4 Myths About Missions Preparation

by Naomi Johnston

Preparation for the journey has not been all I thought it would be. Here are four myths I’ve slowly found my way through, as we prepare to leave one way of living for another.

 

1. Speed signifies the favor of God.

This is so subtle, and yet so incredibly overwhelming in the mindset of today’s culture. Why are things taking so long? Isn’t God’s blessing like oil on the cog of ‘getting things done’? Well no, no it’s not. There are so many stories of people in the Bible, and other Christians through history, where the cog was not greased and the Christian had to fight his way uphill and battle obstacle after obstacle to finally get where he had been called to go. And that’s because this is a marathon, not a sprint.

One incredible example of this – and I could spout off a thousand here – is the incredible story of Joseph, the son of Jacob. My pastor shared this story this past Sunday and renewed in me the sense that everything could be going wrong on the outside, but God is using that time to develop character and place you in circumstances that lead to the dream being fulfilled.

How was Joseph supposed to know that the pit led to slavery, which led to temptation, which led to prison, which led to Pharaoh’s palace, which ultimately led to a childhood dream coming true? Sometimes when we’re in the pit, we don’t understand the timeline, but God can see the whole thing. Speed is not necessarily a sign of favor.

Solution: Rest and slow down. Find the ways that God is using slowness to develop character in you, and take time to appreciate that.

 

2. We should be able to financially support ourselves somehow.

Modern missions should move with the times and move into tentmaking. Or at least this is something we get told a lot. And I understand the heart of it, and at times I agree. However, God develops something special when he calls on us to rely upon the obedience and calling of others. It’s along the lines of humility and patience, both words that are absolute nightmares to develop, but when achieved, are so refreshing in the character of a friend.

God sometimes does call us to use our talents and earn our way. Most of the people we know live this way! We study, we work, we earn. And that’s God’s blessing. But this should never be used as a cop out when God is asking something uncomfortable of us. And that’s exactly what I had been doing for first few months of this whole process, I had been relying upon my own ability to get me to Budapest, when God has been asking us all along to trust him, to obey him, to ask other people along on this journey with us.

Solution: Allow yourself to feel the discomfort of relying upon God for your life. That’s how it’s been all along anyhow, you just didn’t realise the extent of it, until now.

 

3. Things will start to change a lot when we move.

Actually, things will start changing now. When you change the focus of your life, things will begin to change around you. Things you found important before will seem trivial, and things that were small in your mind will become the things that you value the most. Friends that were a huge part of your life may start drifting off. And other people may slowly come into focus. Things you thought you needed in life to be happy and content will start to seem meaningless.

God is using this time to develop character in us that will make us fit for the field. I dread to think of what it would have been like if God waited until we were in Budapest to begin making changes in our character that would make us fit for the role. And when you see it like that, doesn’t it seem so silly to think otherwise? Allow flexibility in your life now, before you leave, for God to change things and adjust characteristics.

Solution: Lean into the change. Write down the ways you are changing so that the future you can look back and understand the necessity of change and the rewards of it.

 

4. Failure is a sign of doing something wrong.

If I could convey to you the anxiety I feel when cold calling a church or an organisation, no one would want to become a missionary. Thankfully, it’s one of those things I warm up to once I’ve started and I can bust out a few calls in one sitting. However, there is a massive rate of failure when it comes to this approach. And there are a huge amount of people we’ve talked to that simply did not feel our journey was something they connected with and wanted to support. Now, that does feel like a failure, and that failure hurts a lot.

My instinct when I’ve spoken to a group of people and have no response, nada, zip, is to ask myself “What am I doing wrong?” But because of my confidence in what God has asked me to do, I am sure that it is not a sign that we are on the wrong journey. And this wonderful quote from Karen E. Quinones Miller sums it up for me completely:

“When someone tells me “no,” it doesn’t mean I can’t do it, it simply means I can’t do it with them.”

So simple and yet so true. When we face disappointment and feel like it’s failure, I like to remind myself now that it was not because I’m doing the wrong thing, simply that they were not called to be on the journey with us. And when we remove that sting, cold calling and approaching people becomes much more manageable. Failure is not always a failure. It can sometimes simply be God closing the wrong door. Joseph would never have become Prince of Egypt if he had remained prince of his family. He needed the pit and the prison to get where he needed to be.

Solution: Don’t take the no’s personally. Remove the sting by being aware that it is simply the wrong door closing so that you don’t miss the right one.

 

What myths did you have to unlearn on your journey to the field?

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Naomi Johnston is a photographer and designer based in Hamilton, New Zealand. Along with her husband Glyn and daughter Minna May, she is currently fundraising on her way to joining the One Mission Society team in Budapest, Hungary. She will be part of the media team, and is also hoping to work in Human Trafficking Prevention. Naomi writes regularly on her blog at www.thejohnstonjourney.com and @thejohnstonjourney on FB and Insta.

5 Things First Year Missionaries Are Too Quick to Do

by Natalie Arauco

It’s a terrifying shiver that runs through you the first time you step foot in a new country. You’re ready to conquer the world and nothing can stop you. You start off in a hard sprint. But before you know it, you struggle, slamming into one wall after another. Life as a missionary is nothing like you expected.

First year missionaries come to the field with an excitement and eagerness that cannot be matched. But often they’re not aware that they’ve started at too fast a pace and are heading right towards a burn-out.

Here are five dangerous things that first-year missionaries are too quick to do.

 

1. Demand Immediate Normality
You want to make good friends now. Learn all the best local spots and become an expert in the public transportation all within weeks. You fight against the culture shock that hits you in waves. You can’t be the world’s best missionary if you’re struggling to adapt. So, you ignore it and refuse to embrace the difficult season of adaptation as the important learning experience that it is.

 

2. Prove Expertise
You cringe when people call you ‘new’. Maybe the other missionaries have years of experience under their belts but you know what you’re doing. Really. You don’t need them giving you a tome of advice on how to do ministry. In fact, they should listen to the opinions you have to offer. Maybe they could learn a thing or two.

 

3. Say Yes
You see the needs around you and your heart breaks. You want to fix everything. Be involved in every detail. So, you say yes.  It’s too hard to say no, anyway. Then your schedule fills more and more until you can’t even find a minute to breath. But you keep pressing on because without you everything would fall into chaos.

