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Six Differences Between Short- and Long-Term Ministry Overseas

Joy hanging laundry in Indonesia
Joy hanging laundry at her current mission assignment in Indonesia
During my teens I went on several mission trips.  Each prepared me in some way for living overseas, but there are definitely some differences between those short trips and the life I now lead.  For example:

  1.  I don’t travel much.  Traveling is an innate part of the short-term experience.  But on our small island program, I don’t go beyond a three-mile radius for months at a time.
  2. Self-care is now crucial.  On short trips I could give 100% of my energy to every ministry opportunity, surviving on bottled water, ten-minute naps and PB&Js.  If I tried that long-term, I’d be useless.
  3. The language barrier has a door.  I remember seeing excitement and gratitude when I would manage a mere “hello” in the local language, and I would fantasize about speaking conversationally.  It makes a world of difference.
  4. I couldn’t escape the culture shock.  I’ve visited about a dozen countries, but never before my seventh month in Indonesia did I experience real culture shock.
  5. I don’t live on a spiritual high.  No one blows a whistle to start my quiet time every morning, and no one serenades me with worship music every night. It’s just a day in, day out, walking with Jesus kind of deal.
  6. I don’t expect to see anything “happen” over the course of a couple weeks.  The pace of life here in Indonesia is slower than in the States, and cross-cultural relationships typically require quantity time.  For me, anyway, it’s been a very different experience than a project-oriented and itinerary-driven trip.

Despite these and many other differences, two things have remained absolutely the same: (1) my team became my family faster than you can shut a shuttle bus door, and (2) I’ll never be the same person I was when I arrived.

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