There are things that only another doctor can understand about the real life of being a doctor. There are things that only a mother or a teacher can understand about those roles. In the same way, only another missionary can really understand the life of a missionary.
One of the many challenges is culture “shock” usually followed by culture “stress”. A missionary may have a short term trip and enjoy the experience. However, if they return for a long term commitment they may become overwhelmed by culture shock. When we embarked on our first missionary trip we had committed to a semester of teaching at LCC in Klaipedia, Lithuania, a university built after the Soviet occupation. A full semester was a good length of time to begin to merge into a former Soviet block country. We had to adjust to their view of life and a modernization that was entering the culture too quickly for economics to keep up.
Other challenges were evident when we entered our second missionary venture to Germany where we stayed for 7 years. Even though our apartment had basic furnishings, we needed a few things. In the US, I would have known needed stores by name and even visualized where the needed item might be. In my new location, I could not even visualize where the roads out of our small village would take me. Of course, we asked questions and did some searching but it wasn’t always easy because of unfamiliar brands, store layout and items I did not recognize at all!
We also discovered that language can be a challenge when I turned up late for surgery! We did not understand how time was marked. As it happens, “half seven” (as it was stated in German) was actually 6:30, not 7:30!
Of course, culture shock varies depending on the location to which one is going. Whether it is a first, second or third world country, a large city full of tourists or a remote rural area, the challenges will be very different but they will be very real. The point is, be prepared to be surprised and roll with that!
This has been a peek into some of the stresses of life in another culture that only missionaries (or others entering a foreign culture to live) will experience. We’ve not even touched on actually working there. However, please note the following links that discuss more potential challenges.
Helen and her husband David confirmed God’s first call to missions at a MissionNext Conference in 2002. After three short-term (2-4 month) projects in Lithuania, they joined Wycliffe Bible Translators. They then taught for 7 years at Black Forest Academy in Germany. Black Forest Academy serves mostly US passport missionary families who work in over 50 countries throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. Now, back in the States, David continues to serve Wycliffe in a human resources capacity.