10 ways to survive (and thrive) on the missions field
As we try and navigate life in a different culture and language, we are challenged to remain authentic living life where work, home, relaxation and ministry are often all mixed together. Here are a few things that have helped me survive life on the field. My hope is that these may be an encouragement to you!
1. Stay soaked in the Word!
This may seem obvious, but it takes a lot more effort when sermons are still language lessons and I can't tune in to my favourite Christian radio station or grab a good Christian book from the church library. Online sermons from home, daily Bible readings, scripture memorization and good worship music are ways I stay "soaked". Prayer, of course, is a daily survival necessity!
2. Find beauty
In a polluted, littered, crowded city it's sometimes hard to find beauty, but it's still there; I just have to look more intentionally. In a crowded, smelly bus, if I can find a tiny gap to look through a window and see the magnificent mountains, I know I can endure the journey. Occasionally we take a morning off just to walk in our favourite park or go to the mountains, and it's so good to enjoy the beauty and the God who made it!
3. Have friends you can have fun with
We all need peers or people we can connect with and with whom we can just be ourselves. Often missionaries we're often discipling people or caring for those in our team, so sometimes it's hard to let our guard down and just be silly. For me, I need friends who aren't on my team, who I'm at a similar life stage with and who just “get” me.
4. Have someone to debrief with
The projects that we are involved with involve working with the poor, people with disabilities and people caught in human trafficking. It gets hard and we're learning the meanings of "compassion fatigue," "secondary trauma" and "self-care". I don't always debrief with the same person – sometimes it's over a cup of tea and sometimes it's over Skype with someone back home.
5. Find something in the culture that you really enjoy and that you would miss if you returned to your home country
I really enjoy the way they drink tea here! Even when we visit our home country, I still do tea the way they make it here. I'll put out bowls of nuts, fruit, chocolates, biscuits etc. when I drink a cup of tea with a friend - a plate with a few cookies just doesn't cut it anymore!
6. Have good local friends
It's essential for me to have friends who I trust to not get offended when I ask them to explain something in their culture that is different from mine. I need local friends who will come to my rescue when I find myself in situations I don't understand.
7. Have a smart phone with a good, constant internet connection!
My phone holds my Bible in English and in the language we're learning. A good dictionary app is essential. My kindle app allows me to read good books in English which I can't easily find here.
Bus routes app, directions app and an app where my husband can see exactly where in the city I am, have helped me find my way on many occasions. Music, news, and social media apps allow me to stay in touch with the things and people that I love.
8. Find good food and do exercise
The local food here is delicious, but it's not always what my body needs (or is used to). Sometimes we decide not to buy sweets for the month and rather spend that grocery money on an exorbitantly priced iceberg lettuce or mango just because we haven't tasted it for a year!
Exercise also looks a bit different. I've had to find online exercise videos that I can do inside my house because I can't go for a jog around my neighbourhood without attracting some strange looks!
9. Manage expectations
Your team on the field, local friends, people you came to serve, home church, sending cell, organization and you yourself will all have expectations for you and your family with regards to the decisions you make, how you spend your time and money and the impact you have with the people you came to work with. If you have a high "feeling" personality like me, these expectations can be overwhelming! I find it helpful to have a husband who understands me, knows my limitations and who can help me make decisions and priorities without over-worrying about what others are going to think. I have found that developing a thicker skin helps, as well as remembering that I perform for an audience of one – God.
10. Remember why you're on the field
Sometimes we lose the bigger picture as we struggle with everyday headaches. My husband and I need to occasionally remind each other of our calling. We need to recall God's faithfulness over the years that confirms that this IS where He wants us for this season of our lives. It's helpful to remember that we are part of something bigger - we're not here to make our projects succeed, we're here because God is at work and He has invited us to be a part of the incredible thing He is doing here in calling people to Himself.