Packing a suitcase for a trip is challenging, but it will be more challenging as you embark on this cross-cultural adventure God has set before you! You are ready for an exciting journey ahead, and I would like to suggest a few things you need to pack as you depart. Oh, these are not real tangible items to pack, but they are attitudes of the mind and heart which I believe are important to take with you. These items will definitely make your life easier, make your heart stronger, and help your faith to grow. As you learn to develop these in your life, your effectiveness in ministry will become evident.
Flexibility: Learn to adapt to the unusual or the unexpected.
Flexibility is the first thing you need to pack in your suitcase. Life overseas can be unpredictable, and many things do not go as you expect! Get ready for dealing with the unexpected. The more quickly you learn to adjust and adapt to a new lifestyle, the better off you will be. Flexibility is learning how to deal with an unusual or unexpected situation without being stressed by it. It is the ability to change according to the circumstance. This is important as you work and serve in a country to which you are unaccustomed. Remember that you are a guest in a new country, and the customs and expectations of the people will be different than yours.
Many times in our service overseas unforeseen things happened. We had occasions when a plane landed at our little station because of bad weather, and on the spur of the moment I had to feed and find beds for people who were staying overnight. There were days when I had planned out my day, and then a sudden sickness in the village drew me away from my plans to help others. We experienced weeks when an event changed, a person did not arrive, or a package never came. And there were times when I had hoped for certain items in my bi-weekly grocery delivery only to have to adapt a recipe with a different ingredient because I did not have what I needed.
Adapt, and go with the unexpected. The more quickly you learn flexibility, the less stress your life will have. You may even discover a surprise blessing!
Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. –Proverbs 19:21
A Teachable Heart: Develop a heart willing to learn all God has for you.
A teachable heart is the next thing to pack. We go not only as ministers of Christ, but we also go as learners. Become a learner in your new role. Listen to other missionaries who have been there before you. Their input or suggestions are usually valid, and God wants you to hear what they have to say. God often teaches us through others.
In our first term on the field, we were assigned to live for nine months with an older couple who had a combined seventy years in missionary service. Being a new wife, I wanted to run my own home, but I found myself placed with a woman who was very set in her ways. Everything had to be done her way! At first, I resented it. Then, slowly, I began to see the wisdom of her ways. Not being used to the country, culture, or their ways of doing things, I learned many valuable lessons from her frugality and resourcefulness. When we were finally reassigned, I found myself doing things as she had and was so thankful that God put her in my life. You too will have people in your life from whom you can learn.
Also, have a desire to let God teach you. A teachable spirit is one that is willing and able to learn. Be teachable. Develop a heart that listens, observes, and adapts to the point that it causes change in your life. You will experience times of failure, but God uses those times to teach us valuable lessons in life.
One which stands out most strongly in my memory comes from our earliest years on the field. During those years, I had to do medical work even though I was not a nurse—there was no one else. At times I was exhausted by the demands of this task and would rather have run in the other direction. One day a pastor’s wife came for me to dress an ulcerated sore. I told her I would be down soon and then left her waiting for over two hours. Finally my husband walked in the house and asked, “Is S_____ still waiting for you?” He promptly went and helped her. The Lord strongly convicted me about my insensitivity and my own air of importance as I made her wait and wait. My heart was changed.
God’s main goal for us is to transform us and make us more like Him. He always has things to teach us, but we must have a heart willing to learn. Whatever the situation, ask: “What does God want me to learn from this?” Have a tender, pliable heart which God can teach.
Teach me Your ways, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth.
Give me an undivided heart that I may fear Your name. –Psalm 86:11
Unwavering Faith:Have a faith that withstands the toughest times.
An unwavering faith in God is the most important thing you can pack. Missionary service will deliver many difficult situations, and testing will challenge even the strongest of us. Even so, God is sovereign, and He controls every situation. He sees and knows everything, and His purposes reach beyond our understanding. The more we actively trust Him, His word, and His promises, the more our faith grows. As we learn to trust Him, we can rest in the knowledge that no matter what the situation, God is in control, and our life is in His hands.
During our second term on the field, our small son got into and overdosed on anti-malarial medicine. Through a string of miracles which the Lord orchestrated, we were flown to a hospital with a doctor on board monitoring him. As he lay unconscious from the effects of the overdose, we were flying over the jungle praying and watching the scene below. As we looked, God sent a beautiful rainbow to reflect onto the trees with the plane’s shadow in the midst of it. We knew that the Lord had sent that rainbow to remind us of His presence with us in this crisis, and that no matter what happened to our son, He would be there with us. God asked us to trust Him. (By His grace, God did miraculously spare our son’s life, in spite of every indication that he could die.)
