Guest Post: Surviving the New Adventure

(Jolene, who has been serving in Ukraine for the past ten years, has kindly offered to share this honest and deeply encouraging post that I think will strike a cord, either in our past or present experience, with each one of us serving overseas. And what a blessing for moms preparing for the field to learn and store up this wisdom for the future!)
You have waited many years for this moment.  You surrendered to the mission field, graduated from Bible college, spent many months on deputation, and now you are headed to the field!  Life could not be more exciting, more adventurous!  The moment you have anticipated, dreamt about, and talked about is finally here.
When you get to the field, it is exactly as you dreamed.  Everything is so different, yet so intriguing.  The people live differently, shopping takes a whole adventurous day, the local language sounds just like you stepped into a foreign film setting.  It is a lot to take in, but you are basking in the thrill of it all.  “Yes, this was exactly what I had in mind.  This is exactly what I have been looking forward to all of my life,” you reflect.
The people do quirky things, and you think it is charming.  Things happen that you just know the people at home will not believe, so you write home about it with great pleasure, knowing your friends and family will be just as amused as you are.  You journal each day (whether on paper or on your blog) about the incredulous things you are seeing and experiencing.  This is the life!
And then, a few months down the road, those funny things slowly start to lose their humor.  They start becoming ordinary, and the excitement that got you through those first few months starts to subside.  You have thrown yourself whole-heartedly into learning the language, and you are coming to the realization that learning a language is a much slower process than you anticipated.  After all, you have been here nearly a year and still cannot say an intelligible full sentence correctly.  People still ask you where you are from everywhere you turn, especially whenever you speak.  Winter comes and it is bitterly cold (or even the opposite extreme and in the 90’s!)…. not at all like back home.  Christmas Day arrives and you might find yourself completely alone or, at best, with another missionary family; and well, quite frankly, you are slightly disappointed because you were not able to celebrate like you know your family was celebrating at home.
Living on the mission field becomes harder and harder, and suddenly you look back and realize that it is no longer an adventure.  Those customs that were “cute” to you at first are, really, just rather annoying.  After all, don’t these people know that there are better ways of doing things?
And slowly, little by little, the adventure has worn completely off.  Life trudges on and does not always take the directions you had anticipated.  People are not asking “What must I do to be saved?” like you always dreamed they would.  In fact, if they were to ask, you would not even be able to tell them.  “Does everyone realize how hard it is to learn a foreign language?” you wonder as you think about how embarrasing it is that you have not been able to lead one person to Christ’s sweet salvation yet.
The letters from home stop coming as often, and everyone expects that you have settled into a happy, little routine.  And you have… except that you feel kind of stuck.  “This is where I am supposed to be, but I did not realize it would be so lonely.  Every time I open my mouth to speak, people hang onto my words trying to understand me like a mother watches her toddler trying to speak.”  You feel foolish and want to crawl into a shell and hide.  And it does not help that you do not understand anything that is being preached at church either.  You, the “great missionary” who left all behind to serve Christ, even start feeling un-churched.  Of course, you sit faithfully in every service (while training under a veteran missionary) but still only catch words here and there – certainly not enough to feel conviction or encouragement.  You miss your home church; you miss traveling to the greatest churches of America and being in the greatest Missions Conferences ever to be conducted.  Forget all of that… you just miss hearing English everywhere you turn!
Slowly, discouragement sets in.  “I will never fit in here.  I will never speak this language correctly.  I will never adapt to the way they do things, etc…”  And then you find that you are in a place you never thought you would be.  After all, was it not you who, when you talked about foreign missions to children’s Sunday school classes, watched as those small eyes widened in wonder at the adventure of taking the Gospel to a foreign mission field?  Was it not you who gave touching testimonies to ladies’ groups about your burning desire to reach these people?
But, oh, dear young missionary wife!  You are crossing a bridge between two mountains.  The first mountain is the one you left back home, and the second mountain is the one you will reach once you start making friends and learning to adapt in your new home.  But, right now you are caught between those two mountains, on a shaky, rattling, swinging bridge.  It seems so much safer to turn around and run back to the first, comfortable mountain that you left not so long ago.  But, if you will just endure and keep taking one small, shaky step at a time, one day you will find that you have reached the other side.  And, it is a beautiful mountaintop, filled with the greatest pleasures and beauty one could ever imagine!   From one who has made it to that second mountain, I encourage you to hang on!
I often wonder, if young missionary wives understood this transition process… from adventure to loneliness and change and, finally, to adaption, would there be more missionaries who made it through those first, transitioning years?  Most missionaries who give up on their calling, do so during the first four or five years.
I also wonder if praying friends back home truly realize the lonely tears that are shed during that transition period.  If they did, I am sure they would be more faithful to write little notes and send little care packages to those young missionary families.  If you are one of those praying friends, let me encourage you to find a missionary family who has been on the field anywhere from one to five years and focus on that family.  And when the devil comes and tries to rattle that already-unsteady bridge, the missionary family will hold on tighter and take another step forward…. another step toward their future of staying.
Where are you today on this journey? Are you on the first mountain top preparing to leave? On that shaking, rattling, swinging bridge, feeling lonely and discouraged? On that second mountain top of adaptation? Let’s join together in praying for our dear sisters in Christ who are crossing that bridge. And if you are looking on that bridge, do you have a minute to share a word or two of encouragement to spur your sisters on?
Post by: Jolene

