Moving to another culture and context, often on the other side of the planet, is a huge step, right? What’s it like there? How will you do? What should you bring? Who will you work with? Nothing can eliminate all the surprises, twists and turns that come with a cross-cultural move, but visiting the field before you go can really help.
Most Pioneers appointees, whether single or married, take a survey trip that lasts from two to three weeks. Though it seems like a large expense and time commitment, Pioneers views the trip as an integral part of training and preparation for going.
A pre-field coach for Pioneers who are preparing for overseas service explains, “A survey trip helps missionaries have realistic expectations about life in that area, and it helps them know better how to prepare for the challenges they will face.” He continues, “Mostly it is to overcome an idealized view of what it means to live overseas.”
Sean and Deanna just returned from a two-week trip to South Asia. They went to meet the people, explore the land and culture and connect with several Pioneers church-planting teams there.
“I think a survey trip is definitely a must,” says Deanna. “The trip showed me how to pray and prepare.”
Before leaving South Asia, Deanna and Sean hoped to find direction about what kind of team to join, what area and people group to go to. They expected everything to become clear and fall into place, but that did not happen.
“Instead of making our decision simple,” Sean commented, “the trip gave us a lot to think and pray about. We realized how challenging daily life in South Asia would be for our family.” Deanna and Sean have four young children. “Day-to-day tasks that are simple and quick in America are more complicated in there.”
Sean and Deanna took time to observe life and ministry in rural and urban areas, later calling them two different extremes. The trip helped them to see the pros and cons of both lifestyles. But more than anything, they came away with a confirmation of the need for long-term ministry in South Asia.
“We saw how Hinduism is so deeply ingrained in the people, and we met missionaries who labored there for 10 years before they saw one person come to faith in Christ,” Sean observed. “We will need to remember that God is the One who saves in His timing.”
Now Deanna and Sean are having conversations with teams through e-mail and Skype calls to see where they might fit best. Their pre-field coach notes, “It’s important to see how personalities on teams will gel. It’s not a spiritual thing, but they need to know if they can be in the desert with that person.”
When asked if their survey trip was beneficial, Sean said, “It was great to meet potential teammates, to see the work being done and the need for more workers.” But Deanna looks at their trip from a different angle. “I had never been to India before this. When Pioneers told us to plan on a survey trip of at least two weeks, I thought, ‘I don’t really need to go. I don’t want to leave our kids for that long. I’ll go wherever Sean goes. No problem!’ But I am so glad I went. I knew some of the difficulties of life, and I had a confidence that I can adjust well. But, seeing South Asia first-hand is a different thing.”
Deanna and Sean are raising prayer and financial support to sustain them in their ministry. They plan to move to New York City this summer to be interns in a yearlong, church-planting program, one of several such programs we partner with to equip disciple-makers. Afterward, they plan to launch to South Asia.
Names in this story have been changed.