Monday, September 29, 2008

Adjusting to the Mission Field--A Wife's Perspective Pt. 2

Kim Melton - BWM missionary to Japan

Several years ago, we sold our first house and bought another on the other side of town. We were so excited. Our family had grown and we needed a 3rd bedroom. The Lord had answered our prayer abundantly. A few weeks after the move, we were finally settled and I was so lonely. My kids did not change schools, we were attending the same church, I was hanging out with the same friends, but I felt so isolated. I missed my old neighborhood and familiar stores and roads. I told my friend that I did not understand this. She told me the grieving process was settling in. I didn’t quite understand this at the time, but I knew she was right.

When we moved to the field, I experienced this at a new level. Part of grieving is adjusting to a new way of life. It’s sort of like after a funeral. The hubbub of the funeral is over, the family meal is finished and everyone returns to their normal routine, except for the immediate family of the one who died. They have to learn to live day by day without the lost loved one. When you move to the field, the old way of life is over. If you add to that the unfamiliar, it is overwhelming. We have to turn to the God of all comforts (2 Cor. 1:3-4). He is waiting with open arms. “The Greek word for ‘comfort’ is related to the familiar word paraclete, ‘one who comes along side to help,’…’comfort’ often connotes softness and ease, but that is not its meaning here. Paul was saying that God came to him in the middle of his sufferings and troubles to strengthen him and give him courage and boldness”(MacArthur Study Bible).

When we arrived in Japan, I felt unprepared for the emotions that I would experience. I had no choice about the home we lived in. I was frustrated because I could not communicate. I felt lost driving on the “wrong” side of the road and not being able to read the signs. I didn’t know where to shop. I didn’t know what prices were good. I had no friends and I had to put up a good face for my children who were watching me. It was terribly overwhelming. I remembered what my friend said about grieving and I was helped. It is o.k. to grieve. It is not a sin to feel sadness. It’s even o.k. to cry. The attitude behind it is what can be sinful. Where do we turn when the emotions flare?

Many times, when I have shared my struggles, I was told that “we all have to go through it.” I did not find this comforting. If our comfort comes from the Lord, we have an obligation to share with others (2 Cor. 1:3-4) what brought us comfort and gave us strength. I was determined to find some answers in the Word. When another missionary lady came to me, I wanted to have an answer.

Memorizing God’s Word has had a life-changing affect on me. Find verses that help you and memorize them. If you do this, God will bring them to your mind when you need them most. For example, I had to have a mammogram here. It was not something I looked forward to. I will not go into the whole big, long story. They do things differently here and it was pretty traumatic. I couldn’t talk to the doctors, so my hubby was translating. That was a different stress of its own! As I was lying on the examining table fighting the tears, the Lord brought to my mind 2 Cor. 4:17-18, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” I had instant peace and the tears fled. If I had not memorized those verses, they would not have been there when I needed them most!

Several verses have helped me on a regular basis. I meditate on the fact that God is present with me (Ps. 46:1, Jer. 23:23-24, Ps. 139:7-10, Mat. 28:20). Others may forget me, but God does not (Is. 49:15). When I am overwhelmed, I must go to the Lord. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed, that I can’t remember to do this and then He leads me to Himself (Ps. 61:1, 2). Spurgeon said about these verses that “he who communes with God is always at home.”

Perhaps the most exciting truth to me about God is His faithfulness. He keeps His promises. I have seen this in my life before, but it has been magnified on the field. He strengthens me, helps me and holds me up (Is. 41:10). He guides me with His eye (Ps. 32:8). He goes before me. I do not need to be dismayed (Deut. 31:8).

When we moved to the city we are in now, there was no one living here to show us around. When we needed a doctor, God led us. When we needed an eye doctor, God led us. Both of these speak some English! I needed a friend. God went before me and hand-picked one and put her in my path. Then there was the time I needed something at the store and I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t ask the clerk and even if I could, I wouldn’t have understood her answer. After several minutes of searching and mounting frustration, I cried out to the Lord and He led me right to it. I could go on and on…

Another lesson I am still learning is to not compare myself and my situation with others. 2 Cor. 10:12 tells me that if I do this, I am not wise! There will be someone who raised support faster, learned the language faster or has a bigger and better house to live in. We prayed for a teacher for our children. God did not see fit to give us one; but yet, I saw Him supply this for another family. Another friend has been on the field less time than I have and she already has the language ability to lead a Bible study. My language study is slow and difficult. At this middle age that I am in, sometimes I feel too old to do it! Someone younger would do a better job! Some missionaries are able to plant a new church every term. In our country of service, it may take the rest of our lives to plant one. We are all different. Every country and language is different. My focus must be on God and His will for me today. I cannot compare myself to others. God has put me where He wants me to be and has given me what I need to accomplish His will (2 Cor. 9:8, Phil. 2:13).

