|Missionaries call this the money shot.|
First off, educate yourself on geography. I’m occasionally been floored by people who didn’t know about the country I went to: South Africa. I wish I were joking. For the more obscure countries, let me suggest this game: http://www.mentalfloss.com/geographyzone/ This way when someone talks about their time in Azerbaijan, you at least know which continent they went to. (Do you know where Azerbaijan is?) A sidenote on Africa: Africa is a continent- the second biggest in fact. Did you know that it makes more sense to ask your Mexican friends about what’s happening in Canada than it does to ask your South African friends about what’s happening in Egypt? Maybe the problem is that Africa is so diverse, it’s hard to wrap our brains around it, so we just lump all that we don’t know about in the same pile.
Second, don’t dismiss this person’s missionary experience. There’s a good chance you’re underestimating what it was like for this person to be a missionary. And even now that you know that, you’re probably still underestimating it. It was huge. While I’ve lived in America for 96% of my life, my time outside has colored it incredibly.
Don’t ask “How was your trip?” This one gets me because I was there for a whole effin’ year. Trip? I think if you spend more than one month somewhere, you need to find a better word than ‘trip.’ I also spent a year as an intern in Kansas, but no one refers to that as a trip. But maybe when someone goes somewhere so far away, it’s hard to imagine that it was really a home and not just a place they went to. It was a home.
Try not to complain about the little things. “Ugh, I asked my barista for a non-fat, no-foam, double shot skinny vanilla latte but she made me a soy no-foam triple shot vanilla latte. My life sucks.” / “There was a guy with 12 items in the 10-items-or-less checkout line. How horrible!” You really need to adjust your barometer about what in life classifies as horrible/sucks.
Finally, just listen. While this missionary could talk about their experience for hours, know that you’re just hearing the tip of the iceberg. Let go of any preconceived notions of missionary life and let this missionary tell you their story. And if you’re lucky enough to hear about all sides of missionary life – the good, the bad and the ugly – you’ll get a special glimpse at God working in the world.