 

4. Expect Results
You became a missionary to change the world. So why won’t it change? You’ve been working for weeks, months. Where are the results?  What is the point of all your hard days and long nights if you can’t see the benefits? What you don’t realize is that the seeds you plant your first year may take ten more to come to fruit. You may never even see the results. But when they come, they will be more beautiful that you had ever imagined.

 

5. Become Discouraged
After weeks and months of not getting the results you wanted, being bogged down by countless responsibilities, and fighting away culture shock while trying to prove yourself to those around you, you get tired. You feel yourself careening toward burn-out and it hasn’t even been a year yet. You become discouraged and begin to doubt. Was this all a mistake? Did you confuse your calling?

 

Maybe this was you. Maybe this is you. But please don’t lose heart.

The first year, the first years, of ministry are hard. That’s just the way things are. And yes, you will make mistakes. You’ll rush into things you’re not ready for. You’ll struggle with doubt. You’ll say things you regret. But that doesn’t mean it’s been a mistake.

So maybe the next time you are tempted to revolt against culture shock, you accept it with humility. When you feel your pride bruised with your inexperience, you respond with grace. When your schedule is filled to the brim, you step back and rely on God’s ability to work. And when you become discouraged because the world isn’t changing at the pace you set, you take a breath, slow down, and remember the journey that brought you to this place.

If God is in the business of using broken vessels, he can work despite the flaws of an over-eager, first-year missionary.

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Natalie Arauco serves in a small, mountainous village of Guatemala. She teaches English every day at the village school all while sharing the love of Jesus with her 12-17 year old students. Natalie also works alongside the local church with their community outreach and discipleship ministries. Natalie writes about culture, missions, and her adventures in her blog: Natalie in Guatemala.

Should We Have Waited Until We Were Older?

Gil and I met at 21 years old, married at 23, and were living in Tanzania by 24. We had been married all of nine months before we moved overseas. We had gotten to know each other as co-leaders of a cross-cultural ministry in California, and our desire to be missionaries was one of the main factors that brought us together. Our mission organization had vetted us, interviewed us, and sent us to two weeks of training. I had spent half of my childhood as an MK, and both of us had spent several years in ministry during college. As far as we were concerned, we were ready.

2001

That didn’t keep us from crashing and burning. We were too outspoken about our culturally-insensitive opinions and therefore offended local friends. We over-committed ourselves to ministries that kept us apart from each other too much of the time, which strained our relationship. We naively expected too much change too quickly in new believers’ lives, which led to disappointment and disillusionment. After two years, we were depressed and demoralized

Many times over the past twenty years, we’ve seen many new missionaries arrive on the field who were older and more experienced than we were, and they didn’t seem to struggle nearly as much as we did. I’ve asked myself, “Should we have waited until we were older?” Would another couple of years of married life in the States have spared us from heartache? Would more maturity have kept us from making so many naive mistakes? Would we have known how to set better boundaries? 

Of course, there is no “perfect” age to move overseas for the first time, and there are certainly pros and cons to relocating at each stage of life. But if you are young, pursuing missions, and asking yourself, “Should I wait until I am older?” or if you are a parent or a church leader of someone who is asking that question, here are my thoughts.

Consider the advantages:

Our energy and passion gave us perseverance. I remember the first time I went roller skating when I was eight. I must have fallen a few dozen times, but I just kept getting right back up again. These days? I think just one fall would send me to the sidelines for good. There’s a God-given quality of youthful idealism that keeps us going when things get tough. Yes, Gil and I fell hard. Our most difficult years in Tanzania were definitely those first two years. If I had experienced them at an older age, I might have given up. But our youth gave us perseverance, and taught us and toughened us for the years ahead. 

We were more willing to be adventurous, try new things, and put up with hard conditions. Twelve-hour bus trip? No problem. All-night youth lock-in that included 30 hours of fasting? Sure! Back then we thrived on new experiences, crazy outings, and busy schedules. We didn’t have kids and had the freedom to follow every opportunity. Those first two years, my schedule involved getting up at 4:45 every morning and coming home 12 hours later. These days, I get tired just thinking about the stuff we did in those younger years. But now that I’m older, I love having young people on my team for their willingness and ability to do whatever needs to get done.

We built our family while we were already living overseas. It can be tough for women with young children to start their experience overseas as a stay-at-home-mom. Learning language and getting into the culture is a challenge with kids at home. And as an MK educator, I’ve seen the agony of parents relocating their children overseas. Gil and I were able to avoid that by building our family after we had already adapted to life in Tanzania, and I had several years to settle into life and be in ministry full time before I needed to devote more time to my family.

Minimize the disadvantages:

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Get a degree in an area that God can use to open doors for foreign visas–or at least pave the way for relationships. Get some Bible training–either at a college or through rigorous discipleship. Take a Perspectives course. Read books. Learn to manage your finances, cook, and communicate well verbally and in writing. And most importantly–serve. Serve in your local church and serve in your community. All of this can happen even in high school–so start now!

Don’t go without a mentor, and be humble enough to listen and change. This should be standard advice for any cross-cultural worker, but the younger you are, the more important it is. This doesn’t mean that everyone older than you is more right than you. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have any ideas to contribute–because I hope you do! But remember that experience usually builds wisdom. Slow down, listen, be a learner. Change takes time. Be patient. 

Be open to staying at least five years. Here’s where things get radical. In an era where two weeks is the standard commitment to missions, a year or two sounds positively eternal. Anything longer than that sounds crazy. For us, the first two years were like boot camp, so it would have been a shame to get through it and not stay longer. The longer we stayed, our impact increased exponentially. Life got easier and our mistakes were fewer. What started as an experience became life. Most mission fields desperately need long-term workers. Why can’t that be you? 

Cross-Cultural Economics

by Heather Pubols

About a week after my husband and I moved to Kenya in 2009 I took my first real trip through the grocery store to look for items that I needed for our home. The store near where we lived had an amazing variety! You could buy everything from a loaf of bread to a new kitchen table and everything in between. It was like a Kenyan Super Wal-Mart!

Much was similar to my shopping experiences in the United States, but one difference that I didn’t anticipate was prices. I remember picking up a medium box of corn flakes, doing the currency conversion, and discovering that it would cost me almost $10 USD compared to the $3 I’d probably pay at home. On the other hand, I remember visiting the butcher and discovering that we could buy a nice piece of beef filet for less than it would cost at home. We began to see this with all kinds of other things, too.

