Dear Brand-New Missionary Mama,
You did it.
You dreamed all those dreams, you prayed all those prayers. You raised all that money. You shook all those hands. You spoke in all those churches. You attended all that training, you passed all those tests. You packed all that stuff. You said those hard, hard goodbyes. You flew all those miles, over all those oceans, in all those cramped seats. You did it. You made it. You’re here.
That was the easy part.
Your family’s feeling pretty insecure right now…and who wouldn’t be? You’ve only changed the climate, the language, and the customs on them, it’s not like that’s everything–oh wait. You’re so excited to be here, it’s what you’ve wanted and prayed for…and yet, you keep finding tears in your eyes at the most inconvenient times.
People are staring at you; it makes you uncomfortable. Your kids are covered in bug bites, so they’re not sleeping well, and you’re thinking of changing all their middle names to “Crankypants.” They’ve rejected the reconstituted milk again today, and you’d really just like one meal that was easy, but that would require going out, and that’s too exhausting.
This is why the mission field breaks people. This first part is off-the-charts stressful. It hurts. And when we’re under this kind of stress, we have to protect ourselves and be gentle with ourselves. Let the beds go unmade, mama. Let them watch one more episode if it means you can finish your lunch without anyone touching you. Dirty socks never killed anybody. Stressful times call for temporary measures.
So how do we keep a mama from breaking in these hard days?
- Naps. I laughed when my coworker said this when I first arrived. She was serious, and so am I. The heat, the unfamiliarity, trying to imitate new sounds, it’s all exhausting. You’re making even more decisions than usual, and your brain is on overload. Give it some extra rest. It doesn’t make you a child. Don’t unpack. Don’t do dishes. It’s like they told me when I had a baby: don’t stand if you can sit, don’t sit if you can lie down, don’t lie down if you can sleep. Let yourself recover.
- “People-free space.” Oh, you live at the ministry center? Great. What time does everyone go home? Oh, it varies? Not anymore. Send them home at 5:00. Or lock your front door and ignore whoever’s knocking. Or turn off your phone. Have some reasonable boundaries so you can let your hair down, put on your PJ’s and feel free to cry, complain, laugh, process out loud, etc.
- Adjust your expectations. And by “adjust,” I mean “lower.” It’s all going to take longer than it feels like it should–let it. You’re on island time now (even if you don’t live on an island). Hakuna matata, as they say. 🙂 You’ll get back to your five-day-a-week workouts…next month. Pick a date, if that helps. Re-introduce order into your life slowly.
- Carry a notebook and a pen. Write down cultural questions, words you keep hearing and want to learn, things to ask your boss later, phone numbers for your new veggie lady, etc. It’ll reduce the pressure on your brain to remember things (when it’s already in overload) and you won’t be losing tiny scraps of random paper.
- Minimize decision-making. Plan your meals out: for breakfast, it’s cereal or eggs. For lunch, it’s sandwiches. For dinner, it’s spaghetti. Don’t make any more decisions than you have to. If the kids complain, tell them they can each pick a meal and help you with it…next month. For this month, this is the plan. If you need a template, I’ve got one right here for you. Pick out clothes the night before. Just watch one show on Netflix. You get the idea.
- Stay off social media. I say this as a kindness and can’t stress it enough: you don’t need to be reminded that it’s snowing at home and you’re missing it. You don’t need to be reminded that you didn’t get to be at the baby shower. You don’t need to be reminded that somewhere, people are taking hot showers in a house free of termites. I know, Facebook feels familiar. It feels like a connection to home, but often, it’s salt in an open wound. If you want connection, turn to your husband. Write a long email to a friend. Call Mom on Facetime. Better yet, crack open your Bible and sit in God’s presence and be reminded that you are enough because He paid it all. If you have to do social media for work, set a timer, post your ministry updates and respond to messages and get off. Let the homesickness heal a little before you dive back into your feed. It’ll still be there.
Deep breaths. You’ll get through this. Be gentle with yourself. This is hard–this is really hard. But the good news? It’s downhill from here–it’s only going to get easier. Please don’t give up now, before you see how great this is going to be. Every day, you’re learning new things. Every day, God’s going to be faithful to give you what you need for that day. A graceful transition just means keeping everybody alive. Period. Anything more than that is a bonus, in my book.
I made you a little present…it’s goofy, but maybe that’s what you need. It’s called New Missionary Bingo, and the goal is just to remember that all this stuff is normal. It’s not meant to be played in a group, but as life happens, go ahead and check off the boxes. And if you get five in a row or a blackout, pat yourself on the back, and come comment on this post and let us know how you’re doing. Is it getting easier? What are you learning?
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go kill something with a forked tail that just flew by my head. (Man, I couldn’t make this stuff up even if I tried.)
You’ve got this, mama.