Wisdom from our Vets

Our veteran missionaries share their wisdom and insight from their time spent serving overseas.

Make sure you give the food a couple of chances!  The first time I ate fufu and n’jama jama, I was panicking that I would starve to death, but within the first year it was my favorite dish!  I’m so glad I kept trying it and many other dishes - Bon Appetite!

— Rachel Sybor 2006, Cameroon
Rachel Sybor 2006, Cameroon

Go in God's grace and listen, listen, listen.  There will be friction on the mission with those who go to serve and those who have been there many, many years.  Be at peace.  Learn the language, eat the food, go to the music or wedding invitations.  Please remember when you return, we want to know how it went.

— Marianne Grisez 1972, Ethiopia

Take care of yourself.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Find someone to talk to.  Reach out. Branch out.  Life in missions is hard, and the "honeymoon period" will end. It could be a few weeks, a few months or even a year in.  There will be days you're crying over an avocado (or something else seemingly insignificant), and there will be days of total confidence in yourself, what you are doing and God's presence in it all.  Mission is a journey, a test.  It will embed itself into the far reaches of your soul and create in you a totally new person, altered by your experiences and all the better for it.  Don't close yourself off from your in-country and home support systems.  The people you go with, missionaries already in country, friends and family at home, LMH office staff and the family of past missionaries are here for you. Talk to us. Email us. Rant to us.  As a returned missionary, I fully admit we may not have experienced the exact same things, but chances are, we have experienced something similar. Just please remember to take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.  If you are not your best self, compassion fatigue and burnout will sneak up on you.  Enjoy your new experiences.  Find and celebrate positives in work and everyday life.  Communicate.  And always remember even on the darkest of days, He is holding you in the palms of His hands.

— Ashley Hansen, 2015, Cameroon
Ashley Hansen, 2015, Cameroon

Your best present is your presence.  Be there for THEM. In giving you will receive so much joy and blessing.  Start off slowly and learn their culture first.  Do only what you're asked to do for six months.  Man is one of the most adaptable creatures on earth.  You will learn to adapt to the conditions.  Pray for patience, peace and acceptance.  God is there for you.  Learn to depend on him and not your own insights.  Observe what the different roles are for men and women.  I, Jerry, was leading a building project and one day asked a guy if he wanted to take some leftover materials home.  He said yes.  I said great, take them by break time.  Break time came and they were still there. I  wanted them moved, because they had nails in them and it was unsafe, so I said, please take them by lunch. At the end of lunch they were still there.  “Do you still want them?” I asked.  Yes, he said.  Ok, move them by the end of the day.  At the end of the day, his wife came and she carried them home.  See, what I was asking him to do was women’s work, and I didn’t know that. I  had embarrassed him by asking him to do it himself.  So, take time to observe what types of work that men and women do.

— Jerry and Rita Barry 1971, Papua New Guinea

I was given two practical suggestions by a veteran before I went to Cameroon in 1991.  First, take a set of twin bed sheets.  Nothing fancy, but the local sheets were rough, and she was right; it was so nice to have those sheets every night.  Second, don't wear all the clothes you bring right away.  As suggested, I put some aside, and each year on my birthday and Christmas I would take a new item out of my stash.  I would have forgotten what was there in the interim and it was always a pleasant "surprise" to pick something.  The first year, especially, one tends to have traditional clothes made by local tailors, so you need fewer of your own clothes than you expected.

— Lucy Fitzpatrick 1991, Cameroon
Lucy Fitzpatrick 1991, Cameroon

When I served, I put my culture, my life, behind me.  I made a decision to participate in their cultural rituals. I  gave myself to them and my life is richer for it. Also, learn the language.  If you don’t, it’s a disservice to yourself.  You won’t be able to participate in Mass and you can’t really engage without it.

— John Fox 1989, Papua New Guinea

My advice is to always remember that God is already there!  We are there to confirm Him by our actions.  It is also important to enjoy and appreciate this life-changing experience.  Pray daily to give you the courage and strength for the time you are in Mission.

— Joyce Alpaugh 2003, Cameroon
Joyce Alpaugh 2003, Cameroon

In our training prior to assignment as Secondary School teachers in Malawi East Africa, we were told to basically keep our mouths shut and just observe during our first year — only after that our opinions and insights might make sense.  We didn't always follow those instructions, but should have!  By the 2nd year we realized that many of our first impressions of "what was wrong in Malawi and what they should do about it" were hopelessly naïve and just plain wrong.  Looking back, we are embarrassed by many of the opinions stated in the letters we wrote home that first year.  In the 2nd and 3rd years we better understood the culture, the issues Malawians faced, and were much better equipped to be a positive force in helping educate and equip our students in finding ways to improve their lives and their country.

— Jim and Barbara Walters 1972, Malawi

Have a sense of humor.  Laugh at yourself, and sit in amazement at how much you thought you knew but didn’t!

— Grace Gonzales 2001, Cameroon
Grace Gonzales 2001, Cameroon

A couple of suggestions of what to bring: a set of American measuring spoons & cups and a conversion chart for dealing with metric recipes.

— Mireya and Jim Lee 1974, Papua New Guinea

The three years we spent on mission with Lay Mission Helpers were the most adventurous, blessed, rewarding and memorable years of our lives.  We began with the same hesitations you may be experiencing, but know that with time, people, and God will provide you with confidence, experience and the time of your life!  When we were looking ahead, I recall how long three years looked.  Now that we are looking back, the time flew.  I remember one of the best pieces of advice I received was to write down our experiences and impressions from the beginning, because never will they be so vivid.  I now have a notebook of the Cameroon Journal, and the first year's entries are the "newsiest," but the last year's entries are in technicolor with photos--technology in action.