When we bought a car, we were in for another sticker shock. At that time, no cars were manufactured in Kenya. All cars were imported. With the help of a trusted agent, we found a reliable 8-year-old car.  However, because of import tariffs, shipping and agent fees, the final cost of this car, like the others on the market, was around double what we would have paid for it in the US.

On the other hand, we lived very close to a national park filled with wild animals that we could only see in a zoo in our home country.  Because we were residents, our entrance fee to the park was about $10 – a fraction of the cost of what a foreign tourist would pay to get into the same park. We also had easy access to many of Kenya’s all-inclusive resorts and hotels. At times in the off-season some offered prices similar to moderate to cheap hotels in the US.

All of these experiences became daily lessons in cultural economics.

 

Economies are cross-cultural, too
Before living overseas, I thought that if a country had less wealth, then products would be cheaper. Clearly, those ideas needed to go out the window!

What I came to understand was that a variety of factors impacted local prices. Those include local buying preferences, taxes, and what is made locally versus imported. When we lived in Kenya, I learned that labor for services was often less, but products (especially those requiring manufacturing or import) were usually more expensive and fewer people could afford them. The supply was less because the demand was less, so the price was higher. This was a different economic model than I was used to.

Understanding the various costs of living where you will live is important as you create a budget for living in a foreign country. Mercer provides a helpful annual global cost of living report. Their 2019 report has some surprising results. Eight African cities are in the top 50 most expensive cities in the world.  In fact, N’djemena, Chad, in central Africa, was listed as more expensive to live in than Geneva, Switzerland!

One other factor that needs to be considered is constantly changing currency exchange rates. Like most missionaries, we received funds in the currency of our home country, so changes in its value against the currency of our host country impacted our costs. For example, our 50,000 Kenya Shilling per month rent could be $350 US dollars one month and $500 USD the next all depending on the KSh/USD comparative value. This changed our cash flow from month to month at times from famine to feast or vice versa.

 

Explaining economic differences can be a challenge
All of this can be difficult to explain especially to friends, family and ministry partners at home. Some may have the same ideas that I did about costs of living; they may not understand a high ministry budget for work in a developing country. Others could have hidden jealousy when you are able to do or have something that could be unusual or extravagant in your home country.

Help build a bridge through your communication. Invite your community into “your world.” A good place to start is in your regular ministry communication – your newsletter or blog. Tell stories about silly faux pas and language mishaps and your experiences with $10 boxes of corn flakes and $10 park entrance fees. Explain cultural differences, including economic ones, and what surprises you about them with a view of how God is expanding your worldview.

However public communication isn’t the best forum to share everything. Discussions in small groups and conversations with people one on one are great places to share more details or explain things that may be more controversial. Be patient, use wisdom and let your focus for sharing information about economic differences be on nurturing knowledge that lets your community grow with you.

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Heather and her husband served as missionaries based in Africa and Europe from 2009 to 2018.  After moving back to the US, Heather launched a new ministry, LeMotif, which focuses on helping Christian organizations with marketing and communications. You can learn more about her ministry at www.lemotif.org

 

7 Questions to Ask During Your First 7 Days on the Field

by Natalie Arauco

I did it!

I remember the adrenaline burning through my veins four years ago. I had made it through missions training. I had asked and received 100% support from different churches and families. I had bought my one-way ticket, stuffed my two suitcases to 48 and 49 pounds exactly and had said goodbye to my friends and family.  Then I flew by myself to a different country and all the pumping adrenaline froze into confusion and doubt.

So now what?

Even though I had already been to Guatemala several times before and could stumble through the language, my first official days on the mission field were filled with questions.

 

1. How do I get there?

No. Literally. How?

Do I need to walk? Is there a bus? Two buses? Do I take a taxi? Tuk tuk? Uber? Drive? Combine any of the above options?

Navigating in a foreign country is no easy feat. Just going to the local market and getting out without becoming hopelessly lost is enough for me to buy a cold coke in celebration. Asking for directions, from just anybody, can be a mistake as they point in any given direction and shrug. Praise the Lord for Google Maps and Waze.

 

2. How much did you say?

50 quetzales for a hamburger. 10 for a tuk tuk. Am I paying too much or too little? Are they trying to rip off a foreigner or is it a good price? Am I allowed to haggle here or no?

Prices can change drastically. From the main city to the cliché tourist town to the little village in the mountains, everyone has a different idea of what is expensive and what is affordable. It took me a long time of being quiet and listening to my local friends to learn the prices when they asked versus when I asked with my dead giveaway accent. Even now I still ask a trusted friend what the price should be for something before going out and buying.

 

3. What did you say?

Nuances. Idioms. Figures of speech. Deciphering the garbled speech at a drive through or reacting to rushed words spoken in a panic.

My language training could not cover every meaning of every word. What does it mean when they call me a battery? When they refer to me as a type of deli meat? What does it mean when someone is ready for the tiger? When they say I had stuck out my paw? And that was just Spanish. I live in an indigenous community where the native dialect is mixed in their everyday speech.  How do I begin to conquer another language when the first still gives me headaches? The answer: patience and patient friends.

 

4. What food is that?

Not to be rude. It’s delicious. But… what is it?

So many different flavors. A variety of new fruits and vegetables with no translation. What is it? How do you eat it? Do you peel it first? Eat all of it? Eat part? With your hands? With a spoon?

I felt like I was a child again. Asking so many questions. No, I didn’t know that you ate chicken with your hands. I didn’t realize that beef was a luxury. How many tortillas does an average person have with each meal? What spice is that? Oregano? Wow, I’d only seen it in labeled jars. But even in the midst of confusion, the amazing flavors that passed my tongue often brought my questions to a halt as I savored each bite.

 

5. What do I do?

Okay. I’m here. So now what?

Do I focus on my job at the public school or on my ministries in the local church?  Do I start studying the local dialect or start a Bible study? Do I dive into new opportunities or hang back a bit and observe? Do I give my point of view every time the locals look to me for an opinion? My pastors back home couldn’t give me the answers. The local leaders couldn’t give me the answers. Even other missionaries couldn’t give me the answers. I was on my own to act and receive grace from those around me as I let God guide my steps.

 

6. How do I do it?

Sure, I knew what I needed to do. How to accomplish it was a completely different mountain.