I remember well when the “culture shock” started to set in. In the USA, we talk about “bad hair days.” Here, we have “bad culture days.” =) I was reading the fruits of the Spirit in my study Bible and the notes that went with them. I realized as I read, that these fruits manifested in my life will take care of any “culture shock.” Longsuffering is “the willingness to accept irritating or painful situations.” Gentleness is “a humble and gentle attitude that is patiently submissive in every offense, while having no desire for revenge or retribution” (MacArthur Study Bible). When I offend the culture unknowingly, when I am stared at because I am different, when things are done differently than I would do them, when I am mistreated or misunderstood, what fruit do I exhibit? Is it longsuffering and gentleness? The only way I can do this is to be in the Word, walk in the Spirit and have lots of grace from my Lord (2Cor. 12:9-10).

In closing, I want to share some practical things that have helped me.

  1. While on deputation, I begged the Lord to give me a verse that would keep me on the field when the going got tough. As we went through the Netcaster program, the Lord began to burn 2 Cor. 5:15 into my soul, “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” My life is not about me, it is about the One Who died for me.
  2. Several years ago, a friend counseled me to fill my mind with good Scriptural music. I play it in the car, on the subway and while in the house. This has helped me countless times when I couldn’t seem to control my thoughts. One time in particular was after a rough day of language school. I put in my earbuds on the subway and started to listen to the cd A Quiet Heart by Soundforth. One of my favorite songs, “I Could Not Do Without Thee” began. When I arrived at my destination, the frustration and turmoil were gone. God met my need through the music. Another favorite cd is Come and Sing by the Stouffer men. This brought me tremendous comfort during the days before and after our departure for Japan.
  3. Keep a journal of what God is teaching you and the blessings He gives. The entries don’t have to be long. A simple “I was so lonely today and God gave me Mt. 28:20” or “I wanted cheddar cheese and God led me to it and it was on sale!” is enough. When the emotions are threatening to drown you, get out the journal and read. It is hard to remember God’s help in the past when you are overwhelmed. Having something to read will help you to remember and encourage your heart.
  4. And last, but certainly not least, read missionary biographies. Others have gone before us and we can learn from them. The circumstances are different, but the struggles are the same. I have been helped greatly by the writings of Isobel Kuhn. She is very candid about her struggles. My two favorite books of hers are In the Arena and Green Leaf in Drought.

I hope that someone will be helped by these things. It has been worth the time for me to reflect on them. I think that we do others a disservice when we hide behind a mask and pretend that everything is o.k. We are human and we will struggle. We can help someone else through the struggle, if we are willing to humble ourselves and be transparent. God knows that we are dust (Ps. 103:14)! How marvelous that He still chooses to use us!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Adjusting to the Mission Field--A Wife's Perspective Pt. 1

*****Ginger has spent quite a bit of time compiling the thoughts of missionary wives all over the world. Each Monday for the next several months we will be sharing those thoughts on our blog.*****

Why is it that most, if not all, missionary ladies are shocked by all the emotions and struggles that accompany the first year on the mission field? Why do we feel so guilty for being so overwhelmed? Why are we not more prepared for the inevitable? If so many missionary ladies struggle in their first months on the field, why are we not sharing our struggles and trials with those that come after us so that they can better prepare?

As I collect stories from women who are serving all around the world, I am continually seeing a similar pattern. First, we are so excited to arrive on the mission field the Lord has called us to. Then for the next six months to a year we struggle with a variety of emotions and doubts. Finally, we find refuge in the Lord. The Lord gives us strength to overcome our emotions and guilt. We find ways to accept the new culture around us and we start enjoying the work God have given us. Is there no way to make these first few months easier on us?

As a new missionary wife myself, I think that knowing I was not the only one feeling so lost and confused would have helped me not feel so guilty. I felt like I must have a spiritual problem because, how could I not be overjoyed to be in this new country which desperately needed the Lord? Praise the Lord I have a patient and loving husband who was and is always patient, and is always willing to listen and never judge.

I remember not wanting to call anyone from back home cause I didn’t want to disappoint them. I didn’t want them to think their support was all in vain. Pride set in and I didn’t want anyone to see how weak I was. I was an MK, I was suppose to have no problems adjusting to a new culture. I was supposed to be able to learn the new language in no time at all. How could I call them and let them know that I had failed them?

