10 lessons from a year as a mission worker

It will soon be a year since we left Poynton. Moving from being a church minister to working with a mission organisation has been a learning curve. Here are some of the things I’ve discovered.

  1. It’s a lot less stressful than leading a church. Sure it is hard work with the heat and humidity, struggling with learning the culture / language and waging a constant war against mosquitos (not to mention the free colonic irrigation from diarrhoea and vomiting bugs) but it’s much more straightforward than pastoral ministry.
  2. Culture shock is real. Adapting to different cultures can be tough and takes it out of you. Pushing you out of your comfort zone, making you a bit disorientated and after 6 months making you a bit grumpy with the way life is. Accepting this is normal, and that as short term people we will never get to being settled in the jungle, is part of the orientation.
  3. Presence matters more than task. As short termers (2 years) our work is designed to fit into a longer term strategy – but what really makes a difference to the people we work with is our presence with them not the skills and knowledge we bring or the tasks we do.
  4. Americans are lovely (both those from the North and the South). I confess I arrived with stereotypes of US evangelicals (and of Southern Baptists in particular) which have been wrong. The US people we have got to know have all been kind, servant hearted, generous………..
  5. Doing mission well is harder than it looks (especially in a development environment). We’ve come across some really poor examples of mission as well as some truly great ones which encourage and develop local leadership, monitor and evaluate what they do and which try hard to share the gospel and grow disciples; not just promote US/European ways of being a Christian. But doing it well takes time and effort; with local facilitation, working with others and creating sustainable, replicable ways of working. (Nearly all the poor examples come from foreign churches & individuals working alone and not with mission agencies – but that’s lesson #11).
  6. Everyone needs treats occasionally – but you can live with much less than you think. My treat is the occasional cake (Lori’s is sitting in a comfy armchair) but I also value having a mobile phone with data much more than running water. But it’s been fascinating to see how different mission people have different needs (one colleague needs chocolate).
  7. You don’t avoid risk you manage it. Most obviously by not doing things you know to be risky (travelling the road to Nauta in the dark or taking pictures of the barricades during the strike). You also develop ways of managing things you don’t like (spiders, cockroaches, snakes or whatever).
  8. Poverty sucks. Village life looks quaint, and the rivers are beautiful but lack of decent healthcare, education and life prospects degrade humanity.
  9. Good support is vital. We have been blessed by church supporters in the UK and to have enough financial support not to be worrying about bills whilst in Peru. We are also really fortunate that BMS has great support staff in Didcot who have been really proactive when stuff happens.
  10. You never stop learning. It’s cheesy but true (though the cheese in the shops in Nauta isn’t really cheese).IMG_20171126_141240