Help! My first year as a teacher is spent in a foreign school system. What do I do? How do I help the ministries in the local church without overpowering them with my foreign hero-complex?  How do I balance learning to survive a new culture and making friends at the same time? How do I invest here and keep connections with those back home? How can I do it all and avoid burn out?

And the most important question: how can I do it all and keep Christ the priority? My daily devotions were filled with lots of questions and pleading with God all while searching for answers in his Word. And He would answer.

 

7. Is this worth it all?

I had sacrificed life as a normal college student to prepare to go to missions. I had forfeited ‘success’ and an ‘easy life’. I had said goodbye to my friends and family. Given up air conditioning. Central heating. Wifi. Anonymity. Now, just a week on the mission field, the burning question seeped into my thoughts. Will it be worth it?

But as I made friends who loved me despite my bungling attempts at speech, as I got to know my students and fell in love with each one. As the members of the church accepted me as a flawed human like them. And as God gave me a heart for this country despite its traffic issues and strange social norms, the answer I found was a resounding YES.

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Natalie Arauco serves in a small, mountainous village of Guatemala. She teaches English every day at the village school all while sharing the love of Jesus with her 12-17 year old students. Natalie also works alongside the local church with their community outreach and discipleship ministries. Natalie writes about culture, missions, and her adventures in her blog: Natalie in Guatemala.

Serving Well – a Book, a Resource, a Shared Life

I can’t remember when Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter first entered my online writing life. Perhaps it was when the former ALOS site founder and I were discussing one of their posts, perhaps it was before – no matter, at some point I realized that our online friendship had become one that I looked to for wisdom, laughter, and venting. We who are a part of A Life Overseas know well the value of online friendships.

When I was approached to write the foreword for their now newly-released book I was both honored and humbled. I share it today with our community with a hearty endorsement for the book Serving Well. Within this volume is an invitation to live fully, love well, grieve loss, fight injustice, and embrace friendship.

When it comes to missions, missionaries, and the missions’ conversations, we live in a cynical and skeptical age. Those who are serving or want to serve overseas are assaulted with everything from failed missionary blogs and podcasts to heated debates on colonialism and white saviors.

Despite the cynicism, God is still moving people to places around the world where they are putting down roots in unfamiliar soil and seeking to write their names in the lands where God has directed them.  They seek to live out God’s story in a cross-cultural context.

Where do those who are intent on pressing forward in a life of cross-cultural service turn? How can they live well in places where they don’t belong?

Jonathan and Elizabeth’s book, Serving Well, emerges as a bright light and resource for those who are intent on pressing forward. Transcending place, this book is a wellspring of wisdom, perspective, truth, and encouragement for cross-cultural workers. Beginning with preparation, the book covers everything from preparation to returning, with sections on grieving, marriage, children, communicating and more. It can be read consecutively or, depending on the reader’s needs, by section.

I am a missionary kid, a failed missionary, and someone who continues to serve cross-culturally. I met Jonathan and Elizabeth as all those identities merged, and I read their words and heard their hearts with incredible gratitude. Here was the real deal. My cynical heart found solace and foundational wisdom and understanding through their writing. This couple is living out God’s big story, and they are living it out in a cross-cultural setting. Their writing reflects their lives – the good, the hard, the awful, and the fun. We are not only invited into their words, we are invited into their lives. In Elizabeth, readers will find a friend and wise confidante; in Jonathan, they will find a counselor and brother; and in both they will find a couple who exemplify cultural humility, godly leadership, and deep joy in the journey of serving.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes to people in Thessaloniki, Greece and says this: Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”* In the library of mission’s literature you can find many things, but to be invited into a life through a book is something rare and precious. Serving Well is not just a book – it is a shared life.

This excerpt is from the forward of Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker ©  Wipf and Stock February, 2019 by Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter.


Other Endorsements:

Serving Well is deep and rich, covering all aspects of an international life of service from multiple angles. It is full of comfort, challenge, and good advice for anyone who serves abroad, or has ever thought about it, no matter where they find themselves in their journeys. It is also really helpful reading for anyone who has loved ones, friends or family, serving abroad——or returning, to visit or repatriate. Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter are both insightful and empathetic writers, full of humility and quick to extend grace——both to themselves and to others. Their writing covers sorrow and joy, hope and crisis, weariness and determination. Best of all, from my perspective as someone who has worked with TCKs for over 13 years, it contains an excellent collection of important advice on the topic of raising missionary kids. Choose particular topics, or slowly meander through the entire volume piece by piece, but whatever you do——read this book!”
——Tanya Crossman, cross cultural consultant and author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century

“Serving Well is more than a book to sit down and read once. It is a tool box to return to over and over, a companion for dark and confusing days, and a guide for effective and long-lasting service. Elizabeth and Jonathan are the real deal and Serving Well, like the Trotters, is wise, compassionate, vulnerable, and honest. This needs to be on the shelves of everyone involved in international, faith-based ministry.”
——Rachel Pieh Jones, author of Finding Home: Third Culture Kids in the World, and Stronger Than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

You can purchase Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker on Amazon or directly from the publisher Wipf & Stock.

*Thessalonians 2:8

What to Know Before You Go

Let’s say you are boarding a transatlantic flight and hear, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen; this is your pilot speaking. I’m 21 years old, and I’m excited to tell you that this is my first commercial flight! But don’t you worry; I’ve flown my Daddy’s crop duster at least a half dozen times. What I don’t have in experience or education, I make up with passion. I’m just about as willing as they come; my heart is practically bursting with willingness! Now buckle up your seatbelts; we’ll be off as soon as I find that user’s manual.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d be out of that plane faster than a fried egg off a Teflon pan.

Yet sometimes we approach missions in the same way. Willing hearts filled with passion are awesome, but they are not enough. So here’s where things get awkward: I’ve titled this “What to Know Before You Go,” when actually it should be more like, “What I Wish I Had Known Before I Went.” Because when I got on a plane to Tanzania almost twenty years ago, I was just about as bad as that pilot. Thankfully I didn’t completely crash and burn, but I learned the hard way, over and over again. Had I taken the time early on to do a little more study and a lot more wrestling, I could have spared myself a lot of grief, and certainly increased my effectiveness in those early years. Learn from my mistakes.