Traumatic times challenge our faith the most. Are we willing to trust God in those difficult times, knowing He is in control and with us no matter what?
…The righteous will live by faith. –Romans 1:17
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him
must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. — Hebrews 11:6
A Sense of Humor:Being able to laugh is a great stress reliever.
Be sure to pack a good sense of humor. Humor provides the ability to see the funny side of any situation. The ability to laugh at yourself or your circumstance is a great way to relieve the stress of the moment and help us learn to cope. Laughter not only benefits us emotionally, but it is medically proven to provide us with physical benefits as well.
We had a friend who had the greatest sense of humor. His fun and laughter lightened the spirits of all who were with him. He would tell of his language blunders, his cultural mishaps, and his parenting catastrophes until everyone was laughing hysterically and then talking about their own mistakes. His ability to see the funny side of something helped us all to look for it.
Do not take life so seriously that all the fun escapes from your life and ministry. Relax, get out there, and enjoy it!
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. –Proverbs 17:22
A Heart of Love: Pray for a heart that loves those you serve.
Pack a big dose of love. Living in a new culture sometimes makes us long for our home country and what is familiar to us, but God sent us to love a people we do not know. Pray that God will give you a loving heart for the people you serve. At times your love for them will be challenged, and it is important not to let negative or critical attitudes grow in your heart because of a disappointment or failure on their part.
I had a house helper who worked for me, and each week I would pay her well, including a tin of fish and a bar of soap, luxuries for her. I also helped her in other ways. Then I began to notice there were spoons missing from my kitchen, and I realized she had begun stealing from me. I remember feeling so betrayed because I had treated her so well and helped her with things she could not otherwise get. At other times, the church deacon stole my son’s shorts from the clothesline, Christians were caught in adultery, and several were acting inappropriately toward our children. These were things we struggled with in attitude and disappointment, as we felt betrayed by those we strove hard to serve.
Pray for God to give you His love for those to whom you minister. Do not just be a servant—be a loving servant. There is a difference. Those you serve will know if you have love for them. They will sense your kindness, your gentleness, and your concern for their welfare. Through your love they will be able to see a God of love. After all, how can we show them God’s love if we do not show them our love? We will be a reflection of the Father’s love for them. Ask God every day to give you a genuine love for the people you serve.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love,
I am only a resounding gong or clanging symbol…now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. — I Corinthians 13:1, 13
A Spirit of Humility:Learning a spirit of humility will help with team cohesiveness.
Do not forget to pack a spirit of humility, especially when working on a team. Most of the time we do not choose our teammates, but God places teams together for a reason. No one person is more important than another, and realizing the value of each person and the contribution that each makes takes a humility of heart and mind. It has been said, “Even God cannot teach the proud, but He can find the humble.”
My husband and another man were asked to teach a course to all the pastors in the surrounding areas. However, the topic was one where the two men had very opposing theological viewpoints. Rather than get into conflict over their disagreements, they decided to teach on the many aspects on which they did agree. That became the beginning of a great friendship. Both men showed a spirit of humility as they chose not to push their own viewpoint on the other.
As different personalities emerge, cohesiveness on a team can be a challenge. Chuck Swindoll talks about teamwork in his book, The Quest for Character, and says, “There is freedom to be, to develop, to innovate, to make mistakes, to learn from one another…all the while feeling loved, supported, and affirmed.”
That should be our goal, and it will develop better if we learn a spirit of humility.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
Honor one another above yourselves. –Romans 12:10
Steadfastness:Develop a strong spirit that refuses to give up.
Steadfastness is the final thing to pack. Steadfastness, or perseverance, is being unwavering in purpose, loyal to the task, and firmly fixed on a goal. It is the ability to endure.
My most difficult times on the field were when I had to do medical work. I felt so inadequate for the task! Because I knew no one else would help them if I did not, I stuck with the task out of compassion. God gave me the strength to persevere and, after several years, a medical orderly came to serve. Later, I realized those early years of medical work had built a trust with the people and forged a relationship with them that we may not have otherwise had.
No doubt tough times will come, but we need to say as Paul said, But this one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3: 13, 14). ‘Straining’ and ‘pressing on’ are words of perseverance, which imply the presence of hard work and even difficulty.
Why did Paul press on? Because he recognized life was not for the present, but for the future. He pressed on to ‘win the prize’ he knew was waiting for him in heaven. His outlook had eternity in view, and so should ours. Ministry may not always be easy, but keep the goal in mind. Have a steadfast heart committed to the task.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm, let nothing move you.
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord
because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. — I Corinthians 15:58
Pray for these qualities
As you prepare to leave, pray and ask God for these qualities. He takes great pleasure in helping us to be all we can be. He wants your ministry to be effective—He wants you to succeed so that you can bring glory to His name.