Getting a Great Start

Five Best Practices for Your First Year on the Field

by Pioneers-USA

You’re starting over in a new culture. Your first year there can set direction for years to come. Looking back, how will you wish you’d spent it? We asked veteran missionaries what advice they’d give new missionaries about how to spend their first months on the field. Here’s what they said.


1. Leave your home culture behind.


In the long run, staying in touch with your support network back home could prove crucial for staying on the field. So it may seem ironic, but in the earliest days, such efforts can do more to hurt you than to help you. More than one veteran recommends cutting ties with social networking so you can focus on building new relationships in your host country, because it “isn’t just a time hindrance, it’s a heart hindrance to belonging in your new home.”


2. Give yourself to language and culture learning.


Begin language study immediately and stay focused until you are able to minister in the language of your host people. Then keep going. “If you’re learning a new language in your first year, make it your goal to make 1,000 mistakes each day,” advises one veteran. “Changing my focus from ‘speaking perfectly’ to talking as much as I was able and seeing my mistakes as my assignment brought much less stress, and much more joy to language learning.”


“Go all in with language and cultural study!” urge other workers. Live with a local family for a month or more. One family says, “We learned SO many things we couldn't have without our homestay.”


When overwhelmed by language and culture, it’s natural to pull back to protect yourself. Resist such urges and replace them with disciplines of curiosity. “Learn skills in observation and question asking. Believe you can learn something from any situation. Pray for a cross-cultural friend you can ask about life and things you see around you.”


3. Learn from many mentors.


“Concentrate on meeting people at every possible level to learn as much about the culture as you can,” says one veteran, adding, “Gain as many mentors as you can from the local culture and continue to study under mentors your entire career.”


“Seek as much advice and as many tools as possible from those who have come before you,” says another Pioneer. This may include written sources as well as people. Ministry training tools (see resources below) that seemed theoretical become rich when you’re putting them into practice.


4. Stay emotionally and spiritually healthy.


Pressure to advance and unrealistic expectations—yours and those of others—may be inevitable. “Be ready to not be good at anything and allow God to use it as a time to help refine you,” advises one wise veteran.


“Life and transition into your field is going to be tough enough without you adding additional pressures or concerns on yourself and your family. Make decisions that are intentional in ensuring the health of you and your family. Find friends and activities that allow you to cope with all of the different trials and struggles that you may face.”


Don’t try to do it alone—be faithful to fellowship with Christians. “No matter how busy or crazy things get, carve out time to pray with teammates, fellow believers and family.”


“Create a habit of Sabbath rest with brutal intentionality. It never gets easier and you need the worship, rest, and delight that first year to keep yourself focused on Him,” says one veteran.


“Keep your relationship with Jesus close; listen to His voice; worship lots (even when you don't feel like it),” adds another. “Ensure that you make time for devotions and time together with God, even when there is not a local fellowship for you to worship with.”


5. Take time to get away.


Most missionaries find it helpful to have regular times away from their host culture. “During our first year on the field our family made it a priority to take two days off monthly to leave the city (if possible) and stay at a hotel overnight. We’d spend one day having fun together as a family without distractions, and one day meeting in solitude with the Lord (practically that meant each parent spent half a day with our son while the other met alone with the Lord).”


“The times we did follow through were some of our best memories from our first year! Our family relationships were blessed… our understanding of the culture and people improved… the silence with the Lord often helped us reflect and redirect plans… and we often had a lot of fun.”


See also Before You Go: Five Pre-Field Practices Healthy Missionaries Cultivate and Staying Healthy in Missions.

One Pioneer specifically mentioned Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials and 3D Gospel: Ministering in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures, both by Jayson Georges.



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