Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry – Arriving, Article 2 of 3

By David Harakal

Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry

Installment 11: Arriving, Article 2 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


You are responsible for your care. Your organization might have a member care function, and your team might have a care structure, but only you know what you need. Too often I have heard, “They should have known.” How can someone know what you do not share? You do not work with mind readers (and probably do not want to!).

  • Seemingly overnight you will go from feeling competent to incompetent. This is normal, and not true.
  • You may love your team, and you may not. Either way, they cannot meet all of your needs, and it is unreasonable for you to ask them to. You are responsible for:
    • Your relationship with God,
    • Your physical and mental wellbeing,
    • Your language and culture acquisition at a pace that is aggressive, but sustainable,
    • Finding friends on or outside of your team
  • Develop new relationships quickly and deeply, recognizing that people move. Better to have had several good relationships that were shorter than you would like than none.
  • Your team will likely thrive in different areas. People thrive and fail in different ways.
  • You will experience “physical” losses (favorite foods or drinks, face-to-face time with lifelong friends, maybe your health or sleep) as well as “intangible” losses (sense of accomplishment, sense of belonging, respect related to prior accomplishments). Acknowledging these will help you work through them.
  • Celebrate wins—even little ones.
  • Rest
  • Have fun—learn to laugh at yourself, especially when you make language or cultural mistakes.
  • Add to your answered prayer journal.
  • Assume you will always be an outsider in a new culture. People may be friendly, but not familial.
  • Own your part of problems. You may only be 10% of a problem, but you are responsible for 100% of that 10%.
  • Most relationships in your home country will deteriorate.


  • Airport pickup—Arrange airport pickup from friends or associates if possible.
    • If not available, pay the fee for good, reliable pickup.
    • When you arrive suffering from jet lag, possibly exacerbated if you travel with children, do not exacerbate your problems with uncertainty.
    • This is not the time to try to show others how tough you are
  • Ask questions. Set your pride aside. Do not struggle unnecessarily because you are worried that you will seem incapable (you are!).
    • Do not be a victim due to your own avoidable ignorance. Ask others!


  • Under schedule your days.
  • Keep asking questions.
    • Can you drink the water? If not, can you brush your teeth with it?
    • Any foods you need to avoid?
    • Can you flush the toilet paper?
    • Should you take taxis, Ubers, walk, ride alone or always with team members?
    • What are the team rules? Who makes decisions?
  • Understand your team’s evacuation plan (where team will meet), pack your “go” bag.

I will never leave you nor forsake you.

– Jesus, Hebrews 13:5b

Send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever any tie, but the ties that bind me to your service and to your heart.

– David Livingstone


  • 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

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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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