22 Things I'd Tell a First Termer

22 Things I’d Tell A First Term Missionary

You’re a first termer. There are things I would tell a first term missionary working overseas, a first termer just like you.

You’ve finished raising your budget and you’re off to unknown lands.

{If you are still budget raising, I have 22 things to tell you too}

You might have visited your new country once or twice but this is the first time you have a one way ticket to go live there.

This is you’re first time leaving your home country to work overseas and it’s starting to sink in.

Up to this point, you’ve become a champion budget raiser, packer, ticket purchaser, 5 minute windower, and traveler.

Now, you get to find out if you’ll be a champion first termer.

But let me tell you a secret.

22 Things I Would Tell a First Term Missionary Working Overseas

You probably won’t be a champion. At least in the way you’re thinking of right at this moment.

Your champion status will come in ways you never dreamed, never thought, and might not even want.

You’ll be a hard-fought, hard-won champion… eventually.

If you’ll let yourself embrace a new definition of pretty much everything you think you know and let God open your eyes to entirely new ways of serving Him, that champion status slowly arrives even on days you don’t feel at all like a champion.

Don’t let that discourage you because the journey is one big adventure after another and a million life lessons wrapped up in the crazy blank space of your days.

And you’ll make it.

You’ll get there. You can do this. Because God is with you.

If I could go back and tell us a few things before we left for our first term, I would say a few things.

A few things I’m going to share with you.

22 Things I Would Tell a First Term Missionary Working Overseas

A few things you might need to know as you fight for the championship of your first term.

22 Things I Would Tell a First Term Missionary Working Overseas

1} Be prepared to know nothing. Truly. You know nothing. Everything you’ve read about your new country, you will now be living in real life. Everything you think you know about ministry, you are now working in a new context. You start at zero the moment you land. Let yourself know nothing and be determined to learn every day.

2} Expect the unexpected. We wake up each day not knowing what they day will hold. Oh, we have a schedule, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. In fact, you might have your own cobra story one day.

3} Just because you went to language school does not mean you know the language. We have 3 or more different ones spoken around us each day. Even the one we are learning, sounds different almost every time we hear it. Language learning NEVER stops.

22 Things I'd Tell a First Termer

4} Finding your feet takes a long, long time. It really does. Give yourself grace. Be patient. Learn. Wait. Trust. You WILL find your footing. When you go long term, you realize that time is something you actually have… it’s okay that things take time.

5} Milestones matter. Don’t be afraid to count the days. Keep a journal. Mark the calendar. Check off the moments. Remember important dates. Countdown the days. In your first term, this can really help you balance the unending newness of life and remind you that you have made it one more day.

6} Learn to encourage yourself. The other workers around you, even in their later terms, are going through much of what you are and they don’t always have the time or thought to encourage you. Find out how to dig in and stand firm on God’s Word for yourself.

7} When you feel unusable, you just might be. And that is absolutely normal. How is that possible? Well, as humbling as it can be, it takes time to gain the experience to have a voice and have a place. Ride it out. It really will change as the days on the calendar pass and you allow yourself to learn through the throws of each moment. Remember David in that armor that didn’t fit? Let yourself find your stones. It takes time.

8} People will say things. And that’s normal too. You now have a unique job of helping people see life and work overseas from #behindtheprayercard and walking your friends and family through this journey with you. Ask God to help you communicate in ways that please him and bless others.

9} Your marriage and relationships WILL come under attack. Be ready. Be smart. Pray. There are ways to thrive in these areas overseas.

22 Things I Would Tell a First Term Missionary Working Overseas

10} Toughen up. Living overseas will expose every soft and pliable part of you. Some things will need to toughen up. Some things will need the strength of God at work. Trust Him as He strengthens you and even hardens you just a bit.

11} Stay soft. I know this contradicts the one above but don’t let the struggle bring bitterness or strife in your heart or your home. What you are going through is SO COMPLETELY NORMAL. Allow the Holy Spirit to keep your heart and eyes open to His love for you and for those around you.

12} Let your heart rest. Seriously, in all this new culture, new lessons, new skills… you need to rest. And watch for signs that you need a rest. Or your spouse or kids need a rest too.

13} Reality will hit. One day you will wake up and realize that you do not have a plane ticket home. This IS your new home. Learn to navigate culture shock and trust the crazy process you are in. You will find yourself saying “But I thought…” and find so many things look different than you imagined. And it all will be your new reality. Learn to embrace it all.

