Building a Strong Professional Identity
    About Lesson

    What do we mean by identity?

    A basic definition is how you are seen or perceived by your host community. I found that when I first moved to North Africa, everyone in the community wanted to figure out who I was and why I had brought my family to live in their country. They wanted to know what box to put me in.

    • Was I a threat to them?
    • Could they trust me?
    • Could they open up and be friends with me?

    This area was the one that my wife and I struggled with the most before we moved to the Arab World. We are simple and honest people and didn’t want to be duplicitous and deceive our Arab friends while at the same time we wanted to be missional.

    While there are no easy answers to this challenge we believe there are some basic principals that when followed will help you to thrive in the community that God has called you to serve while being true to who you are and why you are there. (Please remember that not everyone sees this issue the same way and so we must exhibit humility, grace and respect when dealing with teammates as well as missionaries from other organizations.)

    There are multiple layers to identity and how different people see you:

    How the local culture views you: A great example is a buddy of mine that moved to Libya right after the Arab Spring Revolution in 2011 and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. He registered his business and then tried to get his residency permit. Over and over he was denied this permit. After a year of discouragement he started to investigate the problem with his Libyan partner. After some time the truth came. The government was certain he was working with the CIA. Why else would he be in Libya when all the embassies had closed and all foreign companies had evacuated their employees?

    How your mission organization views you: When I lived in West Africa there was a great Brazilian missionary that was doing an amazing business as mission venture with street boys. These boys where getting saved and cleaned up. The missionary then started a Brazilian Churascarria Restaurant where the young men could work and earn money to pay for their schooling. (An “all you can eat grilled meat” style of restaurant made famous from Brazil) The restaurant was an instant hit in the capital city and it was a blessing to see the transformation in the lives of the street boys. While in West Africa things were going great, his sending organization and church back home were not happy with the news that this restaurant sold alcoholic beverages to the French clientele. It didn’t take long for them to force him to close the restaurant. Sadly, his identity wasn’t well received by those that had sent him out. It is important for your identity to make sense to the organization that is sending and supporting you.

    How your financial supporters at home view you: This past summer I was home and one of my supporters took my missionary friend and I out for dinner. The supporter is a wealthy business man that has supported our family for years. My friend was also once supported by him but as the Lord blessed his BAM business financially, he eventually went completely off all financial support. This supporter of ours thought that was so cool but throughout the evening kept referring to him as the Millionaire Missionary. We all had a good laugh, but I know that many people who support missionaries that are working in restricted access nations are often confused to what we are actually doing.

    How you view yourself: In one of the countries I worked I knew a young missionary that would tell the locals in the community where he lived that he worked for a tour company. In reality he did not do any real work for the company and the fact that he was not telling the complete truth to his friends started to eat away at his conscience. He struggled for some time but eventually he decided to leave the country and return to his home nation. His Arab friends didn’t have any idea that he wasn’t telling them the whole truth, but he knew and it eventually wore him out.

    A solid identity is one that can make sense to all these parties mentioned above.

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