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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.