14} There will be little disappointments. Of all kinds. A smell that reminds you of home or cereal that went stale before you could enjoy it or small mites in your gluten free flour. These little things add up in big ways. tears. often.

15} There will be big disappointments. Changes, goodbyes, challenges… HUGE things that change everything and disappoint you in ways you never thought would happen. Dealing with disappointment, unmet expectations, hurt feelings, major let downs… it is a big part of your first term. The glimmer of light in it all is the amazing, wonderful and helpful things God is teaching and molding in you… if you let Him work.

Live Dead Joy

16} You will find that living out the words is different then saying them when you were raising your support. You are now living the real and the ugly. And it might not be pretty sometimes.

17} You will realize that it is not you. Ever. We experienced a 24 hour travel day from France to Africa that deeply impressed upon my soul how much God is at work in the minute details. I can trust him. YOU can trust him.

18} Sometimes things will interrupt your days in unexpected ways. Look for divine distractions.

19} Your first term is one foot in front of the other. To the market. To the village. To the meeting where you won’t understand a word. To the team function that is awkward. To the weird conversation with a pastor. To the struggle just to get out of bed. Just keep going. Stay motivated.

20} You are learning incredible skills in your first term. Learning to follow. Learning to let go of knowing. Learning the hard way and the easy way. Learning from your guard or your house helper or a national pastor or a team member. Or while waiting for 2 hours at the Orange store for the 3rd time that week. Learning every day.

22 Things I Would Tell a First Termer

21} You can’t answer where is home. Slowly, you will begin to realize that your home country isn’t really home and your new country isn’t really home either. You will know you are not home yet, that one day there will be no extra bags to carry and that what you are doing has extreme eternal value.

22} Ask for help. Always. Seek guidance, take advantage of conversations with other workers, gather information, read books, stay connected… do not isolate yourself. You are not alone in your corner of the world. Find someone to walk the grocery store with you and tell you what products they use. Something that simple can remind you that someone has gone before you in this incredible journey of moving overseas.

As we end our first term, these are things I Would Tell a First Term Missionary Working Overseas.

We are now in the process of looking ahead to our first furlough while working to end our first term. Life is changing once again for us as we make the transition back to itinerating stateside for a year before coming back and starting our second term.

I don’t know where you are in the process, but I’d love if you’d share one thing you wished you had known before your first term.

What is something you would say?

What advice do you have for a first termer?





  1. Dear sister, for your first furlough, I would advise you to plan one or a few moments where you can invite all your friends/family/supporters in one afternoon. Then they are welcome to come and greet you.
    So then you can choose who to take time for to meet privately, but at least no one can ‘accuse’ you that you have not given them the chance to meet you!
    And fully agree that you need to plan time to rest!

  2. Those who have never tried to adapt to a foreign culture (particularly it’s spiritual environment) find it hard to understand. Missionaries who pass through our church on itineration rarely talk about it. But I know they bear that burden, for themselves as well as their children.

    God is so faithful. He brings good out of pain and treasures out of the darkness.

    This is the verse God gave me when I wrestled with Him for answers:

    ‘Look, I go forward, but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him. When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; when He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.
    But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold’. Job 23:8-10

  3. This is great. I wish I had read this before leaving for my first term and re-read it while living through my first term. I will definitely be sharing this.

    #1- you know nothing. So true! I wish someone had told me this would happen! Haha, it came as a shock to me and discouragement as I had to learn everything over again- how to mop even!

    One of my friends said, in relationship to learning another language (i’m paraphrasing as I do not remember word for word) – “It’s like you’re two years old again. Except not as cute.” Ah… we are always learning.

    Thank you for this post!

    1. Thanks for sharing! I love your friend’s quote… SO TRUE! not as cute at all. Although my French M friend who works on conversation with us says my accent is cute lol if only!

  4. If I could go back to before my first term, I would tell myself not to feel guilty about taking the time to rest. I needed mental sanity breaks, and I would start beating myself up for not being strong enough to not need them. It was a perpetual cycle. Taking a weekend getaway was sometimes SO necessary, yet I would let myself get bogged down with guilt again and again.
    Do what gets you through it! And don’t allow guilt to creep in!

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