it.  It takes at least twice as much time to do simple, everyday tasks overseas – just due to the nature of life there.  And there’s no reason to waste time that could be spent in much more valuable pursuits.  I ended up hiring a new believer – who became one of my dearest friends while I was on the field.  She was also my chief assistant in learning the language.  She spoke very little English and was excited to help me learn.  And over the years, our mealtimes together became wonderful discipleship sessions.  She is now working with another missionary, traveling to small villages and sharing the gospel.  It was such a mutually beneficial relationship.  And I paid her a very fair salary, didn’t overwork her, and she never had to work on Sundays – which was a much better arrangement than she had before working for me.  Honestly, hiring a house helper can be a way to provide a good, safe working environment that is often hard for unskilled laborers to find in developing nations.  

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Lana April 21, 2012 at 1:12 am

 amen. and the cooking with local ingredients. Priceless helper.

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lauraparkerblog April 21, 2012 at 3:18 am

Great advice!! We have a helper two days a week. I must admit I struggled with the idea at first but I love the reasons you give here. We haven’t found one I could really connect with yet but I am hoping to hire a new lady next week!
Sent from my iPad

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Beth Chadwick April 22, 2012 at 8:37 am

We just arrived in Germany last week and we are here to learn language for our next stop which is Austria. Thank you so much for this wonderful advice. We have had a few days to just relax as you suggested to me via email and that has been really nice for our family. Thank you so much for all that you share here and all that you do! You are a blessing!

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lauraparkerblog April 22, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Beth! YEAH!!! So glad you have made it and you are on the ground overseas! I feel like I have followed your journey to get there. Proud of you, friend! So glad you had some family time, too, before you jumped into learning language. Praying for you and celebrating on the start of this journey with you, from here.
L

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Elaina Barron May 5, 2012 at 10:00 am

This is fantastic advice!  We are leaving for Guatemala this July and are currently in the “pep rally” phase :)  We’ve had other missionaires advise the importance of JUST doing language school, but its so hard to justify that in your mind when the orphange we’re going to work for is in desperate need of Adminstrators!  I know that you speak the truth and that we will have to find this balance.   My children are also at a delicate age, 11 & 13, so they’re our first priority in this transition.  There is  so much to learn, and I’m glad I found your blog :)  Thank you!

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lauraparkerblog May 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm

So glad we got connected! It is tough to find balance that first year– just listen to Jesus and take it easy on yourselves!! Keep me posted on your journey!

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Ashley K June 12, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Thank you for this post and all the comments. My husband and I will be moving to India on mission in July and these things will be very helpful. We have a unique situation in that my husband is a native and we will be within driving distance to his family. Has anyone dealt with not liking the food? How did you handle it? Did you eventually just grow accustomed to it? My husband is concerned. I have to go through 1-2 liters of water at times to finish a meal…not exactly enjoyable :) I am so thankful for the words of advice. I’ve been making my way through this blog trying to absorb info as we are preparing.

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lauraparkerblog June 19, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Oh, wow, Ashley–

Exciting that you are heading out soon! How long will ya’ll be staying in India . . . getting close now, right?!

Praying for the food situation. My son still hates Thai food but we have made adjustments– ketchup with rice isn’t so bad! ha ha. Trusting that even in those little things, God will show up for you!

Keep us posted on how it goes!

Love, Laura

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Atalie Habal October 27, 2012 at 10:40 am

Hi Laura!

I’m actually in Thailand right now and found your blog about a couple of weeks ago. I totally agree with the advice you gave–especially about learning the language. It’s sets a foundation for an effective ministry. Thankfully, I’m working with missionaries who know the value of learning the language “first and only,” as you said. They said my job is to learn the language–and socialize, haha. They also helped me to realize that I don’t need to feel guilty about getting a washing machine and looking for a house that will make me feel “at home.” I definitely appreciate your honest advice and have learned so much about Thailand from your blog posts. Talking with people about Thailand and reading books about Thailand are all good–but hearing about Thailand from a missionary’s perspective helps because I’m a missionary, too. :) Thank you. You’re a blessing.

Your sister in Christ,
Atalie

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Michelle November 27, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Again…appreciate your honest post!

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Cynthia Castro January 2, 2013 at 9:36 am

I know this post was written a while ago, but I just stumbled upon it and am RELISHING every word! We are currently paying of student debt diligently and quickly in the US, working on our (newish…1.5 years) marriage, and preparing ourselves for potential future mission life IF God calls us to that. We know it is deeply in our ideals and worldviews, so we are taking some missions courses and trying to learn Creole (as right now we are thinking Haiti is where we may end up). We know God isn’t going to drop a plane ticket in your life, but we also know that rushing into anything like that is not wise, so we are patiently waiting, utilizing the blessings in the States, and becoming financially debt-free. Thank you so much for this advice. We on-lookers appreciate it very much :-)

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Laura Parker January 4, 2013 at 12:12 am

Absolutely . . . thanks for reading. :) Can’t wait to see where God leads you guys!

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Danielle Hamlett January 23, 2013 at 1:33 pm

i just came across your blog today and really have enjoyed it. My husband and I just moved to Kenya 5 months ago and wish i would have known some of these things :) Thanks for posting !

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Gillian July 30, 2014 at 8:09 am

I know I’m very late to the conversation… But I wanted to say thank you for this post. I’ve been in Thailand for most of the past two years but only made the ‘permanent’ move nine months ago. I have been doing full-time language school but also dove into helping to pioneer a new ministry project almost immediately (within an established ministry, so not going solo – phew!) I think I knew it should be language first but somehow had missed the (excellent) idea of language ONLY. I think all of your points are great – the one that I really needed to hear was ‘expect disappointment’ – it’s encouraging to me that it’s normal that all my expectations haven’t been met! Grace, grace and more grace is exactly right, but sometimes I forget, so thanks for the reminder :-)

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