Tiredness, culture-shock, homesickness—it can be tough living in another country, especially when those you live among are poor and often struggling to survive. As the Baptist family of churches, we have commissioned and sent a number of workers to overseas nations. We promise to support them, but what does that mean? Gay Cochran, NZBMS Pastoral Care Worker, provides some tips on how an overseas worker can best survive in their new surroundings—those of us at home can learn from what she shares. And, Lizzie, who works in South Asia, shares some things that have kept her going while working overseas.
This is Ground Control to Major Tom, “Take your protein pills and put your helmet on…”
Imagine you wake up to find yourself in a strange room. It’s 6am. You are hot and sticky; a fan is whirring overhead. Unusual sounds—car horns, voices, coughing, bells being rung—push their way through the windows. Venturing outdoors, sweat drips into your eyes. As you walk, you step around folk asleep on the pavement.
At 10am, your workday begins. Most of your colleagues do not speak English. They work hard and their chatter is, for the most part, conversational in tone but there are also moments when you know something is up. You can neither understand nor help out; you just watch helplessly. Your new normal is to live one moment at a time and you do the best you can, never certain what is coming next.
At morning tea, you are a minority of one. You endeavour to communicate using the new words you have been learning only to be met with puzzled looks, giggles, and friendly smiles. The frustration of the moment causes you to reach instinctively for your phone to text your best mate but before you can press ‘send’, it dawns on you, hidden away in a different time zone, they are unavailable.
Returning home at 7pm, your basic cooking facilities remind you of holidays spent camping. You eat dinner before flopping into bed and praying—“God, please help me.”
How does someone care pastorally for cross‑cultural workers living in this zone?
It’s a team strategy. For those serving overseas, when it comes to practical concerns, the people in your new community are the ones most helpful when seeking out advice and encouragement. Most are well aware of the pressures impacting on you. As the first port of call for meeting your pastoral needs, find someone you gel with—someone who has been around this perplexing place longer than you have—and be open to both sharing and listening.
Family and friends back home in New Zealand make up part of your support team also. Whānau who know you well can offer appropriate comfort, humour and encouragement. In a similar way, mentors from your sending church, people who know your unique gift mix and quirkiness, will be aware of what things will be a strength or a challenge for you. As you share your story they will sense what is the right thing to do or say. But it must not be a hit-or-miss thing; home supporters need to develop a proactive strategy to care for you.
At the same time, your church is gifted with a window into your new world, where people from your world are brought alive through shared stories of their particular joys and suffering. As your church listens they can sense the longing of God to bring healing and wholeness, to end evil and suffering. By your serving, your church is awakened and propelled to being more aware and caring for a people different to themselves.
As NZBMS’s Pastoral Care Worker, I listen for the caring quality of this multi-dimensional communication: worker to colleagues, worker to whānau, worker to home church and other support people. I catch up with staff regularly, to check in on the ‘temperature’ of their well-being. I trust ground control (friends, family, and the local church) will stay engaged with Major Tom and think deeply about ways to encourage and be a conduit for prayer, love and connection. After all, when it comes to supporting those involved in overseas mission, we all have a part to play.
Story: Gay Cochran, NZBMS Pastoral Care Worker
Looking from the Other Side…
Sometimes, living amidst the chaos and intensity of Asia, it’s easy to momentarily forget the massive team of people supporting us in Aotearoa. Let me share three things people have done that have made a real difference over the years:
- Prayer. When groups and individuals have committed to praying for us and our neighbourhood, we have felt incredibly held—that’s no small thing on days when circumstances threaten to overwhelm us. It’s wonderful that, on occasion, these praying groups contact us to ask how we are, what prayer needs we have, and to offer words of encouragement. Also, before Joel and I married, a young family prayed for me every night. It meant so much that they would make knowing me and upholding me a part of their family life.
- Visiting. It’s a breath of fresh air when young people come to visit the freedom businesses. Their raw energy and new eyes help us see the city afresh again. Also, young people are usually up for a good social time even if we don’t know each other well. Hanging out with visiting Kiwis outside of our everyday work intensities is a welcome diversion.
- Goodies. A care package never goes astray. (Actually, sometimes it does… the local postal system is fairly erratic!) The goodies inside the care packages are always great, but the words or pictures people have taken time to put together have an even greater value.
Story: Lizzie, Tranzsend worker in South Asia