What Arriving on the Field Is Really Like

Life on the mission field isn’t easy, and infatuation with a new culture wears off quickly, but God’s faithfulness remains.

From Message magazine issue "Building a Legacy"

I watched our three little girls’ bouncy, blonde curls deflate into frizzy, limp, matted balls the moment we stepped off the plane into the humid air of East Africa.

It was as if those curls visibly depicted our lives up to that point—filled with excitement, anticipation, hope, dreams, and expectations, all flattened the moment we reached the Dar es Salaam airport.

The humidity overwhelmed us as the doors opened. It was raining. While we stood in line for our visas, I despondently watched our three babies playing and realized that the water dripping on my head was from a leak in the airport ceiling. I was tired and terrified.

We were here. All the waiting, planning, praying, and support raising had brought us to this point. It felt less romantic and fulfilling, and more like, “Okay, this has been fun, but let’s all go back home now.

We loaded our luggage and split into separate vehicles, my husband and the girls in one, and I in the other. I remember asking how to buckle our one-year old’s car seat, only to be laughed at. We weaved in and out of traffic, soaking in a million new sights and scents. We spent one day in the big city before taking a bus to our new home four hours inland. I don’t remember much else about that day other than being greeted at a mall by a security officer, AK-47 in hand, wanting to play peek-a-boo with my baby.

Waving goodbye to the missionaries who had welcomed us, I remember the forlorn look on their faces. I’ve never been sent off to my death, but if I had, I imagine that is what it would look like—plastered smiles and robotic waves, with eyes seeming to silently scream, “Run while you still have a chance.” Should I answer the screams or just keep waving?

I waved.

Rather than returning home like responsible parents, we took our family on a bus to a new town, in a new culture, with a new language, in a rented home that we didn’t even know how to find. I couldn’t even bring myself to spiritualize it by claiming we were “stepping out on faith”—no, it felt like we were just being regular old idiots.

We made it to Morogoro and started heading towards town. Our driver threw his hands up and stammered something in Swahili that I pretended to understand, though I only knew one word of the language. I crouched towards the front of the bus, vaguely remembering the directions to the house. I remembered that “mbele” meant “in front of,” so, in my loud, obnoxious, overconfident American voice, I yelled in the driver’s ear, “Mbele! Mbele! Mbele!” until we arrived at our location.

I couldn’t even bring myself to spiritualize it by claiming we were “stepping out on faith”—no, it felt like we were just being regular old idiots.

We unloaded our baggage with genuine excitement. We looked around and chose bedrooms, prolonging the glee another few minutes until we realized we needed actual food and water. I went to grab my Swahili-English dictionary, reaching past my far less-important mascara and sanitary wipes, only to realize I had left the dictionary back home in Mason, Ohio.

Mason. Stinking. Ohio.

I broke the news of the lost dictionary to the others. We didn’t have internet, so there was only one thing to do: just try something.

We decided to walk outside and simply see how far our English could get us. We asked the landlord’s gardener where to find a store. He took us by the hand and led us back into the house, pointing to the pantry (“stoo” in Swahili). That didn’t work, so we decided to pray—which, unfortunately, was often an afterthought during those trying first days.
After prayer, my husband bravely ventured out of the gate and into the unknown African soil on his own. The kids and I hugged him before sending him on his way. I felt certain it would be the last time I saw him. Would he be considered a martyr if he died from stupidity on day one? I wondered.

Thankfully, he returned with water and some kind of biscuits to hold us over for the night. We laid awake in bed, checking on the kids across the hall at least a dozen times, constantly worried we were being robbed. This restless cycle continued for months.

The Lesson

Life on the mission field isn’t easy, and infatuation with a new culture wears off quickly.

Our arrival was anything but ideal or even wise, but God was doing more in our imperfect and awkward arrival than we could see at the time. He was beginning a work here in this country and even more of a work within our hearts.

We have experienced hundreds of humorous, heart-wrenching, and horrifying moments along our cross-cultural journey. But through them all, we can look back and see the goodness in the Heavenly Father’s plan to use us—even in spite of ourselves.

Stephanie Boon

Stephanie Boon is an ABWE missionary who lives in Tanzania with her husband and their five children.  She co-founded Sifa Collective, which equips women with the hope of the gospel and tools to launch their own local businesses. After earning her M.A. in Counseling and B.S. in Counseling (Theology/Psychology), she worked with colleagues to open a Community Counseling Center in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where they provide gospel-centered individual and group counseling, and counseling training for local churches. Read her blog at Things We Didn't Know or support her ministry.