1. You need to have a basic understanding of worldviews.

This goes much deeper than a knowledge of world religions. For example, a person can call himself a Christian, but that doesn’t mean that his thinking, choices, and actions line up with the Bible. The same is true for those who follow other faiths. The religious labels people give themselves just scratch the surface of what they really believe. This is where a study of worldview comes in. If you are hoping to live, work, and have a gospel-impact on people of a different culture, that’s got to start with understanding their worldview–and your own.

Darrow Miller’s Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Cultures should be required reading for any new missionary.

2. You need to know how to interpret the Bible on your own.

Most new missionaries have been nurtured in spiritually rich environments–strong Christian colleges and solid churches that often include discipleship, biblical teaching, and small groups. This is wonderful–but what happens when you end up in a city where there are no strong churches? Or those that do exist are in another language? What happens when you find yourself in a spiritually harsh environment with only a small team of other believers who can help you stay afloat?

Online sermons can help. Rich Christian literature can help. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be you and your Bible. Do you have the skills you need to interpret it without a pastor or small group leader’s help? Do you know enough about the various genres of Scripture, the historical context, and sound interpretation practices so that you can be confident of what it’s really saying?

The technical word for this is “hermeneutics,” or Bible study methods. Our family favorite is Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible by Howard Hendricks, but there are many other great resources out there.

3. You need to have worked out a biblical theology of suffering–or at least started to.

Of course, suffering can be found on every corner of the globe, in every social sphere. But any ministry that takes you up close and personal with the messiness of people’s lives, especially amongst the poor and disadvantaged, has the possibility of knocking you breathless with the depth of the suffering you will witness.

What will it do to your soul to see the blind child begging on the street corner? To be friends with the woman who lost her twins due to an unconscionable doctor’s error? To see the little albino boy whose arm was chopped off for witchcraft purposes….by his own uncle? If you haven’t already wrestled with God over the reality of suffering and the problem of evil, you may risk disillusionment, burn-out, or even losing your faith.  

Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts has had a profound influence on my life on this topic.

4. You need to know the theology of poverty alleviation.

What do you do about the beggars on the street corner? Or the constant requests by your neighbors for loans or favors? How do you assuage your guilty conscience when you go out to dinner or spend money on a vacation, knowing that people around you are hungry? Guilt will slowly strangle you unless you have already thought through how you will respond.

A theology of suffering answers, “How can God allow this?” A theology of poverty alleviation answers, “How should I respond?”

If you haven’t yet read When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor….and Yourself, now is the time. It’s an absolute must-read for any missionary (or any Christian, for that matter).

5. You need to know the history of your host country.

Are you able to identify the five most important events in your host country’s history? Do you know how the government is structured? Are you familiar with the nation’s holidays and why they are celebrated? What is every child taught? If you want to get to the soul of a people, then you must understand where they came from. Take the time find out.

All of these areas can be learned by dedicated study on your own. I learn best by reading, so I’ve given my recommendations for my favorite books. But I’m sure there are audiobooks, podcasts, or videos on all of these subjects. If you’ve got other suggestions, please share! Utilize the massive amount of internet resources at our fingertips, and educate yourself on these important issues–ideally, before you go.

A Book is Born: Serving Well is now available!

Jonathan and I are thrilled to introduce you to our new book, Serving Well. It is our deepest hope that this 400+ page book will encourage and equip cross-cultural folks through the various seasons of life and ministry.

It’s available on Amazon here. If you’re in the States, our publisher is also selling the book with a 20% discount here.

You can read the Serving Well press release (with book excerpt) here.

From the Back Cover
Are you dreaming of working abroad? Imagining serving God in another land? Or are you already on the field, unsure about what to do next or how to manage the stresses of cross-cultural life? Or perhaps you’ve been on the field a while now, and you’re weary, maybe so weary that you wonder how much longer you can keep going.

If any of these situations describes you, there is hope inside this book. You’ll find steps you can take to prepare for the field, as well as ways to find strength and renewal if you’re already there. From the beginning to the end of the cross-cultural journey, Serving Well has something for you.

 

Early Reviews for Serving Well
Serving Well is an important voice in the search for honest, experienced conversation on living and working cross-culturally in a healthy and sustainable way. Dig in!”
– Michael Pollock, Executive Director, Interaction International and co-author of Third Culture Kids

Serving Well is more than a book to sit down and read once. It is a tool box to return to over and over, a companion for dark and confusing days, and a guide for effective and long-lasting service. Elizabeth and Jonathan are the real deal and Serving Well, like the Trotters, is wise, compassionate, vulnerable, and honest. This needs to be on the shelves of everyone involved in international, faith-based ministry.”
– Rachel Pieh Jones, author of Finding Home: Third Culture Kids in the World, and Stronger Than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Serving Well is a must-read book for missionaries and for those who love them. This is a book you really need if you are ‘called to go, or called to let go.’ In Serving Well we read both the spiritual and practical, simple and profound, funny and compelling in chapters written by Elizabeth and then Jonathan Trotter; hearing from each their voices and their hearts, the struggles and the victories, ‘the bad days and the good days’ of preparing to go and serving well overseas. Their down-to-earth yet godly insights were born from living overseas and from authentically wrestling with the ‘yays and yucks’ of missionary life. They draw wisdom from both Scripture and sci-fi authors, Psalms and funny YouTube videos, encounters with Jesus and encounters with cops looking for a bribe. Take two books with you to the mission field: the Bible, and Serving Well.”
– Mark R. Avers, Barnabas International

Serving Well is deep and rich, covering all aspects of an international life of service from multiple angles. It is full of comfort, challenge, and good advice for anyone who serves abroad, or has ever thought about it, no matter where they find themselves in their journeys. It is also really helpful reading for anyone who has loved ones, friends or family, serving abroad–or returning, to visit or repatriate. Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter are both insightful and empathetic writers, full of humility and quick to extend grace–both to themselves and to others. Their writing covers sorrow and joy, hope and crisis, weariness and determination. Best of all, from my perspective as someone who has worked with TCKs for over 13 years, it contains an excellent collection of important advice on the topic of raising missionary kids. Choose particular topics, or slowly meander through the entire volume piece by piece, but whatever you do–read this book!”
– Tanya Crossman, cross cultural consultant and author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century

“Overseas workers face a barrage of junk when they arrive on their field location: identity issues, fear/anxiety issues, and faith issues. I have worked with missionaries for well over a decade now and see how these common themes cry out for a grace-filled approach to truth and authenticity. The Trotters live this out loud, intentionally seeking a way to minister out of their own pain, striving, humor, and failure. Keep this reference close at hand!”
– Jeannie Hartsfield, Clinical Counselor, Global Member Care Coordinator, World Team

“This book is the definitive guide to thriving in cross-cultural ministry. The Trotters have distilled years of experience into pithy chapters filled with helpful tips and wise insights. Put it on your must-read list.”
– Craig Greenfield, Founder, Alongsiders International, author of Subversive Jesus

“In this must-read missions book, Jonathan and Elizabeth unearth the underlying motivations of the cross-cultural call. Penned with copious compassion and startling transparency, Serving Well is sure to make you laugh, cry, and, in the end, rejoice as you partner with God in His global missions mandate.”
– David Joannes, author of The Mind of a Missionary

When You Want to Want to Stay Longer

When living overseas, sometimes there’s no doubt that you need to leave. A denied visa, a medical emergency, a government coup, a burn-out, an unresolvable conflict.

