How can I build accurate expectations for life on the field?

If you’re planning to serve on the mission field, a number of resources will help you develop a healthy set of expectations for life overseas.

Talk with current missionaries, especially ones serving where you will be going, or whose life stage is similar to yours. Are you concerned about raising your young children on the field? Ask other missionaries with young children about the benefits and challenges. Are you wondering what it will be like to be single woman in a North African country? Ask a single woman working there now. Do you wonder what it will be like to run a business or work a full time secular job in remote Yemen? Find someone who’s done it.

If possible, interact locally with people of the same culture you’ll be serving. Observe their culture and consider how the gospel might be planted in such a culture. Seek to learn their language; this will give you an idea of the language’s ease or difficulty when you’re learning it full time overseas.

Read voraciously. Many books and websites offer you great insight into where you’ll be going. For example, Three Cups of Tea discusses the cultural necessity of developing deep relationships while doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. River Town  is an English teacher’s account of living for two years in Sichuan province, China. Through Her Eyes gives insight into working as a woman missionary among Muslims. The Culture Shock! series (available on Amazon) will give you a quick cultural read on many of the world’s nations.

Other good resources are available through our recommended book list page on

Do your homework in advance, but two of your greatest tools to bring in your “tool kit” are the qualities of flexibility, and the attitude of a learner. Realize that you will face challenges in learning culture and navigating interpersonal conflict. You’ll make mistakes, and you’ll be asked to do things you weren’t expecting. Unrealistic idealism will hinder your adjustment and effectiveness.


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