I am so thankful that after ten months of living in Siedlce, Poland I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I finally realize that I am not alone in these struggles. It is okay to miss home like crazy. It is normal to question if you made the right decision to be a missionary. It is okay to cry and cry and cry a little more. It is okay to call home often and share your struggles with friends and loved ones. It is okay to feel overwhelmed; there is nothing to feel guilty about. I would encourage any new missionary lady to find another missionary lady who can be your accountability partner. Find a missionary lady who is either going through the same thing you are or someone who has recently gone through it. No one else can quite relate like another fellow missionary lady.

Over these past ten months the Lord has continually given me ideas of how to better understand and relate to the culture and people around me. The first few months when everything was at its worst, nothing was better than reading God’s promises from Psalms and Proverbs. I also read, “Lord Change My Attitude” by Pastor James McDonald. I would definitely encourage new missionaries to pack their bags full of good Christian books. Good Christian literature is hard to come by on the mission field and can be such a great encouragement.

Looking back on these past ten months I would have to say that the things that helped me start to enjoy living here more where just simple things, nothing extraordinary. I would describe myself as outgoing and fun loving. I love being with people and having a good time. One of the things I miss most about the States is spending time with my girl friends and the ladies in my church. I miss calling up a friend and running out for a cup of coffee or going grocery shopping together. I didn’t know many women here who I could call up and run out to the store with. I felt so cooped up and so claustrophobic. I decided that joining an aerobics class might give me the opportunity to meet some new ladies, and of course get fit in the mean time! The aerobics class has been GREAT!! I have met so many nice women. I now have a list of ladies I can call up and go out for coffee with. Over the last couple of months I have really enjoyed going out for coffee with different ladies. It has been fun getting to know them and hearing their stories. It has also given me the opportunity to share my story with them and tell them why my family and I are here. The Lord has also given me the opportunity to spend time with a group of teenage girls in our neighborhood. Almost every Monday night, after the kids go down, the girls come over and we play games or I teach them how to make American desserts. Spending this time with these girls has really given me a heart for the teen girls of Poland. Spending time with these ladies and teenagers has given me even more motivation to learn the Polish language.

Can I say that I am over and pass all my crazy emotions? I think not. Do I still have bad days? Yes, who doesn’t, right? However, I can honestly say that I am excited about my future here in Poland. I am excited to see what the Lord has in store for our family and ministry here in Poland. Praise the Lord that, “His compassions fail not.” Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea,

And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines

Of never-failing skill,

He treasures up his bright designs

And works his sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy, and shall break

In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust him for his grace;

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,

And scan his work in vain:

God is his own interpreter,

And He will make it plain.

Eighteenth century poet William Cowper

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Little Relief

It would be nice if money grew on trees. I might actually become a treehugger if that were the case. For quite some time you've heard about the weak dollar and its affect on missions. This article from bloomberg news signals some potential good news for those of us overseas. The dollar reached a one year high against the euro today. Two months ago the dollars' weakness had resulted in a loss of over 30% of our buying power since we first arrived in Poland. It is really hard to operate on 70% of your budget. That trend has reversed itself rather quickly, and though the dollar is still weaker than when we initially arrived in Poland, it's strength could provide some needed financial breathing room. I am thankful for this answer to prayer.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Back To School

The Kids went back to school on Monday so I thought I'd share a few things that are different about school in Poland.

1.) They have an extra year of pre-school here so their "first grade" is our "second grade" in the States.

2.) Preschool is not nearly as structured here as it is in the States. But once they start first grade it is not uncommon for children to come home with an hour or more of homework each night.

3.) Preschool tuition is something around $75 per month per child. Included in that price is breakfast, a morning snack, obiad (Poland's biggest meal of the day) and an afternoon snack. They are literally eating all day. The kids love it.

4.) Not included in the price of tuition are any type of supplies. Before the school year begins parents are given a list of everything the child needs right down to kleenex, toilet paper, and handsoap for the bathroom. This continues on through elementary.

5.) The teacher and class stay together all through preschool. When the child gets into first grade the teacher and class stay together through the third grade.

6.) At the fourth grade level students begin a schedule similar to Jr. High students in the States, which includes different teachers for different subjects, and different class loads on different days.

7.) Poland does not have nearly enough preschools for its population. Certain preschools have a waiting list of over two years, which requires parents to sign up their child right after birth. Otherwise, registration is on a first come- first serve basis. Priority is given to single parents or homes where both parents are working. The registration forms are quite intrusive by U.S. standards. Asking questions such as "Do you have a job" and "what kind of work do you do?"