You are smart, educated, well-rounded, able to carry on intelligent conversations and extremely self-reliant. Then, because you’ve said yes to God, you have been reduced to a state of infancy and illiteracy that requires the use of extensive body language just to ask where the restroom is located.
Welcome to the mission field!
Yes, they told you all this in orientation and training, but somehow it just doesn’t sink in until you walk out on that hot tarmac after a twenty-four-hour journey, wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into. Armed guards are surrounding the plane as you move with the crowd toward the terminal, while you’re not only wondering why the need for guns, but what happened to planes pulling up to air-conditioned exit ramps?
Many of these thoughts went through my mind this week as I read the first email from a friend who has now begun the same journey as I did, so many years ago. The lack of language, of the non-English-variety, renders one useless and forced to ask everyone for everything. Your college education hasn’t enabled you to read a single sign, though once it’s pointed out, you are grateful for the beautiful letters W and C, which are somehow universal. Even as you find relief there, you can’t remember for what they stand.* It’s scary to think that even English is going to be foreign.
So, what do you do in this perpetual state of helplessness? Before I give you the answer, I will give testimony: You will get through it, or otherwise said, “this too shall pass.”
The first directive is to remember why you’re there and who sent you. Rely on God to help you when it’s hard. Cry out to him when you’re sad and weary. Lean on him when you feel alone and vulnerable. Thank him, when you make progress or learn a new word and actually use it correctly.
Secondly, learn to laugh at yourself. Think about how much joy a child brings his parents when he’s saying his first words or learning to walk the next time a local laughs at you. Don’t take it personally. One day (maybe several years from now, but hopefully sooner) those same people will be impressed by your ability to speak their language and understand their culture.
Finally, remember those who’ve gone before, whether it’s the workers on the field with you now, who are functioning and being productive, or those you know from books and studies. No one goes out fully prepared for living and serving in a foreign land, even if it’s another state or with the same language. All service requires adjustment and a humbling of oneself.
Jesus is the ultimate example, having left the glorious home with God to take on flesh, limiting himself for our sake. If he was willing to do that for us, then you can be willing to do it for others to know him.
Babies grow and walk and talk so quickly, as most moms will tell you. You too will grow in this new place, and even if the language is slow to come, your inner self will be changing by leaps and bounds as you cling to Jesus and love those you serve.
Ultimately, being needy is a good thing, because it keeps that self-reliant pride from hindering your witness to those to whom you’re called. It’s the humble servant who makes the greater impression for the Kingdom in the end.
Are you willing to serve but unwilling to set self aside for the sake of Christ? Maybe you need to take a trip for a reality check. Trust me, it’s worth the ride.
Grace and Peace
*Water Closet, thanks to the British.