We arrive in our host countries and we are outsiders. We have so many dreams and ideas of how God will use us, of how He will bless the people we have come to serve. We probably come hoping to teach and to lead. I have learned that if we approach those roles while remaining outsiders, the relationships won't be as deep or effective, and we may come across as if we think ourselves superior. But, what if we approach these relationships as learners? I strongly believe that becoming a learner within our host countries moves us towards being an insider. It shows that we value the culture and that we desire to assimilate and adapt, to understand it and to live as part of it rather than staying in the outskirts. People love to teach, to share their knowledge, and to be the expert on a topic. When we allow ourselves to learn from other people, we show a humility and hunger for others' knowledge that opens many doors to stronger relationships. Because of this, I think I have a stronger desire now to be a learner than I did when we arrived five years ago.
What are a few ways we can become learners as we serve as missionaries in another culture?
- language - Our efforts to speak the heart language of the people we are reaching out to speaks volumes. Finding local friends who would be willing to practice with you and correct your mistakes is such a great way not only to improve your language skills, but to have an open door to an ongoing personal relationship with them.
- cooking - This is fun! When we first moved here, I didn't have a clue how to cook traditional tico (Costa Rican) food. I asked a neighbor if she would be willing to give me weekly cooking lessons. We started with basics like seasoned black beans and rice, tortillas and empanadas, and then moved to more specific dishes. Not only was I learning some really valuable lessons on cooking economically using the most common ingredients here, but I was building a relationship with this sweet neighbor. In exchange for her cooking lessons, we did an hour of English conversation together every week. Now, when I try a new dish that I don't know how to prepare, I ask a friend if she could teach me how to make it. My Costa Rican friends love teaching me their traditional recipes!
- daily life - Do you need someone to tell you the best place to buy something? Do you need help figuring out how to fix a problem in your house or how to choose the best fresh produce at the market? It might be easier to ask an experienced missionary, but what opportunities might arise from asking a local friend or neighbor instead? You could even ask them to come along with you and teach you as you shop in a new place or navigate a medical issue at the hospital. Asking for help opens doors to relationships.
- new skills - This is something that I have been thinking about lately. I would love to learn how to sew better. My next door neighbor is a really good seamstress. Why not ask her to teach me to sew? I would want to pay her or exchange the lessons for something else (maybe English classes?). She is someone who has recently been on my heart a lot. Maybe this would be a way to open a door to deeper friendship. Maybe you could find someone who could teach you an instrument or painting or...?
What other ideas do you have for ways that you could build relationships in your host country by becoming a learner? In what ways are you currently a learner? Has becoming a learner opened up relationships that you would not have otherwise had?