14 September, 2009

Advice for making small talk with missionaries

After yesterday's post, you're probably thinking (if you haven't met me), I hope I never meet Wendy!

Easy conversation happens when common ground is easily found. The kind of people who are very like you are the easiest to talk with. That is why young people often don't chat with elderly or business men are not usually found in deep conversation with young children.

Finding common ground with a missionary can be challenging, especially if they are just visiting your area. Additionally, missionaries can be difficult to converse with, they (we!) are often very focussed, driven and even stubborn.

First I want to make it clear that I don't oppose most of the questions that I posted yesterday. What I do dislike is when people ask them wanting a short, pithy answer. Very much like when someone says, "How are you?" they are not wanting a detailed description of your health!

So, I got to thinking, what are good 'warm-up' questions to ask missionaries? Certainly you shouldn't start with the "So how were you called to go to Japan?" type. But it is more challenging than I thought. If you don't know much at all about the missionary, perhaps only their country of service you could start with something like;

  • "So, what's the weather like this time of year in ...?" 
  • "When did you get back?" or 
  • "When are you going back? 
  • "Do you have a family?" (If they have young children, you can take the time to get to know their names, ages and interests.) 
  • "Do you have any hobbies?" 
  • "Where did you grow up?" (Though, this one can be difficult for those who grew up in several places.) 
  • "What would be your perfect spot for an ideal holiday?"  

Basically you are searching for common ground on which to have a conversation. However, "Yes, I've been to your country of service (i.e. stayed overnight in an airport hotel)" is not common ground!

Deeper questions can flow on like;

  • "What frustrations do you have in your job?" 
  • "What are your goals for the future?" 
  • "What are your ideas on..." 
  • "How are you coping with re-entry?"  

Do treat us as people, but people who are a little bit different from you - not in the sense that we're better or worse than you, but that our answers will possibly not be the usual ones. Take the time to listen and ask intelligently. Be curious and seek below the surface. Missionaries are people who are often lonely, they will appreciate genuine interest.


Anonymous said...

I suppose it would *not* be appropriate to take notes of those questions and ask you them when I next see you?

Seriously, I find small talk of any kind, with any people to be rather difficult. I appreciate these posts...they're helpful.

Wendy said...

Anika, if you want to ask me any of these questions, I'm fine. As long as you can tolerate me answering them :) Take notes all you like.

Ken Rolph said...

Now you've reminded me of the question I've been meaning to ask you. The appropriate question to ask a missionary to Japan.

Have you read any of the novels of Shusaku Endo?

Wendy said...

Ken, Yes I have. I read "The Samurai" earlier this year. Actually I think it was you who suggested I should. I hshould read some more, actually, it was quite interesting. Endo's life is very interesting to read about too.

Ken Rolph said...

Strange you should mention The Samurai. It's my favourite Japanese novel.

People usually suggest missionaries should read Silence or Scandal, but I prefer the ripping yarn of the Samurai. I currently have Endo's A Life of Jesus on the Bookshelf of the Unread, waiting for a spare moment.