Often, in the cross-cultural ministry world, we talk about flexibility as being a hallmark of missionaries. This is a fact. If you didn’t feel like you were flexible before you started living in a different culture, you will become flexible or leave prematurely. There is something about living in a country where most things are other than where you grew up that pushes us to accept uncertainty.
However, there is another hallmark of missionary existence and effectiveness, and that is resiliency. We say that a rubber band is resilient. You stretch it, and it returns to its original shape. That may be a good definition when applied to rubber bands, but I would recommend a different one when resiliency is considered in life.
Resilience is the ability to recover and learn from change, suffering, setback, and failure and then engage the future more hopeful and better equipped.
Though a rubber band may not change, human resilience changes us, makes us better equipped for the next thing. Resilience is necessary for growth. Of course, that also means that suffering and failure are essential for growth.
It would be great to learn efficiently from success, and I believe that some things can be understood that way. If we took a risk in reaching our success, we found out that we were up to that task. As good as that is, we didn’t grow. We already had that skill, but we didn’t know it. A setback or failure leads to a different line of thinking. We realize our shortcomings and need to learn and grow. A resilient person can move forward from defeat (whether of their own doing or from unforeseen circumstances) because he/she has a biblical view of their worth, an accurate understanding of what is truly important, and faith that God brings about his will regardless of what we do or do not do.
Living and working in a cross-cultural setting gives you daily opportunities to fail on multiple fronts. You will make language mistakes, make embarrassing decisions and comments culturally, lose your temper, waste time and money, and this list goes on. If you cannot fall, get up, learn, change, and then move forward, you will not survive for long.
How do we become a more resilient person?
Here is the easy, yet not so easy, part of it all. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Force yourself into new situations. Try new things that go beyond your current skills.
If you are considering getting involved in missions, here are a couple of specific things you can do.
- Take on learning a new language.
- Make a friend of someone from another culture who lives in your area.
- Try food that is entirely foreign to you.
You are setting yourself up for failure, but it is easier to face that failure and learn from it in your home culture.
It would help if you didn’t do this alone. Having a guide through the process of growing more resilient is essential. A mentor will help you reflect and learn from your mistakes. They can help you evaluate what things should be internalized and what things should be let go from what we experience. The classroom of change is more effective in a community!
Some of us have personalities that lend more naturally to resilience, but all of us need more of it. Being more resilient in life is a benefit no matter where you find yourself. Commit yourself to grow today.