Sometimes there’s no doubt you want to stay. You’ve adapted; you’ve found community, ministry, purpose, and most of the time, you’re loving life.

But what about when you think you should stay, but you really don’t want to?

When the need is great, and right now, you’re the best person to fill it. When you’ve received affirmation from local believers and leadership from home that you are a good fit for your role. When you are seeing fruit–or you can almost see it, just over the horizon.

But you are weary of this life. You are sick and tired of the long lines at government offices, of bugs in your kitchen drawers, of being misunderstood (again). The pollution aggravates your daughter’s asthma, and it takes you five hours to run one errand, and suddenly the price of milk doubles over night. Again.

And your old life is looking pretty great. Your friends’ lives on Instagram are looking even better.

You don’t really want to stay. But you’re pretty sure you should. You want to want to stay. How do you get there?

Maybe sometimes you just need a vacation. Or some counseling. Maybe you need to consider a new neighborhood. Maybe you just need to bite the bullet and buy that air conditioner.

But after fifteen years living overseas, do you want to know what has kept me here longer? Changing my perspective from This is an experience to This is my life.

What’s the difference?

An experience is temporary. It’s something that you check off your bucket list before going back to your “normal” life. You’re likely to expect fun and adventure. You’re likely to have high expectations of what you’re going to get out of it, and lower lows when you don’t.

Since an experience has a defined beginning and end, you also aren’t necessarily looking for the normal rhythms of work and rest. You might be thinking that you need to pack in as much as you can because you know your time is limited. And when you’re looking at your time overseas as an experience, when times get hard, you just dig in your heels and endure it. (Buy an air conditioner? Pish! I’m here to be tough.) The end is always in sight, and you are counting the days till it’s over.

When it comes time to decide if you should stay longer, it’s not even a consideration. The experience is over; so why should you stay? Your sights are already set on home; they have been for a long time. Staying longer seems unfathomable.

But when you enter your time overseas with the mindset that This is my life, then there is no end in sight. You realize that adaptation is key. Of course, this does not mean that you try to recreate your life back home. But it does mean that you are actively looking for that “new normal.” When times get tough, you aren’t counting the days until it’s over. Instead, you’re thinking about how you can make this work. How you can adapt. How you can either change your circumstances or change your perspective so that you aren’t utterly miserable all of the time.

What does this tangibly look like? Put pictures up on your walls. Plant a garden. Spend the extra money to get the couch you love, instead of someone’s old ugly hand-me-down. These are little things, but can help significantly with your mindset. Slow down. Watch TV sometimes. Don’t fret over “wasted” time learning language and culture, chomping at the bit to get your “real” ministry started. Watch. Wait. Listen. Learn. When the power goes out or you get three flat tires in a week, pay attention to your thinking. Are you telling yourself, “Just a few more months and this will be over,” or rather “How can I learn to live this way?”

You want to want to stay? Let me tell you something I’ve learned about contentment in this overseas life: The more you think about leaving, the more you will want to leave. The more you resolve yourself to stay, the more content you will be.

And one more thing: There will always be a reason to leave if you are looking for it. Always. If you want a reason, you will find it. So here’s my challenge: Instead of just asking yourself, Do I want to leave?, consider asking yourself, Is there a good reason why I shouldn’t stay longer?

Full disclosure: My family is in that place right now, asking ourselves that question. I realize that finding the answer is not simple, because it can be easy to mingle God’s calling with our own desires. Knowing when has been “long enough” can often become more complicated the longer you stay….because the experience has become life! That’s what’s kept us here fifteen years, and the depth of our friendships, the wealth of what we have learned, and the multiplying impact of ministry have made all of these years more than worth it. I pray it will be for you too.

4 Ways to Take Your Language Learning to the Next Level

by Jessica Dais

There is a lot you can accomplish as a missionary in a foreign country, regardless of whether or not you know the local language. However, there’s something to be said about the special connection that’s forged when you speak in someone’s native language.

There is a deeper level of empathy on your part, and a stronger sense of trust on theirs. You’re able to move much more quickly from “stranger” to “friend.” Nelson Mandela captured this idea beautifully when he said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

If you’re hoping to make a lasting impact in the country God has called you to, and you’d like to take your personal relationships to the next level, consider learning the basics of the local language.

With the right strategy and tools, becoming conversationally fluent isn’t as hard as you might think. Here’s how to get started in four simple steps.

 

1. Immerse Yourself in the Language
The fastest way to learn any language is by immersion. Many consider this method to be a form of “trial by fire.” It involves surrounding yourself with the local language, and not shying away from it.

If you’re already in your host country, seize every opportunity to hang out with native speakers. Go to local events in the community and observe how others communicate, including their body language.

For extreme introverts, it can feel like torture to step outside of your comfort zone in this way. But when you realize that the only thing standing in between you and fluency is yourself, it gets a lot easier to put yourself in an immersion experience.  

2. Use Leisure Time Wisely
In your free time at home, the learning shouldn’t stop! Watch the news, movies, and YouTube videos featuring native speakers. Even better, turn on the English subtitles so you can follow along. This process is highly beneficial as your mind will start automatically associating words and phrases with their meanings.

If you want to take it a step further, change the language settings on all your devices to the language of your host country. Subscribe to a blog in the language, try reading children’s books, or listening to podcasts.

3. Practice Speaking Often
As intimidating as it may seem, remember that the best way to become conversationally fluent is to put your skills into practice. Don’t wait until you feel comfortable enough to start speaking with the locals.

