17 March, 2020

Professional development in cross-cultural ministry

“Professional Development” are words that I knew in my pre-missionary profession. My husband is in charge of this for the staff at the school he works at. But I don't hear these words often in mission circles. I wonder why? Maybe because we don’t think of what we do as a “profession”.

I had to essentially leave behind my former profession, Occupational Therapy—at least in terms of formal registration with a national registration board—when I started down the road of cross-cultural ministry. I couldn't keep up with the professional development  requirements, not to mention afford the costs involved in remaining a legit Allied Health professional in Australia.
So having left something that is fits a narrow definition of profession, I found it helpful to think about what I currently do using those familiar terms. 

What is a profession?
Dictionary.com has a very broad definition of profession:
a vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science: the profession of teaching.
the body of persons engaged in an occupation or calling: to be respected by the medical profession.
My own professional development
Over the years I've gained a lot of knowledge about Japan, the culture and language, I've also gained knowledge about cross-cultural living—especially in Japan, and about many aspects of missionary life. So I guess I've been growing in the profession of missionary. Though I've never thought about it in those terms.

The time at the writer's retreat ten days ago also convinced me that I've grown into a third profession (or a fourth, if you count motherhood as my second profession): that of publishing. It's what I've spent a lot of time learning about and doing over the last decade. It amazed me that I could sit and talk with people about many varied aspects of writing and publishing. It shouldn't have! I've gathered a lot of information and expertise over this decade, none of it official with a certificate or degree, but certain not without merit.

And somehow I've had this mindset: always desiring to learn, and to grow.  Perhaps it is just my curious mind, although I don't discount the influence my university education and subsequent few years in the Occupational Therapy field had on me. 

The location of my first major professional development for
writing: Hong Kong.
Yes, it's not your usual Hong Kong image, is it?
Our mission helps with this by insisting on goal setting and regular reviews with supervisors. But what I do is a little outside the bounds of what many of the workers in our organisation do, so a certain amount of being a self-starter has been necessary. I don't actually know another missionary on any mission field who works as an editor (though I'm sure they exist, somewhere). And I'm doing this as a predominantly English speaker in a non-English speaking country, so there are less resources than if I were elsewhere. Therefore I've had to be creative.

Over the years my professional development in relation to publishing (there's more if you include cross-cultural living) has included:
  • Reading books about writing and editing (and buying them, something I don't do a lot for pleasure on a missionary budget, but when I come across a useful professional resource, I'm keen to lay my hands on it).
  • Reading many articles online.
  • Writing a lot. Over 3,000 articles on this blog and probably over 100 articles published in magazines and a couple of book contributions also.
  • Being a part of an online critique group and other online groups over the years has taught me so much.
  • Editing and being edited. Nothing like having to edit someone's work to make you think about what good writing is. Nothing like being called on a decision you've made when editing someone's work to make you think about why you do what you do. I've got a great production team with the magazine who don't let me get away with sloppy work.
  • Managing a magazine has been another level of learning and growing. Learning how to efficiently put together a quality product with a volunteer and long-distance team and also how to manage a team. Learning how to work with writers has been another, sometimes painful, journey. Much of this has been learning on the job, figuring things out as I went. Not only have I learnt about being a leader, but I've also learnt about how to be a good follower.
  • I've had to learn how to use various online tools, that was especially the case when I took on my current social media manager role for OMF Japan. But also tools that I use to help me with the magazine (see this post and this one).
  • Attending conferences, workshops, and retreats
    • OMF Writer's retreat/workshop in Hong Kong 2010
    • Magazine editing training Manilla 2009
    • Christian Writer's conference Victoria 2014
    • OMF Social media workshop Manilla 2017
    • International Christian Publishing conference (LittWorld) in Singapore 2018
    • Training with OMF about leading teams Bangkok 2016
    • Led six writer's workshops/retreats in Japan
    • Completed a couple of small online courses, and in the middle of another with Udemy.
    • Attended a hands-on photography course.
    • Attempted (and failed) to learn inDesign, the program that our magazine designer uses.
Well that's quite a lot when you write it out like that!

Last month I found this article and it is very helpful. It looks at what we do in cross-cultural ministry from the position of a profession and notes the vital importance of professional development, especially for those who stay a longer time.

When things get quiet here, I sometimes wonder about what the future holds for me with my current skills. I don't know. But I do know that I will not be content to become stagnant. I want to keep growing, keep taking on challenges, keep learning new things.

The writer's retreat I led 10 days ago didn't allow me to do much writing. But it did stretch me professionally. Having to answer questions about publishing and doing one-on-ones with people asking about publishing, writing, and editing issues was hard. This was especially so because there is much more time pressure when you are sitting with someone, if I encounter a difficult editing issue at work I can often walk away from it for a while and come back, or consult a resource or someone else. It was hard, but it was good for me.

What about you? Thinking outside the box, how has professional development looked for you in recent years? What are you looking forward to doing in the near future? What would you like to do, but haven't had the chance yet?

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