Tuesday Topic: Advice for Missionaries Moving to a NewField

From Shilo in Paraguay (currently on furlough): What advice would you give someone switching fields (ministry locations)? What do you wish you could tell your packing-for-the-field-for-the-first-time self now that you’ve been in your location for awhile?

(If you would like to pose a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to formissionarymoms@gmail.com . Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, and specify also if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)


7 Responses to “Tuesday Topic: Advice for Missionaries Moving to a NewField”

  1. 1 Tammy April 25, 2012 at 5:56 am

    We switched fields seven years ago from Kenya to Tanzania (bordering countries). I thought since we were still in East Africa, and the language was the same, that it would be like moving to another State. Uh…NOT! It was a big adjustment for our entire family. Here are some suggestions I have to make the transition easier.

    1. Be prepared for things to be different. Culture, food, language. Even if you are moving to another South American country. There are many similarities here, but each tribe has a different culture here so we found many cultural differences. We also found the food similar, but different. (Mostly because Tanzania is so much poorer than Kenya so they don’t use as many ingredients.) Even though they speak Swahili here like in Kenya (although Kenya has ALOT of English), they use different vocabulary. Things we would say in Kenya would be considered rude here. So go knowing that you need to be a learner again.

    2. Be prepared for culture shock. It won’t last as long as when you first arrived on the field, but you will go through it again.

    3. Don’t compare your new field with your old one. Similar to when you first arrived and you didn’t want to compare America with Paraguay. I found it OK to talk about the differences, but not with a “it was better there” attitude. My worker has enjoyed learning to cook Kenyan food.

    4. Take this time, before you move, to rethink ministry, life style, etc. Since moving to TZ we have adapted a more simplistic lifestyle. We had shipped a container to Kenya so had all American furniture and decorations. We chose to get rid of much of it and buy local items. In our situation we found this helped us feel more comfortable with people coming into our home and not seeing us as the rich Americans. Well, they still think that, but at least all our “stuff” isn’t right in their face. I also recently sold off alot of things in order to have less stuff to clean and keep up with. It’s been liberating for me! This is a good time to really think about what changes you want to make.

    5. Give yourself time. Just like you learned to love Paraguay, you’ll learn to love this new place of ministry. As you become involved in the lives of people you will begin to love them and you will find yourself “home.”

  2. 2 Phyllis April 25, 2012 at 11:35 am

    I think Tammy covered it all. We also moved to a neighboring country: same language (but sometimes different words), generally same culture, different country. I was just going to say to give yourself time. I’ve been kind of surprised about how long it has taken me to adjust here in some ways. Also, I have tried to really dive into and even enjoy the differences. I’m somewhat of an analytical person, so I’ve enjoyed researching connections and roots of traditions that I was already familiar with and differences… And you probably get the idea. 🙂

  3. 3 Kara Coe April 25, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Amen to all that is said. Phyllis, you and I have had similar experiences, in the same countries, I think! We went from Russia to Ukraine and back to Russia.

    I think the most important thing is to have realistic expectations. Reviewing the cross-cultural training that you had originally can be helpful. Most of the intentional things we did at first are forgotten quickly, as we feel more like cultural insiders. And we tend to think that we’ve ‘arrived’ as cross-cultural workers. It’s a good chance to relearn humility! Embrace it as a way to die to ourselves and let Jesus shine through our cracked vessels.

    Another note about moving (whether to a new city or country or continent) is to be patient with the adjustment. It takes time to build community. It’s okay to grieve your old community. As the new person, you will have to be very intentional to build relationships–and not be hurt by others hardly noticing you! It’s worth it! And it’s great if you can find other ‘newcomers’ who’ve lived there a year or less. They often have more time for new relationships 🙂 Even after a year, you may feel you don’t have deep friendships, but keep investing, and you will!

    During our four homes in four years stage we started bringing more and more with us! We brought sheets and a favorite shower curtain, even a down comforter that we loved. In order to really feel at home in a new place, we put more of our stuff in it. On the other hand, we also stopped ‘importing’ so many American food products and realized that we didn’t miss them as much as we thought! It’s a good time to re-think what things really are worth the hassle. Some are, and some you’ll never notice are gone.

    Lastly, give yourself (and husband, and kids!) grace. It is a time of grieving, a time of transition, and we all are humbled and broken. That makes it a perfect time to receive and give grace in abundance!

  4. 4 Ashley L April 26, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Wow, you guys all have such great things to say! I wish I had read these things a few years back when we moved from a smaller southern town in Russia to a much larger northern one! I don’t really have anything to add, but as I read Kara’s advice about being intentional in building new relationships, I was reminded of a terribly embarrassing story. During our first few months in St. Petersburg when I was boldly trying to meet our neighbors, I accidentally accepted an invitation to tea with the neighbor guy upstairs (and his little son) thinking that he and his wife were BOTH inviting me…. I was mortified to find out once my kids and I had already taken off our shoes that she was away at work. Can you say awkward?!

  5. 5 shilocain April 28, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    What wisdom God has given you ladies! I was curious how much of what I experienced changing fields was universal and how much of it was just my experience. I must say I’m very thankful we get to go back to the same place this time! 🙂
    Tammy, I was going to write an article on this subject, but it looks like YOU should be the one to do it! 🙂
    Blessings to all!

  6. 6 shilocain April 28, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Ashley, how did you get out of the situation???

  7. 7 Ashley L April 29, 2012 at 3:19 am

    Well, I wish I could say that I managed a courteous and totally relaxed response right away and that we got out without any awkwardness, but let’s just say that it was one of the most embarassing moments of my life! I did escape a heart-to-heart with the neighbor guy, but I thought of a bunch of less awkward ways to have done so only after the fact. Life overseas can be quite humbling (trying to balance un-known cultural norms, language, and a situation that I knew couldn’t be….), and I was very very humbled in this moment!

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