Sunday, June 22, 2014

One Question: Advice on Serving in Malaysia

Recently, I wrote to many friends who are nationals of countries that receive missionaries. All of these friends have worked with westerners and many of them have served as missionaries themselves. I asked my friends to respond to one question, “What advice would you give a western missionary coming to serve in your country?” 

Every Monday, internet access permitting, I post their responses. Last week we heard from Sugi from Java, Indonesia and the week before from Soro here in Papua. If you missed it, you can read Sugi's letter here and Soro's letter here.

 Advice from Kae on serving in Malaysia

Bio: A Malaysian growing up in multicultural but still very Eastern cultured Malaysia, Kae first met the ‘West’ in her late teens at university in England. She later married a western culture French husband, and the two encountered many cultural clashes at the beginning. She describes finally coming to the understanding that their actions weren’t just about individual personalities, but also a reflection of each other’s culture. 

Kae describes her family life as “a bright and noisy space, and with our bicultural or third culture kids, I can say the journey has been exhilarating, excruciating, enriching.” Kae highly recommends the book Foreign to Familiar for anyone interested in better understanding how to navigate cross-cultural relationships.

Q: What advice would you give to a western missionary coming to serve in Malaysia?

I think one main difference is perhaps where the west values efficiency, or goals and objectives achieved, the east values RELATIONSHIPS, or networks and contacts made. So I spend and value my time differently: for me every moment I spend chatting and eating with someone is as valuable if not more, as every moment a westerner may spend doing something else to achieve a goal. 

I hope a western missionary will learn to appreciate the importance "easterners" attach to dialogue, communication, building relationships. I hope you will then find less frustration in how long it takes to get things done. Things will get done when the groundwork is laid, when friendships are made, but first, let's go and have a cup of tea, get to know you and get to know me! 


What about you? Are you from a country that typically receives western missionaries and charity workers? What are we doing wrong? What are we doing right? E-mail me your thoughts on


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