Thursday, January 10, 2013

Guest post: Starting out on the field

I recently received an email from someone preparing to leave the States for the field for the first time. She asked what advice I would give her. I really had to think about it! We've been on the field for ten years and going back to those initial days stretched my brain a bit :)

I shared three things with this young mother that I will share here as well. Please add your own tips too!

1. Laugh at yourself.
 This was probably the greatest asset we had during our first term. Being able to laugh at our language blunders, our mishaps, our infancy-like living skills was a grace gift that kept us on the field and thriving. If you don't laugh, you'll cry, trust me!

 2. Trust.
Uncertainty and change of plans is so much a part of being a missionary. Flexibility is a must; but you can only be flexible if you trust that Someone is directing your steps. When my husband and I first arrived on the field, we had a letter of invitation to study at a college in one particular city. However, as we were in flight from the states to the field, the college sent an email informing us that they were withdrawing their invitation. This meant that in our lay-over city we had to figure out another city to land in. Trusting the Shepherd and Director of our steps preserves those inner resources you'll need for other things.

3. Bring a Kindle!
One of the things I craved (and still do) is reading material in English. This past stateside, I hesitantly purchased a Kindle but now I am so glad I did! Not only do I have hundreds of books to read in English, but most of them I have downloaded for free or very low prices. Being on a budget, this is a great way to keep yourself nourished and fed at a reasonable price. {I guess an ipad would do this too, but I don't have one so I really wouldn't know!}

Okay, now it's your turn. Some of you have been on the field much longer than I have. What advice would you give? What about you newer ones?

Arabah Joy is a missionary serving in East Asia with her husband and four children. She blogs at


  1. I'd add two things: 1) hold your expectations, but very, very loosely and keep an open mind when things don't seem like what you thought they might be like; and 2) watch and listen a lot more than you do and speak, at least at first.

  2. I'm nodding and seconding everything you both said, and off the top of my head add in that when you move to another place, the culture is different in so many little ways that you have to work to not be annoyed by things (like people standing reallyreallyreally close to you) that are fine in their culture. But, only pick up the nice cultural traits, because everybody still likes kindness.


    1. Oh yes, the little things can really add up. THe staring, the "advice," even the smells. Great advice, Joy!

  3. I love all of your thoughts! One other thing that jumps to mind is to try to spend time with other foreign missionaries who have a positive and encouraging attitude and outlook about life in your new host culture. It is so great to learn from other more seasoned missionaries about how to see and deal with all of those struggles and moments of culture shock with a positive lens. I can think of some seasoned missionary women who taught me so much by their perspective and really helped me to view the initial hardships in ways that I likely would not have been able to on my own.

    1. This is so true! It definitely helps to have someone pointing out the positives while you're noticing all the negatives. On that note, be careful not to spend too much time with those (hopefully) few missionaries who aren't really happy, because you'll already be struggling a bit, and the last thing you need is to hear someone who's been-there-done-that complaining about the culture or the people you're adjusting to.

    2. Yes, Even if those more seasoned missionaries are online. There were none close to us when we first served and that is how I got started in blogging :)

    3. I've been thinking about this one. It's very good advice!

      I might amend it to just being deliberate about who you spend you time with. We had hardly ANY contact with other missionaries/ex-pats for the first few years, and that was good for me. Hard, but good. We didn't necessarily do it deliberately, but I might recommend to others that they think about planning out who they'll be around most, like you said, Ashley. :-)

      And now for me, I need to be that positive and encouraging "seasoned" missionary. It seems like when we do get to be around other ex-pats, all we talk about is visas, and that really bothers my husband. Last year we got to spend an evening with a family--fortunately not new at all--and afterwards I was ashamed about how I had complained.

  4. Those are great tips, and my life has certainly changed since ebooks are available! The one piece of advice that I tend to tell newbies is not to come in with "I'm going to win this country for Jesus this year!" as your goal. Give yourself time to breathe, adjust, and observe the ministries that are already taking place.

    1. Ha! I'm laughing because that is exactly what we did~ smile! And yes, we were disappointed!

  5. from Gerda
    May God bless you all! I always wanted to be a missionary...the closest I got to be one was in 1998 when I lived in China as a teacher for 5 months. From my little experience I can say: SMILE! The easiest way to somebody's heart is to smile at them. We all can do with a lot more smiles...

    My husband always says: How do you eat an elephant?
    One piece at a time...

    Rome was not build in a day. Neither can we build a relationship in a day...Give yourself time...

    Allow yourself to be human. Love yourself and be good to yourself.