6 Responses to “Guest Post: Surviving the New Adventure”

  1. 1 Ashley L. December 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    I remember very vividly going through this very experience less than 6 months after we arrived in Russia. The thoughts and feelings you mentioned were so much what I was going through, and I remember crying to my husband one night telling him that I think we must not have heard God correctly because I was sure it was time to go home, despite the fact that we felt that our particular call was to be long-term (though we had and still have no idea exactly what that means). I have also heard that moms in particular have either little or no “honeymoon phase” when they first move to another culture. That was definitely true for me. I was given preparation for these things, but I think I somewhat disregarded them or expected that it wouldn’t actually be that hard, but it was. I am so so glad that we didn’t pack up then. It was helpful for us to hold to the things that we felt God had revealed to us before I started going through this emotional roller-coaster (our original call and the confirmations along the way). Of course we prayed and knew that God is sovereign and can do whatever he wants, even if it was calling us back after 6 months, but I am thankful that we waited and prayed because it turned out that it was just a very hard period of time in the process of transition. And I grew so much through it and can see that it was absolutely the hand of God that lovingly brought me through.

    I am praying with empathy for you, dear friends, who might be walking through this same hard time!

  2. 2 richelle December 16, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    i think it is important to add that this cycles… it isn’t like we cross that shakey rope bridge once and then it is all better, never any more doubts, never any more loneliness…

    some years i have felt like i’ve spent more time clinging to the bridge than any other place… other years have been incredible mountain top views. so thankful that God weaves that bridge with truth to which i can cling, that in His grace, He confides these hard moments to us to draw us closer to Him, to allow us some of the fellowship of His sufferings…

    and yes, it is so important to pray, pray, pray… for young mamas leaving for the first time and adapting to cultures so different… for older mamas leaving their big kids behind, returning to a culture that is now familiar but now adapting to a family life that seems to be missing someone/s… for others on the field saying goodbye to mentors and colleagues – part of what has helped them combat that discouragement and loneliness and whom God is now directing elsewhere… and there are lots of other scenarios – including those returning to home cultures and finding out that the “fit” isn’t quite as easy as it once was because they’ve changed and they are back to adapting yet once again.

  3. 3 Ashley L. December 17, 2011 at 4:53 am

    Thank you so much for your great additions, Richelle! I really appreciate the other things that you have shared about how we can’t expect to just be done with those shaky times after crossing that first bridge. Perhaps it is a series of mountains and swinging bridges all along the way? Such a good reminder about how normal and expected it is to experience other shaky and lonely times. I experienced my own mini-version quite recently, right smack in the middle of a time of peace and feeling like I was very at-home here. And I know there will be other longer periods of struggle too…

    I definitely agree though that there really is an initial very major shaky bridge related to adjusting to a new culture that almost everyone of us share in common (though we probably share many of those other bridges in common as well). In my cross-cultural training we called it the “pit of despair” in the process of cultural adaptation. I know that there are probably rare folks out there who would say that they never plunged into this pit in those early years for reasons that Jolene mentioned, though I have yet to meet one! Even despite having been prepared to go through this time, I felt like I must have been doing something wrong, or must have been particularly weak to be feeling such things. Only in hindsight after talking to a lot of other women who had walked through the same very difficult time so early on did I really believe that it was normal!

  4. 4 Laura from Pruning Princesses December 20, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Thank you for the description. I know exactly who I should pray for and send a note to.

  5. 5 jolenesloan December 21, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Thank you again, Ashley, for hosting me on your blog! You are doing a great job here of encouraging missionary moms, and I am thrilled I was able to have a small part in your very important work. May God bless you, friend, and Merry Christmas!!!

  6. 6 каркасные дома September 7, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Highly energetic blog, I enjoyed that a lot. Will there be a part

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