The Importance Of Orientation On The Mission Field

Entering into an overseas missionary assignment is not as easy as just getting on a plane and moving into a cross-cultural setting and beginning to minister to the people there.  I suppose you could try doing that.  And I know there have been others that have done this, and perhaps have even done well.  But that is probably the exception, not the rule.

You see, there are so many cultural and linguistic barriers that separate us from other people, that one must carefully get trained and equipped to overcome these barriers before effective ministry can really begin to happen.  Below is an except of a newsletter from a young missionary couple who moved to East Africa back in 2010.  Take a look at what they said, being so newly arrived to Africa, and then read about some of our experiences after that.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦          ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦          ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

 “This month has flown by. We realized it has now been six months since we arrived here in East Africa. It definitely does not seem that long. Looking back, we can see how we have changed, grown and adapted to our new environment. We can also see the incredible amount of blessings God has showered on us. Here’s just a few of the big ones.

Our language learning time was such a blessing. We made many friends and learned so much about the people and culture. A fantastic house became available and the timing was so perfect that we were able to move into it right after language school. We survived our village living and were able to take away so many insights from that experience. And now, we are working full time and things are going well.”

“Another blessing has been our health. We have not had any sicknesses lately which helps us greatly in accomplishing our work. God has also blessed us in the area of friends. He must have known how much we needed good friends to hang out with and relate to while being in such a different culture, because he gave us an amazing team. It has been so wonderful getting to know them and I really feel like we have made some special bonds.

We are also building relationships with a few nationals. It is slow going because of the language barrier but it is most rewarding to be able to connect on common ground. I pray that God is working through us and our slowly improving Swahili to touch their lives.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦          ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦          ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

 From even just this short report, it is clear that this couple got off to a good start.  They talk about making good friends with others quickly, and how they developed relationships with the national people there.  It is vital that these things happen in order to be effective in Christian ministry, drawing strength from one’s colleagues, as well as building a common ground of friendship with the local people, using the local language as the bridge into their lives.

Unfortunately, things did not go as well for our family when we went over to East Africa in 2006-07.  There are a number of reasons which all added up against us at that time which I don’t need to go into right here.  But probably the greatest of all the mistakes we made, if we can call it that, was that we did not take the time to be properly oriented into the life, culture and language of that country.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

It had been planned from the beginning for us to attend language school to learn Swahili and learn about the culture of East Africa, just like this young couple mentioned above.  We had three choices of where we could do this: two locations were many hours distant from where our mission office was in a large town, or at a language school just outside that town.

We chose the school near our office, partly because we did not want to uproot our family with two teen sons again in a short period of time.  But also because we knew our office was very short handed at that time and we had come specifically to help relieve the workload and leadership responsibilities.  It had been a long time since the leaders had been back home in America and we came to carry the load while they took a break.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

What ended up happening then, is that we drastically cut short our language and culture learning.  I ended up having the most training with just one month at the language school and one month of informal tutoring.  I got to the point that I could greet people, and I knew enough Swahili to pay our guards who watched over our house and yard, but not a whole lot more.

That had great impact negatively on our ability to build relationships with the African people to whom we had come to minister.  We attended a Swahili church, but understood little and had great difficulty being able to worship God, not knowing what was being spoken.  We ended up falling back on speaking English, which limited who we could speak with.

We do know that God used us to help out our East Africa Branch at that time.  But the stress of language and culture barriers were more than we could handle at that time, and our ministry to nationals was minimal for sure.  So if anyone is reading this who wants to minister to people in a cross-cultural setting, please take the time to learn as much language as possible first.  Then see how God can bless you in that new environment, and use you to be a blessing to the people there.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Advertisements