Dear new missionary me,
Oh, you look so beautiful! I love that you’re still wearing makeup and your toenails are painted. I bet your legs are shaved too!
Ooh-la-la! Soak up those feminine vibes now, my dear. But don’t fret. As you lose your American shine, you’ll be gaining plenty in its place.
Enjoy where you are now, new missionary me. Be fully here.
First things first.
Make as many mistakes as possible. Yes, your little perfectionistic self read that correctly!
Remember when they told you in training that crossing cultures is like walking across a field of rakes? Yup, you’re going to step on a lot of rakes.
Some will rear up and smack you in the head. Other will just cause you to momentarily stumble. But those stories and the telling of those stories will be your “in” to this culture.
Just wait until you accidentally use the word underwear instead of bottle at the store. You have no idea how many people you’ll make laugh with that one!
Each mistake is proof that you came into this place as a guest and a learner and you need your new host country friends to lead and guide you. Listen to them. Ask questions. Feel stupid.
(It’s not deadly. I promise).
Take your view off the horizon, New Missionary version of me.
God may one day use you for those exciting things you dream of, but all of that future thinking takes you away from what He’s doing right now.
Never forget that the kingdom of God is built with small bricks and that the Great Architect is working from blueprints that we will never see nor fully understand.
Stop squinting, gazing and trying to imagine what is being built. Focus on the brick in your hands and love the one in front of you.
Greet your neighbors, struggle through speaking that new language, ask for help, share your reality with family and friends back home, and trust God to take care of the big picture.
Take time to remember this.
Start a journal to keep a record of exactly how you feel at this moment. You may not believe me, but there will be times in the future where you doubt the very call that brought you here.
Create an Ebenezer (a tangible reminder of God’s goodness in this moment: see 1 Samuel 7:12) to remind you of your call and then rely on God’s faithfulness to carry it out.
Success–and What Matters
All right, prepare yourself because I’m going to share a quote that I know you’ll roll your eyes at right now:
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
The next few years may involve a whole lot of seed planting with very little reaping.
When you get discouraged, take a moment to read back through the planting parables. Remember that even Jesus talked about throwing seeds that landed on dry and rocky ground (Mark 4:1–20). Was it his fault that it didn’t grow?
Remember other seeds he threw were strangled by thorns. Was it his fault that he didn’t prevent it?
Of course not! So try not to blame yourself or question God’s plan when your efforts seem to lead to little reward.
This might be a good verse to put up on your wall:
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
God is in total control of what happens in your little corner of the world. And He may have just called you to plant seeds that you’ll never see grow.
And then you were alone
Oh, I want to prepare you for something else. Slowly by slowly you’ll get fewer and fewer responses to your newsletter. Some dear friends will stop responding to you altogether. It will hurt.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and share honestly about the loneliness that creeps in…and how isolation can have unsettling effects on your sanity.
…But Don’t Stay That Way
Finally, find a community of people who understand: Velvet Ashes, A Life Overseas, Global Trellis are some great places to connect with fellow missionaries online.
I know you’re hesitant to reach out to people you don’t know on the internet, but I promise it’ll be life-giving to be regularly reminded that you were not alone.
You are loved. Called. And in God’s hands.
What advice would you have for your self as you first became a new missionary? Does any of this resonate with you?
I’d love to hear about it down below!
Alyson Rockhold has served as a medical missionary in Haiti, Tanzania, and Zambia. Check out her free 7-day devotional about learning to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10)!
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3 thoughts on “Letter to a new missionary: “Dear newly-arrived me””
Many new missionaries don’t realize the effects of culture shock.
Agreed! It can be profound.
Jeff Johnson and David Johnson are on deputation for the field now.