Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry – Arriving, Article 1 of 3

By David Harakal

Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry

Installment 10: Arriving, Article 1 of 3

Your First Six Months on the Field

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.

– Proverbs 19:21

God seldom calls us for an easier life, but always calls us to know more of him and drink more deeply of His sustaining grace.

– John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life

Please help me select a title for the book these articles will become:

Reminder: Your fellowship, sending organization, or team may not align with my advice. Trust your leaders as you respectfully share what you learn.

If you missed the first of the Leaving series, or would like to see all three parts in one place, visit


Welcome to new sights, sounds, smells, rhythms, and expectations.

Beyond Jesus, what you need most during your first six months is flexibility. You will establish a new community and new rhythms for your life. Ask for help—from everyone, especially locals.

Be proactive. Our WiFi was painfully slow in our first country. Everyone complained. Rather than simply accept the status quo, I asked the provider if that was to be expected, and learned that the speed varies by time of day. Rather than struggle and grumble, I chose to learn, and in this case, it solved the problem. Do not add hard to what is already hard by not asking questions!

At another extreme, some people like to attribute every problem to Satan. Sometimes the internet goes down. Wet marble is slippery. It is not uncommon to get food poisoning occasionally.

A time may come when you attract the attention of the local police and the enemy does want to disrupt your plans, but far more often you are simply living in uncertainty in a new culture, making rookie mistakes, and experiencing as new what others in your culture accept as normal. Every inconvenience is not a spiritual attack.

First Six Months in Review

  • Full-time language will make you feel tired, hungry, and incompetent.
    • Pray before each language session. This made a significant difference for us.
    • People learn differently—find the language learning style that works for you.
    • Do not compare. Some are naturals and some (like me) will just never get there.
  • When you phone home
    • Expect to listen more than you speak. You will avoid disappointment.
    • Seek to understand, not to be understood.1 Lives of those you love are also changing.
  • Embrace ambiguity—you do not know what you do not know. This is normal. Ask questions.
  • You may feel slightly unwell due to new foods, different water, and often new airborne pollutants. Some of this is normal. Seek medical attention.
  • Your team may be your only “friends.”
    • Many, even most, will not be life-long friendships nor deep relationships.
    • Teams sometimes set the expectation that they are one big happy, functional family. More often you are a group of people with a common cause and will hopefully be able to work well together. But it will often not feel like a family.
    • Do your part to get along with others. If “everyone” is annoying, a mirror might be a helpful tool.
  • Plan to accomplish less. Reset your expectations.
    • Talk to others about reasonable expectations regarding what you can complete in a day—or a week!
    • Language confusion, bureaucracy, transportation, and different processes will slow you down.
    • Your time is valuable, especially if you need rest. Just because you can do something (repair a sink, paint a wall) does not mean you should. Consider paying a local when possible. You might make a new friend.
  • Do not compare—language or friends or number of times in local homes. God’s plan for you is yours alone.
  • Some countries do not honor contracts, or may not with expatriates.
  • Don’t miss big events in your passport country
    • Death or serious illness of immediate family member
    • Marriage of immediate family member, maybe best friend
    • Sibling’s first child.
  • If you have not yet, acquire and use a calendar and grocery list shared with your spouse or roommate(s).
  • Address leadership failures early
    • Read Chapter 2 of Bully Pulpit if you suspect your leader is harming you or your team


  • Foreign to Familiar by Sandy Lanier
  • Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
  • When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence by Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert and Katie Casselberry
  • Getting Started: Making the Most of Your First Year in Cross-Cultural Service by Amy Young

1 From the “Prayer of St. Francis,” thought that prayer was not actually written by St. Francis.

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This article is part of a series. For prior articles, resources, and the author’s biography, visit

Books by this author:

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Reliant or any other entity with which he is affiliated.

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