After Jesus knelt before his disciples, removed their dusty sandals, and washed the muck and filth from their feet, he said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13: 14-16 NIV)
Being a volunteer missionary means learning what it means to be a servant. And being a servant means having the attitude that you are willing to do any activity that helps to spreadthe gospel. It also means that you love people in the name of Jesus, despite their skin color, social background or nationality. It implies that you perform as a co-laborer in the mission with other missionaries and national Christians.
Being a servant means you may not be doing things that are glamorous or fun or comfortable. They might be boring or tedious or hard. They might go without recognition or thanks. But if they need to be done for the sake of the mission, you do them with your best effort and without complaint.
If you’ve been assigned a job or task that you genuinely do not know how to do, or know you will not do well, it is appropriate to explain that while you certainly want to serve, you know that this task deserves to be done with competence and skill, and you feel you have less than what it takes. Then ask if there is something else you can do instead, or if you can work on this task alongside someone who has more skill and experience, so you can learn from them.
Even if not at first, over time you will experience joy in imitating the example Jesus set for you.
Are you ready to communicate, communicate, communicate?
A necessary skill for a volunteer is the ability to communicate.
We might think that communication in mission work means learning the local language. But communication is about so much more.
Communication is a beautiful dance in which both people listen so they can understand. They respectfully voice their own perspectives, ideas, concerns or questions. And then they patiently hear and understand what the other person has to say in response.
Interpersonal communication is a beautiful dance in which both partners are listening with the intent to hear and understand, respectfully articulating their own perspectives, ideas, concerns or questions, and being ready to hear and understand what the other person has to say in response.
Being willing to work at this is even more important when we are relating to people from another culture and who may use different communication styles. It is important to try to understand and adapt to the ways that people communicate in others cultures, so that we can love them in ways they feel most loved.
Are you ready to respect authority and follow directions?
Suppose your leader – another missionary or a national leader – is leading in a way you think could be done better. Maybe you don’t agree with their vision, decisions, or leadership style, or things you are being asked to do.
Remember, the people you’re working with, and the work itself, have been there longer than you have. There may be good reasons things are being done that way, or that you are being asked to do something.
Also remember that things work different in different cultures. Start with an assumption they know and understand things you don’t. Spend time with an attitude of learning and trying to understand. Your coach is there to help you understand the differences in culture.
If you still don’t understand or have concerns, ask your coach how you can respectfully ask questions using models of communication appropriate for that culture. For instance, the way people interact with authority figures is sometimes done indirectly in honor-shame cultures and is done directly in Western cultures. Read Cross-Cultural Conflict by Duane Elmer for more guidance.