A year ago we made the crazy move from the beautiful Northern Beaches of Sydney Australia to go and live in Nairobi, Kenya. Why do I say it was crazy (as some of our friends think)? Why would a couple in the most productive and money making years of their lives leave it all behind to go and work with the most poor young people in this part of the world?
There’s no simple answer for that one. I’ve heard people from here say ‘Why don’t people come here long term to serve on the mission field?’ There seems to be a lot of questions on both sides.
So here are my thoughts on the matter.
1. Not everyone is called to move to Africa.
Africa is not a picnic. Sure, there’s some things you only get in this part of the world but not everyone has the tenacity to hack it with all of the negatives, and that’s okay. It takes a certain amount of insanity to live here. There’s a big differences between visiting somewhere for a few weeks and dedicating the rest of your life to a cause on foreign soil with being challenged every day, having to rely on friends for your daily needs or hoping you don’t get really sick because the healthcare is limited.
Just today I had some guy yelling out “Mzungu, mzungu” the whole time I was walking up the street. It was so annoying I wanted to give him the royal finger (another reason I don’t call myself a missionary) and yell a few choice words at him. I feel like saying “Oh my goodness, I never knew I was white”.
2. You can be of most excellent use in the West.
You can make money and support a missionary or development worker here by remaining at home. You can pay school fees, earn enough to send kids on a camp, pay travel insurance for someone. You can earn and give, it’s a win win situation. One of the best thing you can do is be an advocate/representative of someone you know who is serving in Africa. Most of the time it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and you could be the key to changing that.
3. Missions aren’t what they used to be.
You need to learn another language, a new culture, a new way of doing EVERYTHING. You need to have computer skills as well as practical ones. It’s not about being behind a pulpit but offering a skill to the local community. The developing world needs doctors, nurses, teacher of teachers, people skilled in media and those who are willing to rough it. You have to be prepared to have less than half of the resources you’re used to. Sometimes the power doesn’t work, you have to boil your water and the internet works when it feels like it.
You’ll end up spending much more time in the office than you thought you would’ve.
People will tell you what a noble thing it is you’re doing. It isn’t and it certainly doesn’t feel that way when you’re trudging through sewerage or spending 12 hours straight in front of a computer trying to sort out email and website issues.
4. No guarantees of a holiday.
Forget about a 40 hour week and 21 days annual leave. We’ve been here a year and there’s no holidays in sight. We’ve worked on public holidays and most weekends. The average person on the international field will return to their home country every 3 years, but that’s not a holiday at all. It’s full on speaking in churches, schools, clubs and to supporters all that time. We often work on weekends running different programs. The closest beach is a 9 hour drive away and belonging to a club is way too expensive. Every now and then we take a half day off, or like this week the whole of a Wednesday just to get out of the office and out of town, but that means pulling a couple of 15 hour days beforehand. Of course, the paid staff just don’t get it. They clock off at 4.30pm, while I’m often working till 10pm.
5. The loneliness and challenges can be overwhelming.
Everyone is enthusiastic when you first leave but it doesn’t take too long for the contact to dwindle. It’s normal as people have to get on with their lives. There will only be a few dedicated friends who stay in touch. To make new friends takes a long time. For some, the gap on between is too much to bear. Being apart from family is not for everyone. While Skype is great it isn’t the same as day to day interaction. If you move here you may have to pack your kid off to boarding school and only see them every few months. Are you prepared for that. Our youngest daughter will not see Pete for 3 years – that’s 3 years too long.
Do I think that people should forever stay in the country they call home. Most definitely not!
Every person, and I mean everyone should at least once in their lives visit a developing country to get involved short term with a work that is making a difference in a local community.
Short term volunteers make a tremendous difference to an organisation. For us our volunteers have been able to assist kids who can’t read well, encourage local leaders, teach sport and give kids hope. Short term is anyone who stays under 2 years, with the average person staying just over a month. Even a 2 week stint is huge.
Coming for a few months can give you a glimmer of an idea of what it could be like long term. It will also make you grateful for all of the conveniences of life you have at home and what those on the international field have to go without.