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 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 immerse ourselves into the culture of a former Soviet bloc 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 seven years. Even though our apartment had basic furnishings, we needed a few additional things. In the US, I would have known the stores I needed and even visualized where the necessary items might be. In my new location, I could not even visualize where the roads out of our small village would take me. We asked questions and did some searching, but it wasn’t always easy to find what we needed because of unfamiliar brands, store layouts 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 6:30, not 7:30!
Culture shock will vary depending on the location to which you are 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 it!
This has been a peek into some of the stresses of life in another culture that only missionaries (or those who are relocating to a foreign culture) will experience. We have not even touched on the challenges of actually working there. However, please note the following links that offer more discussion on the challenges of serving cross-culturally.
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 seven years at Black Forest Academy in Germany. Black Forest Academy serves mostly U.S. 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.