Years ago a sending organization researched why first-termers failed to return and become veteran PWs. They found some causes in the first-termers themselves but, sadly, they traced other causes to the veterans already on the field. Each field is very different. Personalities, chemistry, roles, pressures- they all combine to make the New Kid’s (Newks) experience a huge challenge. We have lived through it and heard others tell their stories. The bottom line: it is never easy, but it can be less difficult if we all help each other.
We were the new-kids-on-the-block twice, in very different situations. The first time, we joined a well-established team in a multifaceted indigenous work. Being completely new to living outside our own culture, we needed and appreciated the help we received from the veterans. It was not all positive, but overall, we made a good adjustment to cross cultural work.
The second time, we went to an extremely different culture and work. That time we were more consultants to many different previously-established works. The founding PWs had gone on to other fields. Many ex-pats visited this field briefly, but very few stayed for several terms helping the nationals. The veterans that were leaving as we arrived had discouraging comments about the work we intended to do. Although what they said may have been true for what they had done in the country, much had changed. We were new faces with a different assignment. We have served that field, joyfully, for 25 years.
A Newk family arrives in a storm of activity and excitement. They land exhausted. Always. They have just completed a marathon with many hurdles. They bid farewell to all they love and know, and arrive at their new assignment after hours of travel, often with small children. Smells, sights, and sounds overwhelm their already stressed bodies. Then to top it all off there is a large welcoming committee. And everyone “just can’t wait” for them to get up and going. Occasionally it is different. They arrive to find no one to meet them and help them adjust. Promised housing isn’t ready and they end up using their meager reserves to stay in a hotel temporarily. Somewhere between overwhelming them and ignoring them, we will find the sweet spot- that place of support and help that makes assimilation easier.
All arriving Newks need a bath, some food, and some rest. After that, but not before, you can plan for them to meet the team members, national leaders, and other workers. Veterans, be flexible in your approach. Don’t assume they will feel just like you did or even the way the last Newks felt. The key is sensitivity, and ladies, honestly, I wonder if some of us have become so field-hardened that we have lost that sensitivity. It can happen.
As important as those first few hours are, the next few days and weeks will go a long way to helping or hindering the Newks find their place of effectiveness on your team or in your community.
To Newks, everything is new, and probably strange. They need to learn how and where to purchase food and supplies, and you will be tempted to tell them everything you know. Resist the urge. Help them through their first shopping trips and introduce them to good shops and good merchants. After that, let them ask you if they have more questions, and let them explore on their own. They may surprise you with some wonderful finds. I remember how thrilled my husband was when he found a little grocery on an unlikely street in our African town that had big blocks of- are you ready?- cheese! The New Kid found CHEESE! It was like he had found undiscovered gold.
Give Newks the time they need to settle into their home. You may need to lend them some furniture, dishes, etc. until their crates arrives. Also, they may need to know workmen that can be trusted to make repairs or adjustments to their home. Women, especially, need to be able to make a home for their family.
While these practical matters are being settled, they need to get to know other team members and local friends. Again, you may be tempted to tell them everything you know about all these people. It is better to make the introductions and provide them opportunities to get to know these key people for themselves. Letting them form their own relationships may help the whole team to come to new understandings. Veterans can poison new recruits by passing on old stories of hurt or failure that should be forgotten, so exercise a little self-restraint.
However, it isn’t good to let Newks step into any traps. It’s like knowing where a cobra lives, but not telling them. If there are people they will meet who could be dangerous to them or the work, you must give them warning. Our ancient friend Paul told his son Timothy to watch out for Alexander. Also, if there is a current crisis, give them enough information for them to avoid getting sucked into it.
Newks need someone they can speak to with total confidentiality. They will have many things they need to sort through and decisions to make that a confidential prayer partner or pastor could help with. This person should not be required to submit reports to anyone else about the Newks. Member care is not just for the member care pros. It is for everyone.
Although they are on the field to do a “God” job, assure them that they are right to care for their own family, too. Make sure they have time for their family. Their children have been up-rooted from the only life they knew to a totally different life. It will take the family awhile to make adjustments among themselves as well as with the new culture. Depending on the children’s ages and personalities, they may act out at first or become excessively shy and fearful. The husband-wife relationship will need some extra care too. Some time and space for family at the beginning of their assignment may pay big dividends later in their flexibility and adaptation.
Holidays and social events can become a time of great joy and refreshment, or a time of stress and bitterness. Invite Newks to holiday gaterings, but try to find some ways to let them incorporate some of their own traditions or recipes. Sometimes the veterans expect everyone to come to their home for all celebrations, since that has been the tradition for years. Newk families need to develop their own traditions as well as joining in the established traditions of the field. Although the home of the veterans may be better suited to social events, many Newks would enjoy hosting some events in their own new home. Make their joy complete and let them be the hosts sometimes.
Perhaps the hardest area of adjustment for some Newks concerns the work they are on the field to do. When there is a mis-match between what they are able to do and what the field staff need, conflict often results. Misunderstood needs and misunderstood skills are often at the root of these troubles. Some of these misunderstandings can be fixed by adjusting the job description between the Newks and the field staff. Sometimes the New Kids need to learn new skills and to be able to fulfill the needs of the field. Sometimes the home directors need to be brought into the situation to find a better position for them.
If you need to contact headquarters about a problem with a Newk, it is almost always best to let them know you are diong it. At one time we wanted our home office to advise us of our options before talking to our local leaders. The home office didn’t let us know they were going to talk to the field staff. Fortunately our local leadership was understanding, but this could have caused a deep rift in our relationships there.
One last observation. Newks need freedom to refuse some requests. Sometimes we ask something they just don’t feel ready to do. One time we were expected to let other staff use our new car to go outstation. The veterans made us feel like we could not refuse without losing face with the local leaders. We did not feel we should be required to do this, but were told we had no choice. They wrecked our new car, and we lost the use of it for several weeks. It would have helped if they had given us the choice, and not hit us with a load of guilt.
Newks sometimes see things in a new light and can show us things we don’t know. They come with fresh insights and enthusiasm for the work. Before we pour on the ice water, we need to listen and consider. There suggestions might have merit. Even one idea met warmly and allowed to be developed may make the difference between New Kids finding their place of effectiveness, or losing heart and leaving after one-term.
The key for helping Newks is always the same. Love the little rascals! Ask yourself, “What can I do to help?” Be creative. Be flexible. Be available. Be thoughtful. Remember: love covers a multitude of adjustment woes.