Have you ever had one of those experiences that was so incredible and transformational that you feel like you can’t do it justice by talking or writing about it? Well, that’s where I find myself right now. I spent 5 weeks in January and February in Colorado Springs at Mission Training International (MTI). I sat down about a hundred times while I was there to update here about what I was learning, but everything I tried to write seemed inadequate. I still feel that way, but I do want to share a bit, so I will give it a shot.
MTI has 2 programs – SPLICE (Spiritual, Personal, Interpersonal, Cultural, Endurance/Enjoy) and PILAT (Program In Language Acquisition Techniques). SPLICE is designed to prepare missionaries for cross-cultural transition and ministry and PILAT is a practical course in learning how to learn a new language. Both of these were invaluable. Now that I have had the training, I cannot imagine trying to go to the field without the tools they both offered. If you are a missionary getting ready to go to the field, I highly recommend this training as an important part of your preparation.
It would be impossible to go through all I learned, but I’ll give you a few of my big picture takeaways:
- Missionary life is full of paradoxes. Good comes hand-in-hand with difficulties. If I try to avoid the pain, I will also insulate myself from the joys. There is a children’s program at MTI and they help the kids understand paradox by talking about a pair-a-ducks (get it?). There are “yay ducks” and “yuck ducks.” I really love this. I have been feeling this tension for a while as I think about this move and I learned a lot about letting myself feel and grieve the yucks so that I can really rejoice in the yays.
- One of the main reasons that missionaries leave the field prematurely is due to conflict with other missionaries. Because of that, MTI spends a lot of time talking about conflict management. I think this may be one of the biggest strengths of this training. We all had a chance to learn about our own conflict style and to practice handling conflict with others who are different from us. They assigned an animal to each style of conflict management. Here is a silly video made by some SPLICE participants. See if you can figure out which one you would be.
- PILAT uses the analogy that me learning Swahili is like owning a small business. I am responsible for it. It’s not the schools job to teach. It is my job to use all of the resources offered to me to learn. Now, I do not tend to have trouble with taking on responsibility, but I am a
teacher’s petstudent at heart. It was good for me to hear over and over…and over that my time in language school is not about making a good grade. It is about genuinely learning the language. They are fond of saying that you have to murder the language before you master it. I am not good at handling making mistakes, which brings me to my biggest takeaway.
- Perfection is not the goal. It is a given that I will make a million mistakes while I am on the field. In fact, one of the guaranteed losses is that of competence simply by the fact that I will be trying to function in a culture that is not my own while speaking a language that will never be as good as my English. Does that make you uncomfortable? Maybe not. It makes me squirm. This reveals idols of self-reliance, independence and the good opinion of others. I have known for a while that this would likely be a big area of sanctification during this move and MTI cemented that for me. It also gave me permission to make mistakes. Our facilitators were honest about mistakes they made on the field and showed us how God had used them to further their ministries.There will be times where I will offend because I am too direct even when I am trying to be gentle. I will inevitably run into a situation with a patient that I handle in a way I think is appropriate, but does more harm than good because of cultural differences. My Swahili will be terrible for a while (but it may spread some cheer along the way). Grocery shopping will be a challenge and I will feel stupid because of that. I will have times that I just want to come home. I will probably have times that I am not good at communicating with people at home. There will be a million other mistakes, big and small. My prayer in all of this is that I may boast about the weaknesses exposed in me as I go and that Christ’s power may rest on me because I know that His grace is sufficient and His power is shown to be perfect in my weakness. May I know and may my life be a testament to the fact that this is not about me and my skills or giftings. It is about the power of Christ in me as He allows me to be used in His redemptive work. What a gift! I would miss the beauty of that if I aim for perfection, and finding myself lacking, run away from what Christ has called me to instead of pressing into Him and relying more fully on His ability to accomplish all He has planned.
Thank you all for your prayers, texts, e-mails, phone calls, cards and care packages as I was gone. What a blessing to be reminded that I am loved and remembered.