The gate attendant handed me the boarding pass and I turned to wave at my father who was there to wish me well on my first foray into an overseas country. His paternal instincts must have kicked in when asking the attendant if he could walk his son onto the plane and make sure I was settled. The very kind man gave a sharp “NO” in response and the door to the plane`s walkway was firmly shut. In hindsight, it was a bit harsh but an important reminder of the reality at hand: I was heading out alone across the ocean into foreign territory that I only knew from books, tv and movies. Up until then, at the age of 21, I had only traveled within the United States and Canada and most times with family, shorter distances with friends. Now here I was throwing caution to the wind and calling the unknown my dearest companion. I leaned back into my seat, staring at the red sunset as this realization finally caught up with me on that 12 hour flight to Japan.For any traveler, missionary or not, the anxiety of stepping outside of your pond, your familiar surroundings, will be encountered sooner or later. It may not be the same for every first timer and there are various degrees, Mr. Gungho, but being prepared before you get on that plane will help ease any unexpected tension and build the anticipation of an amazing life story to be made. Lets talk the basics; baggage, medical supplies, foreign contacts. Missionary posts range from lavish and comfortable to active warzones, so a good deal of knowledge of your intended destination will inform you of the kind of baggage joining you in your tale. Are you going to a safer and more politically stable country? Staying a long time? Then larger and more hearty suitcases may be the way to go for you. Visiting some dodgy locales or expecting some vigorous trekking to take place? Try dufflebags or backpacks, which come in various sizes and are expandable but sturdy with many different compartments for holding water, snacks and utilities. While there are many other smaller baggage types and combinations are of course up to you, the point is to maximize efficiency and ease on your body as I have witnessed hard, wheeled luggage being dragged up steep hills and others trying to pack their entire lives into totes and backpacks. A popular alternative is to use military grade baggage that is large, durable and designed for mobility. Just be mindful of where you travel as you may not want to be mistaken as a soldier(!!!).
While all of this may sound like common sense, it`s been proven over and over again to be not so common, which is why I feel the need to share this next bit; get your vaccinations. Even in today`s modern world, there are some nasty viruses waiting to make friends in certain regions around the globe; malaria, swine flu and yellow fever, to name a few (there is no commercially available vaccine for dengue fever), so do your research on that spot and take the precautions seriously. Don`t be surprised if you`ll need weeks to months of shots before you are even cleared to leave your country either. As to what to carry on your person, it`s always smart to have a first-aid kit available. Depending on the type that you buy and what`s included inside, you may or may not be able to keep it with you as carry-on luggage. Talk with security personnel and if all else fails just leave it with your checked baggage. The kit will be safe and waiting for you at your final destination, where you really need it, while there is always first aid available on the plane.
Contacts. Those smiling people waiting for you at the airport that make the world go round. Well my experience was a bit different, but while the contact was not actually there at the airport when I got there and smiled sparingly when we did meet, it was still an immensely calming moment. I had known Mr. Hikokubo, a kind co-professor of Japanese language at my university, for awhile and acted as a guide of sorts showing him around town. When he returned to Japan, he offered his assistance if I ever decided to visit his country and sure enough helped me choose accomodations and site seeing spots when I left the next year. You may not have a connection like this, but there are many to be made even while at home. If you have joined a church or missionary association in the country you intend to minister in, it should be much easier to have someone meet you at the airport, help you out with a temporary place to stay or secure a guide to assist in translations, leading the way to villages or remote communities. Get in touch with them and make these plans well before you leave. Don`t underestimate the psychological benefits of having people see you off as well as welcome you to foreign soil. Especially for new travelers, this starts you off on the right foot emotionally in your journey.
These last details and particulars can be quite exciting with the right mindset; like any story in the making, there are elements of preparation and foresight that you are fortifying your experience with in hopes of a satisfying outcome. Remember, faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26), so make sure that you do your part in these practical matters as you trust God to send you into the field.