What World Travelers Should Know Before They Go: Part 2

Skills Not Taught in Bible School

Also see part 1, What World Travelers Should Know Before They Go.

A while ago we published an article about some of the practical skills would-be missionaries and other travelers would do well to learn or brush up on before they get on the plane—all, it happens, things those of us on the sending side might be able to help with.

I suggested learning to cook from scratch, operate a motorbike, and do basic repairs. I threw in a few more ideas and categories to prime the pump, then asked you for feedback. Here are a few great suggestions that came from reader submissions. Thanks, everyone!

1. Do site-specific research.

Tina from One Mission Society recommends doing lots of research about where you’re going before you get there. Make it as site-specific and current as you can. “I once told an about-to-arrive coworker that we could readily get pork even in a Muslim-dominated country,” she remembers. “True in the city where I was at the time with a fair Chinese population. But in the city where they were going, the Chinese population was much smaller and that was not true. Oops!”

You (or the missionary candidate on your mind) may survive without ham and bacon. Other things you may really need, or need to know about. It’s good to ask lots of questions, then hold the answers with an open hand since opinions may vary or conditions change. The would-be worker would be wise to make an in-person visit (what my organization calls “a survey trip”) to see the place for themselves rather than relying on a barrage of emails, calls, or texts to tell them what they’re getting into.

2. Grow in navigational know-how.

Been lost in as many cities as I have? A few skills can help you get where you are going. Neal Pirolo of Emmaus Road International writes, “Know directions: North, South, East, West… without a compass. Know how to read maps. Know how to find places without a map by using landmarks and following people’s instructions.”

Neal says his wife has trouble with this, yet she’s led more than 50 ministry trips and God has always provided someone who has the knack. Praise God for partnership. None of us can do it all.

But it’s worth learning to get around before you go. “I once worked with a young intern on our field who didn’t know how to read a map,” says a reader named Rachael. “Even though she was just coming for three months, it was really difficult to let her go out on her own—we weren’t sure she’d make it back home!”

Note that these days, the same tools we may rely on to get around in our home countries—like navigational and ride-share apps on our phones—may work or have equivalents in our host countries, too, provided we have our phones charged and handy. And especially when we have some language under our belts. And speaking of that…

3. Get a kickstart on language and culture learning.

Learning a language and culture may be a lifelong pursuit, but it’s worth getting a jump on before you go, as several readers point out. This is true whether you’re there to stay or just passing through.

“Study a bit and learn the culture, at least enough not to insult your new friends, and to learn a few phrases in their language like please, thank you, etc. People love it when you at least try to say something in their language and they will more than likely teach you more if you ask,” writes a reader named Rebecca.

Alan, who has worked with Wycliffe for years, encourages a first-timer to take advantage of today’s language-learning apps to do some basic learning in the major language of the region or country. While local dialects often vary, starting with a language app will help them start getting their ears attuned to the new language.

Alan also points out an essential skill to learn a little later. “Once in a language learning setting, I encourage the person learning to pray out loud in the language as early as possible, so that as they grow in learning the language in different contexts, their ability to do something as basic as praying (which we learned to do in English early on as children) grows along with language skill. I had colleagues who had spent the better part of a year learning French (on the way to French-speaking Africa) who had yet to pray out loud in French, and so they were hampered in their ability in the language in this area of faith.”

4. Learn to be a language learner.

And speaking of language… Rachael works for the Institute of Cross-Cultural Training at Wheaton College. “One of our biggest services is in teaching people to be language learners,” she says. This kind of training can be very helpful, even for those expecting to learn a “major” language for which there may be lots of language-learning resources. She explains:

“Many people think they know how to learn a language (because they took Spanish in high school, even though they didn’t learn too much) or that language school will just automatically teach them everything (though this isn’t true). We help learners become self-directed and know how to fill in the gaps left by a language school, tutors, or various methods to become effective, efficient, long-term learners. I think this is essential for anyone needing to learn a language!”

Pre-field language (or language and culture) acquisition programs vary in cost, duration, and depth. Schools and mission agencies may provide training or referrals. In the U.S., check out Mission Training International the Center for Intercultural Training, and TRAIN International for several good options. You can also find helpful online resources from Global Trellis and Grow2Serve.

5. Deal with debt and learn to live on less.

A reader named Barb who served in Nepal brings up several key points related to the management of money. It is helpful to be mature in this area before launching into another culture. And, like many other skills on our list, these skills may serve you well at home or abroad.

The first skill she mentions is living on less than you make, which requires learning to budget and stay debt-free. “Practice before you go,” she urges. “Debt is often a reason why willing workers are delayed in getting into areas to serve—saving for a rainy day is a lost skill in our culture. The Lord has scriptural wisdom for us on this topic.”

“Support from home often decreases over time, or inflation and access to products shipped from the West may become more expensive,” Barb points out. “Learning to adapt to the local culture often requires living on the products, foods, clothing, and daily rhythms of your national neighbors. Though there may be Western stores, they are usually more expensive and beyond the reach of your neighbors. Learn to eat what is available.”

If you manage your money well, you will be ready to give to others—something missionaries may have many opportunities to practice. Barb remembers how her national friends in Nepal with shared meals and welcomed her family to their celebrations. “We need to learn from their example,” she says. Right on, Barb. We who benefit so much from the generosity of others should also be good givers and generous with our neighbors.

6. Don’t go without a team of partners.

Finally, as Neal points out, nobody should go out as a mission worker without an active partnership team, a group of people as committed to the cause as they are and ready to send them well. Emmaus Road has many resources to help with this. If you serve in such a role, good for you. I hope you do such a good job every missionary wants such a sending team. May the Lord bless you and make you a blessing to the nations.

Header photo by Tommaso Pecchioli on Unsplash.

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