“I would encourage them to guard jealously their devotional lives with the Lord – however that works for them – but to neglect this for the sake of ministry is a huge trap that is easy to fall into, particularly for medics,” Mark says.
If the worker is married, he adds to guard jealously their relationship with their spouse. “For example, it’s hard to have a weekly date in the mission context. I realised at one point that just walking together around the walled compound when we could was an important way to share each other’s joys and burdens. We also took regular long weekends away to a hospital three hours up the road.”
A big piece of advice is to make yourself obsolete-“to serve others by helping them succeed in whatever ministry you were working on together. The longer I am in Niger, I see the importance of empowering and envisioning our national colleagues in the work; they will be there long after you have left.”
Faye comments: “If you are a family with young children entering the field give some real thought to how you will both develop your ministries. Make sure that both partners have the support they need for language learning. I found it very difficult when I arrived and had to feed the family, home-school the children and learn language. Looking back, even just the small thing of having someone prepare meals for us would have made life a lot easier! Can you share home-schooling or other child care responsibilities? These are things you need to think through. Perhaps negotiate some bottom-lines before you even start language learning. Both partners need to think about their skills and passions and for the wife in particular how to move into that as the children become more independent. Be intentional about this or she will end up being given all the jobs that others don’t have the time for!
No matter how you prepare, going to a different culture and climate can throw up the unexpected. Mark explains: ” We expected the very hot, harsh environment and language learning would be our greatest challenges. Of course these are major and with God’s grace we continue to plod on in the heat and to work at our language. However, the major challenge, living in one of the world’s poorest countries, is the extent of need, and how much we would be depended on to meet that need. This for us was a double whammy! Not only were we viewed as rich westerners living amongst poor neighbours with huge needs, but as a doctor seeking to care, I’ve always been viewed as being able to fix everybody’s medical issues as well.
“Don’t feel you have to be the answer to everyone who comes to your door with a problem, but ask for local knowledge of ways to problem-solve from other missionaries, the locals that you respect and the elders in the church who are able to give wise input.”
“Going into a very poor country is difficult to navigate. It never gets easy,” Faye adds. “I’ve heard advice that newcomers shouldn’t give anyone money for the first six months. Looking back, that would have really helped us not to start off with giving that just fed over-dependency. Six months would help you learn more about the character of those around you so you can give with some wisdom in a helpful way.”
During their home assignment they’ve been working through how it has been for them in Niger and they’ve decided to make some changes. Mark says, “Practically, this means a move to live in the missionary compound at Danja next to the hospital, to ensure that I no longer have a crowd of folk coming to the compound gate for help! This has involved zoom calls and emails and lots of practical details to look at.
“However, more than that it has meant a lot of work done in our hearts and spirits to move us to a place where we can lay down our striving and people- pleasing and come to a place of rest, knowing that being yoked to the Lord we will not collapse in a heap with the yoke on top of us! More and more we can see the Lord prioritising time with Him and have seen him minister to us in amazing ways!”