— Warren and Deanna Bowers 2003, Cameroon
Warren and Deanna Bowers 2003, Cameroon

On our way to our mission assignment our luggage was left behind in Honolulu because the cargo space was full.  Our luggage would be sent on the next airplane. We arrived at our mission station and immediately began to contact the airline to find our about our luggage.  Worry, worry, worry.  After all, we needed our clothes, etc., right?  Wrong!  The local people at our mission station assured us they would provide us with everything we needed and they did. After two weeks our luggage arrived and we didn't even notice.  Any worry was for nothing, wasted effort and clearly lacking in faith.  One lesson we learned from our three years of mission service is how God provides what we need right in front of us when we look carefully and think creatively.

— Benny Naginis 1982, Saipan

You are not going there to be like here. You are going there to be like there.

— Diana Sherrod 2007, Uganda
Diana Sherrod 2007, Uganda

I would suggest journaling while there —  when I go back and read my journals from then I’m blown away.  I feel like God revealed some of the most beautiful stuff ever when I was in Thailand.

— Barbara Bardenheier 1996, Thailand

Focus on relationships. Don't let your work /tasks get in the way of relationships with the people.  Be open to differences.  Embrace them and they will widen your world, your heart and your soul.  Be sure to schedule time to go away, to relax and refuel.  Do a lot of watching before making any judgments.  There are many GOOD ways to do something.  Enjoy your mission, enjoy the people, enjoy the experience.

— Bud and Sue Ozar 2002/06, American Samoa, Kenya
Bud and Sue Ozar 2002/06, American Samoa, Kenya

Words of wisdom:  When snorkeling or skin diving in the ocean in PNG it is suggested to wear a t-shirt.  You can get a bad sunburn if exposed to the sun longer than 15 min.  Get in the habit of putting on sunscreen in the morning, as sun damage can be a health issue.

— John Winkler 1976, Papua New Guinea

As Christians we are baptized into a church which is called to go out, a church which "goes forth" as Pope Francis says. All of us have a calling to live a life of mission wherever we are. It is worth it to follow God's call. It is worth it to respond with 'a positve "yes".'

— Eric and Logan Horne 2013, Cameroon
Eric and Logan Horne 2013, Cameroon

This is your experience and no one else's. So enjoy your time there.  Missioners have come before you and will come after you.  Our work is never finished. God will be there waiting for you and always goes before you.

— Elaine Mickle 1990, Papua New Guinea

Looking back to my mission journey, I had a wonderful experience that was worth it.  I  enjoyed every minute of my mission time.  In almost all the things that I did, I put God first, my family second and all the rest followed.  That meant I prioritized prayer and talking to God.  It was a blessing that I lived in the convent so I had the luxury of attending the Holy Mass practically daily.  Then I was able to talk with my family via messenger or skype almost every day when the network was strong.  Then my work followed, where I had so much satisfaction in working with the medical and nursing staff.  The main thing is, there were times when I felt homesick and what I did was look at our crucified Lord.  Then I started to reflect and perceive that He is with me with wide open arms.  This made my sad feeling vanish and joy set in me.

— Alicia Adajar-Duante 2015, Cameroon
Alicia Adajar-Duante ’15, Cameroon

Mostly —  Let go and let God.  Say that over and over to themselves as they go through life as a missionary.  It was the hardest thing I've ever done but the most rewarding.  Leave the heart open to different ways of doing things.

— Pegi Sadler 1993/95, Sierra Leone, Cameroon

To serve the people of God anywhere in the world can be a daunting task in itself, but when we had to make that decision with two sons, age 6 and 7, it became a more serious commitment.  Yet we were confident that this would be a good experience for them as well as for us.  Now adults, they say it was the best thing we could have done for them.  Terry, a general contractor, taught building trades and helped build a successful agricultural school.  Doris, a nurse and educator, helped develop the school’s curriculum and cared for so many with tropical ailments.  This school for 16-20-year-old male and female students is still operational and has become a model for the government of PNG.

— Terry and Doris Quinn 1983, Papua New Guinea
Terry and Doris Quinn 1983, Papua New Guinea

My advice would be to always keep an open mind; nothing will be as you expect it to be.  Remember that the first year you are there you will be gaining more from the experience than you will contribute.  It really does take about a year to understand and fit into a new culture.  Sit back and listen, don't try to make changes.  What may seem a bit backwards to you very well may be progressive to those you are there to serve.  Don't assume that just because the education level among the general population is lower, that the people are not intelligent, that's FAR from the case!  My approach to going in was to expect the worse conditions possible, filthy and bug ridden.  When I got there my cement-floored, cinder-block duplex felt like a mansion.  Life in the missions is definitely what you make it.  Live, Love and Learn.  It's an opportunity of a lifetime!  The biggest lessons I learned was the difference between wants and needs, and that there are amazing people in all corners of the world!

— Kim Pearmain 1986/90, Cameroon, Micronesia

Patience.  Any time.  All the time. It all doesn’t have to be done today.  Tomorrow is another day in paradise.

— Patti Wetzel 1985/90, Papua New Guinea
Patti Wetzel 1985/90, Papua New Guinea

When I served in Cameroon and in South Africa, I had to "un-do" a lot of my thinking and preconceived notions — even with the nine months of training given my class by LMH back in 1982-83. And one piece of advice they gave us was: If you plan on taking pictures, do it within the first six months, because after that you won’t notice the opportunities as much; they will all become routine.  And if you have not yet read the “Ugly American,” it would be helpful to take it with you and read it in your spare time.  Ah yes, time — allow yourselves to be absorbed with their interpretation of it.

— Lucille Malaney 1983/92, Cameroon, South Africa

Be a good listener and go out and enjoy the people.  The experience changed my life.

— Christine Jackson 1970, Zimbabwe

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