One of my favorite sayings is, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Well, there’s one thing I DO know, and that is that everywhere I go is so different from other places I’ve been. I’ve visited a lot of countries now, and I look for similarities between them and occasionally find some, but they pale in comparison to the differences. Each country and each location in it is so different, and each people so incredibly different from the last.
I frequently meet young people – many each year – who want to serve long-term as missionaries some day, but they really don’t know where they want to go or what they want to do there. I can really appreciate this, and I tell them so! They should feel very free to take some time to find out about some different places and try to make an educated decision about where they might serve. Educating yourself while praying hard makes a powerful combination!
Other times I meet young people who want to serve long-term in a particular country because they believe it’s right for them, because they met a foreign-exchange student from there who became a friend, because they took, say, French in high school and French is spoken in the country they want to see… but they’ve never been there. Really, they don’t know anything. Like I always tell people, “You’ll know more about what it’s like in >insert country name here< after being there one day than I could tell in a week of phone calls or meetings with you.”
The smell and feel of a place become so real when you’re there. The sound of the language in the shops. The way the sky looks… I’m always struck by how different the sky looks in different places (different weather, different trees, different skyline of the buildings). You have to go to a place and spend some time with real people who are living there to even begin to understand what it might be like to live there yourself. So if you speak some German or some French and you think a German-speaking or French-speaking country might be the place for you to serve as a missionary someday, why not actually GO on a short trip? Why not to, say, Belgium (where both of those languages are spoken in different parts of the country) or to Austria or Germany? Or all three?
But the biggest reason to go to a place is to discover what you don’t know about it, or about yourself. We all change when we go to a different culture, because we adapt in different ways to it. And you don’t know how you’ll be, because you don’t know what it will feel like to get all mixed up in that culture. It’s something you’ve just got to experience. You truly don’t yet know what you’ll find, inside and out.
So go! As we like to say around Kontaktmission, “GoConnect” with the people of one or more countries where we’re already working. Feel what it’s like to be a missionary there. Feel what it’s like to wake up in the morning there and smell their coffee, their way. It really will change you somehow, and you will never forget it.