17 April, 2012

9. What are the positive and negative aspects of your relationships with other missionaries?

Hmm, this is a hairy one. Especially as a number of my colleagues read this blog! Please, no one take offence at what I write. I'm being very careful and speaking in general terms, and I don't want any of my colleagues or friends to be upset. If something I say is offensive, please write to me directly and let me know.
(This is the eighth in a series of questions I'm answering for a friend's Bible college assignment. You'll find links to the other answers in the series here.)

Positive aspects
     It it easiest to talk about the positive aspects of relating to other missionaries. Because we share many unique experiences and challenges, there is often a deep bond between missionaries. In OMF International we have missionaries from many different cultures and backgrounds, I've found, though, that our bond often supersedes the differences. 
     Many of us have discovered that we cannot wait for someone "like us" to become friends with. In fact there are precious few people "like us" on the mission field. For example, we have no close Australian friends who are in the same life stage as us, let alone from the same type of background. We have no one with who we can reminisce with about  our growing up years. Almost no one who's been to Toowoomba or Yeppoon, where we grew up. So, we have to choose to be friends with people who are quite different to us. 
    Not only that, but we recognise how transient life is on the mission field is. I mentioned back here that one of the stressors is constant change. That includes frequently changing colleagues and friendships. Most missionaries recognise that you often don't have much time to build a deep relationship with one another. I often find myself in deep conversations with someone I hardly knew six months ago; I have no idea where they grew up, let alone whether they have any siblings, but still we can connect on a deep level. It is another topic, but I find that having learnt how to do this, I struggle in Australia a bit. People are often scared if you try to go deep too quickly in a relationship. It probably makes me seem a bit like an alien!

Negative aspects
    Now this is the really tough one. Missionaries tend to have strong personalities. They have to, otherwise they wouldn't have been able to overcome the many obstacles to becoming and remaining a missionary. Strong personalities are good, but can be challenging to work with (especially if you have one yourself). They tend to be good at perseverance and are quite independent people. You can say this negatively by calling them "stubborn" and "difficult to control". I'm not really in leadership here, but I'm suspecting that leading missionaries is a very challenging job.
     Years of persevering alone in a foreign culture can exacerbate personality traits that can become somewhat "odd" without being tempered by rubbing shoulders with people of their own culture.
It is pretty well known that one big reason people leave the mission field is because they have trouble getting along with other missionaries. A sad fact, but somewhat understandable if you consider the stressors that we work under, combined with the above personality qualities. We personally haven't had too much difficulty working with other missionaries, but we haven't worked closely with other missionaries for very long in a small team.
    My biggest struggle at the moment is with a double minority feeling. As foreigners we are understandably a minority in this country. As Australians stationed at an International School that is based on an American style, we are double minorities. I find that difficult at times. It is easy for others to assume that because we come from an English speaking country, that our cultures are basically the same. That assumption can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings, misunderstandings that aren't even recognised as originating in different cultural background. And like culture shock, it is the ones that you don't see coming that blind-side you!
    I also struggle with a bit of a racial bias against Americans that my upbringing in Australia gave me. I wish I didn't, but I do. That's not to say that I don't have some wonderful American friends and colleagues. I love them as individuals, but sometimes the total effect can be difficult to swallow! Part of that is my personality, that likes to be the non-conformist, but not just that, in some ways I like people to know that I'm different and that can cause difficulties. Suffice to say, it isn't always a picnic in the park being missionaries working with and living near other missionaries. 

     Like teachers sometimes say, "School would be great without the students!" But as I was reminded in church on Sunday, if we choose to work together as God wants us to, we can achieve far more than we could apart, despite our differences.

    I only have one question left in this series and I hope it won't be a fizzer of a conclusion, because I haven't worked with national Christians very much, but like the others, I'll give it a go.

10. What are the positive and negative aspects of your relationships with national Christians?


KarenKTeachCamb said...

Well said Wendy! I think you've been honest, in a sensitive way. Not an easy question to tackle, but you did it well. I know what you mean about being a double minority! Not so much at my current school, but definitely experienced that at my previous school. Have a great rest of the week.

Footprints Australia said...

Thank you for being honest. As a fellow Aussie, I know how Aussies can bristle when they hear things like "NY is the capital of the world!" - and guess what, Obama is the president of the US not the world!!! Apologies to any Americans who might be reading this, I think it is a "cultural" thing in our country that we feel America can be a bit of a know-it-all and try to boss everyone else around. Just an observation ...

Wendy said...

Footprints, I've generally found Americans who've lived overseas for a time are more sensitive than you've indicated. They've discovered there is more to the world than America and very often aren't as in love with their home country as those who've never gone outside their borders for any length of time. It is the less obvious things that sometimes gets to me. It's hard to find an example, but perhaps how difficult it is to explain how different our school sports systems are. Or that most Americans assume you know where their particular state is.

Footprints Australia said...

That's good to hear Wendy ;-)