Longevity on the field may be directly related to how a missionary enters the field. I have talked with a number of men and women who have served or are serving overseas. Most agree that the first three to six months are vitally important to the physical, mental, and spiritual longevity of the missionary.
During this time, missionaries experience many changes and emotions. They’ve heard stories of God working throughout the world and are excited to see what God will do in their new city. They’re ready to dive into ministry after spending months or even years in training. Learning a new language and culture are seen as welcomed challenges.
“The first three to six months on the field are vitally important to the physical, mental, and spiritual longevity of the missionary.”
After a while though, the excitement of being in a new place wears off and they’re left with the reality that a long, slow process is ahead of them. As the weeks go on, it’s easy to get busy with things like language learning, meetings, logistical issues, and trying to figure out where to get a haircut. If missionaries aren’t careful, these important things can distract from the main thing.
If you are planning to move overseas, I encourage you to think through these seven things so that you will enter the field well and set yourself up for years of faithful service to Christ.
Be Saturated in God’s Word
If you have not been in the Word today, stop reading this and open your Bible. Meditating on God’s Word is most important thing you can do for yourself, your team, and the people in your new country. Immerse yourself in it, and let the glorious riches of God’s truth renew your mind. When hard days come, Scripture needs to be your foundation.
Develop and Nurture a Humble Spirit
The more time you spend in God’s Word, the more you realize you need him and others. You will need others’ help more during this season than ever before. Larry and Susan McCrary, authors of First 30 Daze, say this about the need for humility: “Entering a new culture requires a humble spirit. The people around you know a thing or two about their own culture. Trust them. Lean on them. Be willing to admit you don’t know much but are willing and eager to learn.”
Develop Appropriate Expectations
Everyone has expectations when starting something new. You move overseas to make disciples and plant churches, but then you realize you don’t even know how to ask where the bathroom is. Ask the Lord to give you patience and a long-term vision, knowing that learning the language is part of the process in making disciples.
Adapt to and Learn the New Culture and Language
The inability to communicate can be one of the most frustrating things about living in a new context. Putting in the work early to learn the language and adapt to your new culture will benefit you in the long run. However, remember that this is a process. It takes time to learn a language, and you will make mistakes. And that’s ok.
Find a Local Fellowship of Believers
It is vital for your spiritual health to meet regularly with other believers. Meeting with national believers is a great encouragement and reminder that God is at work within your context.
“It is vital for your spiritual health to meet regularly with other believers.”
Make Time for Your Family
With meetings, emails, logistical issues, and the constant stress of learning language, family can be put on the back burner. Find time to have fun together as a family. Take the kids along to find parks in your area. (This has the added bonus of meeting other families with children!) Watch a favorite movie in your target language. Put the kids to bed and enjoy a late dinner with your spouse. Whatever you do, make sure you communicate to your family that they are a priority to you in the midst of many changes.
Be Open and Transparent with Your Teammates
One of the main reasons why missionaries leave the field is because of conflict with teammates. This happens because people don’t talk to each other. If you are open and honest with your teammates, and they with you, it becomes much harder to argue and get frustrated. Make it a point to talk with your teammates immediately when there is a disagreement or conflict. If you both are seeking the good of the other from a humble spirit, you will find resolution rather than resistance.
For those planning on moving overseas for the sake of the gospel, don’t be fooled into thinking everything goes smoothly and everyone gets along just because you are serving the Lord. Remember, you are a sinner in need of God’s grace, just like those whom you are going to reach. Remember who God is and who you are in Christ.
Any believer who has walked with the Lord for any amount of time knows that this is a process. It happens one day at a time as we humbly come to him and hear from him through his Word. He will provide all that is needed for us to do the work he has prepared in advance for us. May he find us faithful to the task, and may many come to know him.
Phil Bartuska is an MDiv student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is completing his degree in international church planting. He serves as a church planting facilitator in Vienna, Austria, with his wife, Becca, and son. You can find him on Twitter @Phil_Bartuska.