On the contrary, you should become more and more comfortable with misinterpretations and miscommunications – these are a normal and expected part of language learning. So don’t take yourself too seriously! Accept the fact early on that it’s very likely at some point you will embarrass yourself.

Thankfully, there is grace in these situations. Local people will appreciate your efforts to speak in their language immensely, and oftentimes, it shows. So don’t be afraid to try and fail. Be encouraged by Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

4. Build a Solid Foundation
One final tip- Many missionaries prefer to learn the basics of a language first, before embarking on their trip. This is a great way to set yourself up for success and build a solid foundation right off the bat. In this digital age, there are fortunately many free tools at our disposal. Here are just a few options:

  • Download an app like Duolingo or Memrise to quickly memorize the basics.
  • Take online language classes, preferably with a live teacher. Try the free membership option at TakeLessons Live for starters.  
  • Use Meetup to find other nearby language learners that you can practice your skills with.
  • Find a penpal or learning partner on a language exchange network, such as italki.

 

Any of these tools would be an excellent starting point. Do you have any additional tips for fast and efficient language learning in another country, or before going on a mission trip? Share your ideas with us!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jessica Dais is passionate about missions and creative writing. She previously lived as a missionary in Mexico and hopes to someday lead short-term teams to Nepal. Jessica is still working toward fluency in Spanish and enjoys sharing the lessons she’s learned along the way.

The Missionary Life Cycle (in Five Stages)

Like any really good assessment, these five categories are totally made up.

There are no peer-reviewed studies parsing these five stages of cross-cultural work. There is no quantified, objective data set; still, please feel free to say you’re in “Stage 3 – Wing 4.” That would make me happy. And remember, if you say anything with exactitude, we’ll all think you know what you’re talking about.

The lines of demarcation between these stages are blurred, and in some cases overlapping. Just roll with it. And remember, this isn’t the Rubicon, so feel free to cross back over to an earlier stage if you’d like.

Are you ready?

We’ll look at the two options within each stage, we’ll list some common statements you might hear from folks taking each option, and then we’ll look at some primary goals for each stage.

This is more Wiki than Webster’s, so please add your thoughts, explanations, arguments, additions, or funny jokes in the comment section.

Idealist/Ignorant – Pre-field

You know the idealist, right? If you’re on the field, you probably were one. Once.

We need the idealist. Often, the idealism of youth or new belief motivates people to the field in the first place; that’s not bad. In fact, idealism is a fantastic place to start; it’s just not a fantastic place to stay.

Idealism is not what’s dangerous; ignorance is.

The main difference here is that the ignorant person doesn’t know what it is that they don’t know. And it’s a lot. The idealist knows they don’t know everything, so they’re safer. The idealist is a day-dreamer, aware of the reality around them, while the ignorant is lost in a fantasy dream world at night, unaware that their sick child is vomiting in the bathroom down the hall and their wife has been up three times already and the dog just peed on the clean laundry. Yeah, ignorance is dangerous.

Things you might hear the idealist say: “This is all so amazing! God’s going to do amazing, new, prophetic things in this glorious season of fresh wind. He is calling the nations to himself and he’s calling me to the nations. Will you donate?”

Things you might hear the ignorant say: “I don’t need a sending church or org or agency. I read a book and I feel super called! Also, I served a person once on a short-term trip and now I’m going to save the world. Will you donate?”

Goals for this stage:

  1. Don’t be ignorant.

  2. Protect your ideals, while purposefully listening to the reality of some who’ve gone before you. You’re not the first person God’s called across cultures, and you won’t be the last.

 

Learner/Survivor – Arrival to Year 2

Landing in a foreign land will sometimes feel like just trying to survive. That’s ok. But if the functional goal for your first term is just to survive your first term, you’re a survivor, not a learner.

A learner is an idealist who’s landed. They don’t know stuff, but they’re super excited to find out. They don’t know how to even ask for stuff, but they’re going to find out. They don’t know who’s who and what’s where and when’s good, but they know how to breathe, ask around, walk the street, and…learn.

The learner’s goal is to figure stuff out, to learn about a culture, a history, to meet new people, to make new memories.

The survivor’s goal is to not die.

Things you might hear the learner say: “I don’t know where to buy milk; let me find someone to ask.”

Things you might hear the survivor say: “I don’t know where to buy milk, but as soon as I find out, I’m buying 9 gallons so I don’t have to go back out on the street again for at least a week… SHOOT! SHOOT! SHOOT! Where do I buy a refrigerator?!”

Goals for this stage:

  1. Learn as much as you can (about language, culture, workers who’ve come before you, the state of the local church before your arrival, etc.)

  2. Recognize your need for mentors, and find some (expats and nationals).

 

Established/Workaholic (Year 2 to Year 7)

Getting established in a foreign field is quite an accomplishment. You know the language and you’re driven to finally start doing the work you’ve been called to do.

At this stage, folks start to realize that they can’t do as much as they thought they could. Folks start to get overwhelmed by the complexity of the culture, because now, they’re starting to really see much more of the culture. The established will face a crisis, and the risk is that they respond by turning into a workaholic, shouldering all the responsibility for all the souls all the time.

Things you might hear the established say: “There is so much work to be done, we should get involved in mobilizing local believers.”

Things you might hear the workaholic say: “There is so much work to be done, and if we don’t do it all, who will?”

Goals for this stage:

  1. See the task for the S I Z E that it is, without succumbing to depression or despondency.

  2. Disciple others into the roles to which God’s calling them, remembering the axiom that the “resources are in the harvest.”

 

Experienced/Pessimistic (Year 7 to Year Infinity)

(What? You know you’ve met missionaries who’ve been on the field f o r e v e r…)

The experienced are those folks who’ve got tons of knowledge. They’ve been around the block and they’ve seen a lot of folks come and go. They’ve probably had ministry initiatives succeed and they’ve probably had more fail. But they stayed. And they’re relatively happy. Their words are nuanced and balanced, and the people themselves are fairly enjoyable to be around.

To the pessimist, however, everything new is bad, and everything old is bad, because everything is bad. These folks are a little harder to be around, unless you are them. Then they’re easy to gripe – I mean chill – with.

Things you might hear the experienced say: “Well, that could work, but the few times we tried it that way it didn’t work. Want to talk about some alternatives?”

