How to prepare for Life in a New Culture
Recently I have been listening to a podcast that interviews missionaries from around the world. One of the questions every person interviewed gets asked is, “If you could go back in time and tell yourself something before your very first time overseas, what would that be?”. This question really got me thinking, what would I tell myself? Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I would tell my newbie-self is that no matter what, we must abide in Jesus. Maybe that seems strange to you, kind of a no-brainer kind of advice, right? But, as missionaries, I think it is easy to forget, to go along as if our walk with Jesus is peachy – when in reality, we are struggling, barely surviving.
We have all heard it and maybe even had these same expectations ourselves of other missionaries, but many times missionaries tend to be put up on a pedestal. You may feel the expectation to have your spiritual life together, like, all the time. Even to our fellow missionaries, it is so hard to be authentic with each other and share our true, deep struggles. Maybe this is due to our typical, strong personalities or just that we perceive we will be judged. But what I learned the hard way was to truly rely on Jesus and not myself. But how do we prepare for that, right?
Through our preparation for life overseas, we had a good deal of really incredible trainings. Trainings about church planting, discipleship, reaching the unreached, fundraising, finances, cross-cultural living, language learning, etc. All of these trainings are clearly necessary. But, what we learned in abiding in Him through experience was invaluable. It is hard, though, to put into words how to prepare yourself for the spiritual battle ahead. He will prepare you for what is ahead but He must be the priority. See, at first, even getting prepared and those first few months on the field, you really need the Lord because it is hard. Then, you get into a groove and it seems like you have gotten a good handle on things, your language is better (a sign of success is actually receiving what you thought you ordered at a restaurant), you are able to get around the area you are in, you have local friends, ministry is going well, etc. This is the place to beware. Seriously. This is the place where we, as people, tend to allow our own spiritual walk to slide because, well to be honest, we’ve got it going on. That, and we are quite busy doing life and ministry in a culture not our own. Even missionaries we knew on the field, and sometimes myself, didn’t have a daily personal time with the Lord. I know many of you reading this will maybe roll your eyes and say to yourselves, well of course I will continue our spiritual life just as I do now. But there is really nothing I can say to prepare you for the challenges that lay ahead. Our walk with the Lord overseas is more difficult, it is not akin to being in the States, at least not in our experiences in other countries and cultures. I mean, thinking about it in a spiritual dimension, you are in territory that the enemy will not easily give up. Whatever your theology is on the spiritual battle, there is no denying that spiritual forces are at work. That means that we must hold on tight to the Lord in all that we do, even when it feels like it is getting easier.
Still, I have yet to truly answer the question of how to prepare for this. My advice to you: Seek the Lord, He is the giver of wisdom, of life. He longs to give good things to His children. And He longs to bring the lost to Himself. Start now in prioritizing your time with Him, however that looks. It doesn’t matter what is going on, seriously make it a priority like food itself, it is sacred. Bring everything to the Lord and continue to wait in Him, abide, and be obedient to what He asks of you. Find an accountability partner that you can share your deepest struggles with in honesty that will be there for you to encourage you, pray for you, and keep you accountable. They don’t have to be on the field with you but I would suggest someone who understands the struggles of cross-cultural living. Surround yourself with people that will pray for you, even when you have been on the field for 1, 2, or even 5 years. Lastly, be honest with yourself, give yourself grace when you aren’t at your best, and faith in the Lord who goes with you, always.