Thursday, June 7, 2012

Community for LMH Missioners While Abroad?

I was recently contacted by someone who is looking into Lay Mission-Helpers and who asked the question "what is the community life like with LMH?" Below was my response, slightly changed. -Earl


I think the kind of community you end up with is completely idiosyncratic and the situations vary all over the map. It depends on a lot of different factors.

No one else has been in Tanzania from LMH or MDA, so there has been no possibility of community of that kind for us. On the other hand, that's about to change because LMH is sending a couple to replace us, and around the same time MDA will be sending two couples to a location a few hours drive away. Those six adult missioners will be able to connect with each other and have some built-in community, something we did not have.

Diane and I live in our own home on the grounds of our parish church. The house is physically separated from the other residences of the church and from the homes and businesses in our neighborhood, which means we get very little in the way of casual chance encounters with our neighbors.

Language is a big problem. Tanzania is a Swahili-speaking country. I have made some good progress in learning Swahili, but my listening comprehension sucks. That limits my ability to sustain a conversation and therefore to be able to talk in a meaningful way.

We both like to work a lot. The needs of a secondary school are endless, and there's always something else that could be done. So our day to day life is very much dominated by school. Even on the weekends we often do things work-related at home, especially using our own computers.

Outside of work we don't have much left over for other things and for other people. Certainly for me, dealing with the energy of well over two hundred adolescents is more than enough. 8-D

So where has that left us? Luckily, Diane and I have a close, supportive relationship, and we talk easily with each other. We are constantly debriefing over dinner, sharing our experiences, speculating about what is going on and what the meaning of something is, laughing over funny incidents. For us, it's been a community of two, and that's been enough to sustain us.

And where does that leave you? Well, if you and your wife have a solid relationship, that will be the single biggest asset you bring in terms of community. If you don't, you probably should not consider doing this. It's way too stressful. (No offense intended — I know nothing at all about you two.)

If you're slow with foreign languages like me, then get a jump start on learning the main language of where you're going. I started on Rosetta Stone for Swahili while still in L.A. That helped me to keep up with my classmates when I attended language training in-country soon after arriving. Keep steadily plugging away at it. Every bit of progress helps you to better connect with the local people.

Maybe the most important thing is to know your personality type and what your emotional and psychological needs are. I'm a pretty strong introvert. After a day at school with adolescents acting out and sitting at my desk in a large open room shared with a dozen other teachers, when I come home I crave quiet time with Diane and to be alone. That spills over into the weekends too.

Some factors are in your control, some are not. Your mileage will vary.

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