February 7, 2012

I’ve been thinking of two particular things, as of late … where to start my blog, and the number of people who asked me before I left home if I felt prepared to go forth in mission to serve in Colombia. As I continued to think about both, I surmised that talking about the latter issue would give me an opportunity to address the former.

As I suspect many of us would say, “it’s not really possible to be prepared.” In fact, one person I encountered before I left felt the need to make this point quite forcefully, insisting that no one can ever be prepared. In many ways, this is the reality for missioners. You can´t ever really be prepared to be mugged or kidnapped. Who knows for sure how they’ll feel if hostilities break out in the region in which they are working, and they find themselves running into the night carrying  the suitcase they´ve had to keep in waiting by the back door. Those, of course, are extreme situations. On a more basic level, can you ever really be prepared to be rejected based on race, as some missioners have experienced as the only white person in the room? Can you ever really know how  you’ll feel or react being excluded from work discussions about the very things you’re supposed to be doing, based only on the fact that you’re an outsider? You may have an appreciation for the post-colonial desire of your hosts to not want the “colonizer” to be a dominant voice in what they might perceive as you “telling” them what to do … even when that was not your intention. But the intellectual knowledge about post-colonial reality, for example, has little impact on how it “feels” to be rejected … that is, if, in fact, you´re actually being rejected (which is yet another matter, isn´t it?).

When some missioners head out to serve, they carry with them the thought that everything  they need has been given to them by God. And, yes, I suspect that we can agree that there is biblical foundation for thinking  this way. When Christ commissioned, he didn´t tell people to head to class, or go to orientation, he just said, “Go!” I seem to recall on a couple of specific occasions people responded with statements like ¨can I bury the dead first?,” to which Christ responded “let the dead bury the dead.” Throughout scripture Christ challenged the disciples to “put down their nets” and just go. Don´t tend to the family … don´t tend to the nets … don´t tend to any other business … just go. It would seem Christ felt people had what they needed and didn´t need to take time to prepare.

When I was asked if I felt prepared, I tried my best to respond thoughtfully. I figured I could say something about having a number of mission experiences that provide some sense of preparedness in places like Haiti, El Salvador, and the West Bank. But, frankly, to say that my many short-term mission experiences adequately prepares me wouldn’t be honest, or correct. While short-term experiences can give you a vision of what you might expect, on short-term trips you don’t have the opportunity to plumb the depths of human relationships (… in 2 weeks? … I don´t think so), and you journey knowing that in a short while you’ll be back home in your comfy bed, eating processed American comfort food (okay, I admit, that was a little bit of a dig), talking with your friends, and accessing healthcare to cure anything you may have picked up during your travels.

In addition to experience, some might talk about their intellectual preparation. Social, cultural, political and economic preparation are routine for many of us. We either go to the most obvious sources such as The Rough Guides or The Lonely Planet … and, yes, I´ve read both … or we head to the library or bookstore (or more likely our Kindle or NOOK). For those who are really in to it, like me, government synopses are available on history, demographics, economics, politics, and social problems. To try and get a handle on the culture, some read fiction. I think I’ve read a little of everything …  travel books, local authors, online documents, blogs, books on mission, regional histories, economic analyses of the region, and … . In addition to having visited Colombia, I’ve talked with Colombians living in the US, people with experience in Colombia, and missioners who have worked in the region. But, again, does any of that knowledge mean I’m “prepared?”

On top of my preparation, the church made available a mission orientation, a two week retreat opportunity for new missioners. Attending, enabled us to spend time focusing on the kinds of issues outlined above in “preparing” for our new mission assignments. Orientation was held in Toronto in January (3 – 14). Orientation had guest presenters from other cultural perspectives to challenge our thinking and prepare us for what we´ll undoubtedly encounter. Another potential challenge, as well as opportunity, was the chance to swap stories and experiences with mission colleagues from other denominational traditions. While the intention was for us to step out of our comfort zones, which I´m sure many of us did, I´m not sure a retreat center in a developed international city where English is the dominant language would qualify as “preparing us” for life in a country like Colombia.

Along with orientation/retreats, many missioners choose to spend time in language immersion programs prior to beginning their assignment. I´m currently studying at the Maryknoll Mission Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia. This time of study will provide me with yet another “preparation” for my assignment, enabling me to improve my ability to communicate in Spanish, while also providing me with a more gradual transition into my new life in South America, as opposed to immediately stepping into my new duties after leaving home. But, again, does orientation and/or language immersion in Bolivia constitute being “prepared” for life in Colombia? (And, in case anyone is interested, I´ll be in Bolivia until April. So my next few posts will reflect my experiences here.)

We bring our spiritual, educational, and personal experience to everything we do … mission or otherwise. And I suspect we all can agree that it´s good to do what we can to prepare ourselves  as much as possible. I also happen to believe learning as much as possible about a host´s country and culture is, if nothing else, respectful of your new hosts. But, I also don´t allow any of that work to fool me into thinking “I´m prepared.” No matter how much I think I´ve done to prepare, it´s ultimately my faith, and my trust in the Holy Spirit, that prepares me for what lies ahead … in mission, or anything else in my life. I suspect that´s part of Christ´s message when he tells people to just go …

3 Responses to “Preparation”

  1. deacmegmeg Says:

    Hi Ted! Great thoughts. I’m waiting for a visa to get to Indonesia, and I’ve been thinking along the same lines about preparation.

    By the way, say Hi to Dan Moriarty at the Maryknoll Center while you’re there in Cochabamba. He worked at the Seattle University campus ministry while I was an intern there.

    — Megan


  2. Maria Says:

    Great to hear from you. Was wondering… Love the blog..keep ’em coming.





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