After waiting for two and a half years to get to the mission field and then being on the mission field for almost six years, I now know that ministry abroad has its own pace. It is the pace of a snail.
My mission agency in particular is very careful before they send anyone overseas. They have a tight screening process, psychiatric evaluations, pre-field counseling, fund raising and missionary training courses that you need to go through before they will send you. At the time, I thought of these things as obstacles in my way, but I know better now. I've seen way too many missionaries leave the field because they were ill prepared. I know not every mission agency does it this way, but I'm thankful mine does.
Once you finally get to where you want to go, you are then thrown into the unknown darkness of a new culture, often without so much as a candle to help you see. Sure there may be other missionaries around you that can help some, but no two missionary experiences are alike. In my case, I was the only married missionary in team I joined. Discovering how to live as a family unit of four in Thailand is a lot different than going it alone. My Thai coworkers wanted to help me as well, but because they did not understand my culture, they ended being less helpful than the missionaries. Yet somehow we managed and are still going at it.
Language is another thing that slows people down. There are two kinds of language learners out there; rabbits and turtles. Rabbits tend to pick things up quickly, yet don't retain as much as they should. Turtles on the other hand take a long time to grasp things, but once they have it down, it's usually embedded in their memory. I'm a turtle. It takes me forever to learn Thai. In fact I'm still going at it. The good news is that I'm finally to a point where I feel that I can do some actual ministry without using any English.
Getting your sending Church involved is another process that takes forever. As missionaries, we tend to have a zealous attitude for bringing the gospel to the nation we are in. We find it strange that others don't have this same zeal. We petition for short-term teams to come and help, but often to no avail. We wonder why our sending pastor hasn't come to visit us yet. However, we often don't consider how big of a sacrifice it would be for him to come. In my six years in Thailand, I have only been graced by two short-term workers, one short-term team and one pastoral visit. While I would have liked to have seen more, I do feel that a lot of ground work has been done in this area and the next six years should be more fruitful.
Yet with all of this in mind, the thing that slows missions down the most usually is the culture. Maybe this isn't the case everywhere in the world, but the attitude in Thailand is what we call "Sabai, Sabai." In other words, it is very relaxed and easygoing. Meetings never start on time. Appointments are seen as times where we might, possibly, maybe meet up. "Yes" can often be a polite way of saying "No." Schedules are looked at as mere suggestions. Plans change a the drop of a hat. One minute you could be going to an orphanage to play with the children, then the next thing you know, you are off to a university to pass out gospel tracts. Finally, there's the rule of the last. This means, everyone waits patiently not doing anything productive until the last person shows up.
In some ways, this lifestyle is nice. It isn't as hectic and there's not as much pressure put on a person. But if you have a goal-driven personality, it can be frustrating to say the least. I thought I was pretty laid-back before I moved to Thailand, but really I was only American laid-back. I do have some drive in me to be successful.
So, if you are new to missions, expect slowness. Whatever plans you have, if you're lucky, expect to wait longer than you should. If you're not lucky, then expect those plans to change. But most of all, be patient and wait on the Lord. After all, He entered the country long before you did and He is working out all of His plans to perfection.
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