Things you might hear the pessimist say: “$#@!@#(*!!! [or “gosh darnit” if they’re Baptists] Sure, try that. It won’t work, just like what we tried didn’t work. Because nothing will work. This ground is rocky and hard and I want to leave but I’m too worried about what people will say about me, and I haven’t saved enough to retire.”

Goals for this stage:

  1. Nurture the idealists.

  2. Mentor the learners.

  3. Caution the workaholics.

  4. Avoid the pessimists.

 

Learner/Know-it-all

If you’re in this stage, you knew we’d come back to this. If you’ve been around long enough, you knew the earlier discussion about being a learner was too perfunctory. Congrats.

You know a lot more now that when you started. But if you’re healthy, you also know how much you don’t know. And so, you’ll still be a learner.

Someone who’s been on the field a loooong time without being a learner is dangerous. They have a LOT of experience, but it’s dated. Some of it will of course still be accurate, but it won’t be tinted with the wisdom that combines age-old knowledge with present-tense reality.

When we arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2012 someone told us that you couldn’t get fresh milk in-county. So, for the first month we drank UHT milk, which is an abomination.

I’ll never forget the day, a few months in, when I went to the grocery store and saw rows and rows and rows of fresh, refrigerated, amazing milk. Skim, whole, 2%, and chocolate!

Even if you do know everything today, you won’t tomorrow. (And you don’t know everything today.)

Goals for this stage:

  1. Be willing to ask questions, even of the younger people, and even if you’ve been on the field for longer than they’ve been alive.

  2. Share your wisdom and experience with those who will listen. There will be some who will listen. Find them and offer yourself.

  3. Don’t be a jerk.

 

Conclusion

Whatever stage you’re in, welcome! And might I offer a few pieces of advice that I think would help this whole cross-cultural life and ministry thing to be more enjoyable and more effective?

  1. We need to nurture the Idealists while cautioning the ignorant. Don’t treat them as the same, because they’re not.

  2. We need to mentor the Learners, helping them to find milk and refrigerators. It’s not their fault they don’t know stuff. (Help the survivor too, but add a little encouragement that survival is possible, and thriving is possible too.)

  3. We need to encourage the Established. They’ve been on the field long enough to know the size of the job, but they might not have been around long enough to see the resources at their disposal, which might include you (whether you’ve been on site longer than they have or less than they have).

  4. We need to listen to the Experienced. As the saying goes, Get experience as cheaply as you can, for many people have paid a high price for it and will gladly give it away for free.”

  5. And lastly, we need to keep Learning. All of us, all the time. If this comes naturally to you, awesome. Please help others. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, you might want to do some pondering on the phrase “growth mindset.”

This missionary life of serving others and sharing the Gospel is too hard, too good, and too important to forget these things.

May the Father of all light continue to lead us all out of the darkness, into the dawn, and straight to his heart.

 

All for ONE,

Jonathan T.

Barnga: A Card Game for Culture-Stress Show and Tell

Have you ever wanted to show, not just tell, people what culture stress is like? Have you ever wanted them to be able to experience cross-cultural confusion without having to travel overseas?

Have you ever heard about Barnga?

Barnga is a simulation game created by Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan in 1980, while working for USAID in Gbarnga, Liberia. During a coup, his team’s vehicles were commandeered by the military, so Thiagarajan and his colleagues stayed in their compound, passing the time playing Euchre. Born in Chennai, India, Thiagarajan had learned how to play Euchre after moving to Bloomington, Indiana, and as his Liberian coworkers hadn’t played it before, he gave them a copy of Hoyles Games to read up on the rules. The trouble was, after their crash course, they all came away with different interpretations of how to play. Rather than clear up the arguments, though, Thiagarajan let the players work it out, and after three hours, the group had settled on their own unique version of the game.

“This interesting episode presented me with a blinding flash of the obvious,” writes Thiagarajan in Barnga: A Simulation Game on Cultural Clashes. “Serious conflicts arise not from major, obvious cultural differences, but from unrecognized, minor ones.”

From this, Thiagarajan developed Barnga, one of 120 simulations and games that he has created during his career.

The concept of Barnga is simple. Each player is handed directions for a card game called “Five Tricks.” The participants have a few minutes to familiarize themselves with how the game is played and then they give the rule sheets back. During play, they are told, they won’t be able to talk or write out words but must communicate only by using gestures and drawing pictures.

While learning new rules and facing difficulties in communication seem like the point of the game, there’s another twist (don’ read the rest of this sentence if you don’t want to find out what it is)—unknown by the players, there are slight differences in the rule sheets they’ve studied, so they’re not all the same.

After the cards are dealt, the results are many and varied. There’s confusion and frustration. Some think that others are cheating or just can’t understand the rules. Some assert authority or claim superiority, while others give up or give in. Some love the game. Some don’t want to play any more.

Yup, sounds like culture stress to me.

The instructions for Barnga include not only how-tos for the simulation and printouts of the rules but also guidelines for directing the follow-up discussion—wherein lies the real meat of the experience. It’s when people are allowed to talk and share how they feel about the game, and about each other, that the shift is made to the realm of cross-cultural interaction. Though it’s possible with as few as four players, the simulation works best with about 20 to 40, allowing for numerous interactions through tournament-style play, and more voices for the follow-up conversation.

Possible uses for the simulation are numerous: as part of a class on cross-cultural issues, for pre-field orientation, for teams visiting overseas workers, as a preparation for receiving international students or other foreign visitors, or for supporters of missionaries or those involved in member care.

The 25th-anniversary edition of Barnga comes with rules and discussion guides in English, French, German, and Spanish and includes updates to the original publication. Copies are available from several sources, including Thiagarajan’s website, The Thiagi Group, and Amazon.

I’ve participated in Barnga and I’ve facilitated it, as well. It’s always interesting (and entertaining) to see how players’ attitudes change as the simulation progresses. And even if some figure out what’s going on, they have to make decisions about to how to deal with that knowledge. When it comes to culture stress, it’s not just the differences you face, but how you and those around you react to them. And dealing with that, regardless of the setting, can show and tell us a lot about ourselves.

This post is adapted from “Barnga—When Cultures Play by Different Rules.”

(Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan, with Raja Thiagarajan, Barnga: A Simulation Game on Cultural Clashes, Intercultural Press, 2006)

[photo: “Shuffle,” by Melissa Emma’s Photography, used under a Creative Commons license]