Learning the culture is more important than learning the language. What core values do (African) collectivist, animistic people have as opposed to (USA) materialistic, independent people. You will find that often they are diametrically opposed to each other…We are most afraid of visible failure and in clan-based rural Africa they are most afraid of visible success. How will you succeed to reach people that think so differently than you if you are not aware of how different they really are? The duration of your stay you will continue to learn the lan- guage but make it your priority to start to understand the culture before you even get on the plane. People will learn as much from you by watching your family as they will through your ministry. You will be trusted and known by local people as they watch your family unit, which makes you a human being like all other human beings.
The mission field will either make your marriage better or strain it horribly. If your marriage is marginal it is not wise to go to the field before working on making it stronger. You will often be in remote, isolated areas where you and your spouse need to rely upon each other for physical as well as spiritual encouragement.
Leave your notions of high-speed technology at home. Most of the world still communicates face to face. One of the biggest things preventing young people from serving in rural situations overseas is the fact that they may have to be unplugged from “their stuff.” If you go to the mission field to lay down your life it should be a small thing to sacrifice some of your entertainment and high speed internet.
Remember that all cultures have their “positives and negatives.” 1 Peter 1:18-19 tells us, “that we have inherited futile ways from our ancestors.” Those ancestors are not specifically our grandpas or our grandmas. They are the cultural-societal roots we come from. Just because things are done differently in other countries doesn’t mean that they are done “wrong.” Whenever people from Honor-Shame societies work with people from Right-Wrong societies there will be the desire to think that the way those people make decisions or even their very thoughts are “off base.”
Also, no one likes the missionary who after 10 years in Africa comes back to the USA only to make everyone feel badly about their “materialistic culture.” You need to have a built in “switch” to flip so you can come back to this country or go to that country and be Jesus to those you meet. No one asks for their cultural background; we are simply born into it. How can we live our lives as Christ? How can we be in the world but not of the world? How can we be all things to all people?
Read about culture shock and reverse culture shock. Even though you say, “I don’t need it…I won’t have any troubles.” Trust me you will.
God bless you in all your endeavors!
Ted Rabenold and wife Kim have been missionaries for almost 25 years and have spent all but 2 years in Tanzania. The other 2 were spent ministering at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya. We are so blessed to have this wonderful family as part of our GMI family, and praise the Lord for the eternal impact they have made for Christ on this earth. If you have any questions about becoming a missionary please visit http://www.gracem.org and if you would like to learn more about the Rabenolds’ ministry you can visit http://bit.ly/Rabenolds