Know you will never change the world. We all think we are going to go into a country and start to see hundreds of people come to follow Jesus. We think we are going to make a huge difference. If you think you can change the world, then you already have your priorities all out of sorts. Only Jesus can change the world! We are merely his tools that he has called to be faithful to His plan.
Know you will not become a superhero. Foreign missionaries are no greater than the people living in the town they were born in and sharing the Gospel there. I believe we are all missionaries no matter where we live. If we are a Christian, the Great Commission calls us to “GO” where ever we are. Sometimes we get labeled as these super Christians when the reality is that we fight sin everyday just like everyone else.
Know you can’t do it better than the locals. You don’t really know what is best for a country you haven’t lived in for your entire life. Americans like to think we know what is best, and we can carry out the best strategy, but just because it works for Americans in America does not mean it works exactly the same way in every country. We are so arrogant to walk into a country and think we can change this and change that without even thinking of the cultural expectations and norms we know nothing about! We are incapable of fixing other people or other cultures. Throwing money at people and problems are not the best solutions to sharing the Gospel. We must listen to the locals and work with them in order to understand how to be effective in sharing the Gospel with them. Is this hard? Of course, I am American too! But the more I live overseas, the more I can see the value in this lesson time and time again.
Know it will not be easy. You will miss family. You will miss certain foods. (Sorry, but Thai food is not my favorite!) It will be hard living here because people back “home” will not fully understand your life here. This new life will shape you in ways others may not be able to understand. Your friends lives back “home” will move forward, which will make visits hard too! Sometimes this can seem like you have been forgotten by others too! You might also feel lonely living in a foreign country. You will miss out on things back “home” too-birthdays, family get togethers, weddings, funerals.Cultural differences are hard to integrate when moving to another country. You might even have to learn a new language, and trust me, in adulthood, this is not easy! It can also be hard to find the place where you fit in. The conditions you live in might not be what you are used to. Our kiddos have to share a room because we live in an apartment. Ministries will not go exactly as you envision them. Your heart might break at the poverty you see as you try to process what you can do to overcome this problem, even though you know you never will be able to do so. Your children’s lives will be difficult and this will be difficult to watch. You will have to raise funds for you whole family to live on. There will be many tears.
Know flexibility is not an option. We go in with a certain mindset, a certain strategy, and then we get slapped in the face. Nothing goes the way we think it will, our strategies and methodologies maybe don’t work like we think they should. If you want to fail and become miserable then just keeping trying to push that round peg into that square hole. We must be flexible because change will happen, over and over again. If you are unwilling to change, then damage will be done.
Know you might not find friends like you have at “home”. Never assume that you and your mission team will become best friends. This was a hard lesson I had to learn. For some this works out and for others it does not. Don’t get me wrong, I do have some great friends here in BKK, but starting at square one in adulthood building friendships is hard! You come to a new country, with a different culture and different stresses, and you might not have any friends to turn to help you. It can be difficult, it can be lonely, and it can be stressful.
Know financial stability is not a given. We live on support given to us by other people. Missionaries walk by faith that God will provide for them financially and sometimes that doesn’t meet the expectation one has in mind. Missionaries need money to survive just like any other Joe out there. Take it from me, missionaries hate asking for money. We struggle with being judged for raising funds, how we use our money and we are judgmental of ourselves for the same guilt-ridden reasons. It might seem like a walk in the park to live off of other people’s donations, but trust me, it is not!
Know you will never be the same again. “Home” is not home. You basically don’t have a real home, where you live is a foreign culture to your own but you have already left your culture. People living at “home” will never understand all that you have been through. They have not seen what you have seen, experienced what you have experienced. Then when you try to explain it to them they either don’t understand or just don’t care. In your new country you will make friends, and then before you know it it will be their time to leave to return to the States or go somewhere else. You will grow accustomed to the rats, cockroaches and mosquitos. I know I have! Your version of life will never be the same. When you return back to your family after living overseas for a year, you will not be the same person. Change is unavoidable living overseas.