Missionaries 2.0: How to Thrive in a Second Mission Post

by Abigail Follows

“Here we go again, God,” I prayed. “Please guide us!”

I took a deep breath and pulled my children towards the security check. After seven years in India and a one-year break stateside, God had successfully changed my desires—again. We would be in North Africa in just a few hours. I only prayed our kids would love our new home.

Are you considering re-launching as a missionary? Here are a few of the things that helped us adjust to our second place of service.

 

BEFORE LAUNCHING

1. Evaluate your first call.
What did you do well, in ministry and in your family and personal life? What didn’t work? What do you want to change this time? Now you are the seasoned missionaries giving the new missionaries (also you) advice. Lean on your experience for insight into how to approach your new call.

We knew we wanted to have better boundaries and take more breaks as a family. We also knew we wanted to get set up in a home right away, rather than hop around from place to place.

 

2. Prepare Yourself.
“I thought the birth of my second baby would be easy,” a friend of mine once told me. “Been there, done that, right? But every labor is different, and I ended up not ready. Make sure you prepare for your second one!” I was glad I took her advice when my son was born just two hours after the first contraction! Later, I remembered my friend’s advice again as my family prepared to re-launch. 

Read, attend training, pray, talk to other missionaries… take the time to equip yourself and your family for a new adventure.

 

3. Nurture Important Connections.
You’ve probably heard of the concept of building a RAFT written about by Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken in the book Third Culture Kids. RAFT stands for Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, Think Destination. Take the time to heal, nurture, and appreciate relationships, both in your first host country and your home country. 

Beyond building a RAFT, I printed a sign that said, “Home is Wherever I’m With You.” Then I printed a stack of photos of friends and families from India and the USA. I wanted our children to celebrate all the places they’d lived and the people they’d loved. I wanted them to have a sense of our family history. 

 

AFTER LAUNCHING

1. Embrace the Newness
You may feel less nervous or wonder-eyed than you did during your first launch. That’s a good thing! It can help make adjusting easier. But don’t let it temper your curiosity and excitement. Taste exotic foods, get outside your comfort zone, laugh at your language blunders.

This was especially important for us since we launched with school-aged kids. They needed us to be excited with them, to discover our new host country alongside them. And their excitement (and sometimes confusion) helped us get into the new experience, too.

 

2. Don’t Avoid Comparisons.
This might sound counterintuitive. Shouldn’t missionaries suspend judgement? Shouldn’t we avoid telling people that our ways are superior? But this suggestion isn’t about which culture is better. It’s about the similarities and differences between cultures. It’s about harnessing previous cultural experience to give you context for understanding another worldview.

Although Indian and North African cultures have major differences, our knowledge about Indian culture actually helped us navigate North African culture. We found we had a larger general cultural knowledge bank to consult when things confused us. This made us more patient and flexible.

For example, we already had experience in a place where time is a much more flexible commodity than in our home culture. So, when it turned out to be flexible in our second host culture, we understood. It wasn’t a stressful adjustment.

So, compare the new culture with your wider knowledge bank. Let your prior knowledge help you ask more informed questions. Stay curious and enjoy the learning journey!

 

3. Pray. Adjust. Repeat.
As I mentioned, you’ll probably want to do some things differently this time around. Maybe you had no personal boundaries during your first term of service. Or maybe you stayed in your comfort zone too much. Whatever it is, make changes, but be wary of the tendency to overreact.

During our first few months in Africa, we reacted to our previous “almost no boundaries the entire time” attitude by living a comparatively solitary existence. Then we woke up and realized that people are still the point of missions.

Balance is not a destination. It’s a way of journeying. It’s a willingness to constantly evaluate and adjust the way you live. And for the missionary, it’s centered on prayer, because God has a much better perspective on us and our ministries than we do.

 

4. Don’t Forget Your First Love.
Whether you loved your first host country or experienced trauma there (or like us, both), you may find yourself resistant to replacing your first experience with a new one. That’s okay! 

For me, this manifested itself in language learning. My husband Joshua, who is super friendly and driven, is always up for a new language. 

I tend to be more introverted. So my ability to speak Hindi represented sweat, blood, tears, and a whole lot of time spent outside my comfort zone. It was also the only avenue for me to maintain important relationships in India. When my new language started trying to kick the old one out of my brain, I stopped trying to learn.

If you find yourself resistant to the new language, be reassured that it’s normal. And don’t panic.

When I eventually embraced learning my third language, I found that speaking and hearing Hindi a couple of times a month was enough to keep me from completely forgetting it—even if my Indian friends did tease me when I mixed up vocab.

 

Final Thoughts
After nearly three years in our second host country, I have no regrets about taking a second call. While we still made plenty of mistakes, our prior experience helped us to do things a little better this time around. And the faith God built in us during our first call helped us to trust Him more this time, too. 

And God answered our prayer–He helped our children to bond with our new country of service. It took time and some problem-solving, but we eventually found a sustainable balance.

Have you taken a second call? Are you thinking of taking a second call? Do you have any tips, or questions? Leave a comment below!

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Abigail Follows has lived on three continents and listened to the life stories of friends in three languages. She has been a cross-cultural missionary for 11 years. Abigail lives wherever God leads with her husband, two children, and cat, Protagonist. She recently released Hidden Song of the Himalayasa memoir about her family’s seven years as missionaries in India. Find out more at abigailfollows.com.

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.