Training Women Well for the Long Haul

Most training for overseas work is front-loaded. This makes sense logistically – people are still located in their home countries and can attend conferences or counseling sessions. There is no need to plan around time zones. It makes sense professionally and emotionally because staff are about to leap into the unknown and being well-prepared for that massive transition will help smooth it out and contribute to long-term productivity.

However, this front-loading of training means it focuses on the first steps, the early years, and those initial culture shock experiences. If you are a parent, it focuses on the early years of parenting, too. Over time, all of that shifts but the training rarely keeps pace.

What about once you have learned the language well but continue to have tense interactions with coworkers? What about staying up to date with current issues and current events that impact everyone like Covid, LGBTQ+, police violence, or Black Lives Matter? No matter where you fall on these issues, if we aren’t engaging with them at least on some level, when we return to our home country (in my case, the USA), we will be sorely out of touch. Also, these issues are not limited to their country, not any longer in our connected world. We need ongoing training to stay relevant.

What about the emotional impact of when your kids are all grown up and no one has prepared you for sending them back across the ocean for university? Or caring for aging parents? Nurturing a work or ministry project through the long-term issues that arise, not just those in the initial stages? What about ongoing training for deeper personal shifts of identity and transformation?

Training needs to continue far beyond the orientation weeks. It should be regular and ongoing. It needs to intentionally include women no matter their role or stage of life.

To feel (and to actually be) well-trained after 20+ years abroad requires candid conversations about how to maintain and sustain training beyond the first year and those conversations need to take place in the first year so that the groundwork is laid. It will require that women make their desires and expectations known and it may require sacrifice on the part of a husband or an organization to make it happen. For example, this means a husband might need to slow down their own language learning in order to make sure their wife is not left behind because of taking care of kids. It might mean spending more money so both spouses, or single women, are able to attend conferences where they will receive training and also network with other leaders and thinkers in their fields.

If you, like me, are already in or nearing your 20th year, you can still have these conversations and seek out the training you desire. This will make you more effective and productive and will also help your organization realize what they can be doing for younger staff. It is an opportunity to invest in future generations.

Maybe you are one of those who are training women. Ask incoming staff where they imagine themselves in 20 years. Help them design a plan to reach those goals and revisit it over time as life intervenes and disrupts. For couples, include husbands in the planning. Being involved in international work is not like more traditional workspaces. Both husbands and wives are necessarily engaged, even if not officially. This lifestyle is more like a family-owned business and each family member deserves to be acknowledged, equipped, and valued for their role.

I would love to hear if some of you have experienced quality on-going training. Or do you feel that you’ve missed out on it? Why? Is that related to being a woman? To your marital status? To having children or another factor?

This post is more exploration than declaration, more raising topics than providing answers them. I don’t think we, as a broad “we”, have figured out yet how to successfully train women for the long haul and would appreciate hearing from other women about your experiences. What has gone well or where do you feel left behind?

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

12 Comments

  1. Michele August 22, 2021

    I’m on year 28, counting transitions and furloughs into the total. I started with a good organization and left it after 9 years because of a difference in vision. I started a 501c3 and have a great board I am accountable too, but I have realized, a little late, that if I want more training or ‘member care’ I need to initiate it myself. This year I finally did a debrief retreat, and I have used the covid season to get some helpful courses in. For me it hasn’t been an issue of being a woman, but being essentially ‘independent’ of an organization that has caused the lack. I would suggest that women like me without an organization to rely on have discussions about on-going training with spouses, sending churches, boards, partners or whoever can support them in those goals. Even under an org in my early years, I don’t recall conversations about 20 years later like you’re suggesting, and I think it’s a very good idea to have them, whatever the context.

    1. Rachel Jones August 24, 2021

      This is a helpful distinction between being a woman vs being independent. I imagine it would be even more difficult as an independent – to find resources and then to hold oneself accountable to using them. Well done to make the most of this covid season to access some member care!

  2. erika August 22, 2021

    I appreciate this so much. I am basically a stay at home mum (and artist… but that isn’t my ministry role). I have felt so guilty for all the money spent on any extra education I’ve gotten or will be getting. Thank you for this.

    1. Rachel Jones August 24, 2021

      No guilt! Good for you to go for it and get the training and education. I understand the feeling (have it myself as I am in seminary right now) but also want to encourage you that you’re making a good choice to invest in yourself, which is also investment in others.

  3. CK August 23, 2021

    I so appreciated the honest look and reminder to see where our own experience falls with long-term care and training. I see a huge need for it in our organization as I don’t think we have had more than one opportunity for personal growth in over five years on the field. How do we assess our organization and is it okay to voice our needs? What if they’re not able to be met? In my org, women’s voices are not heard or validated in an impactful way (that I’ve seen up to this point). Conferences are held and it’s all the men (leaving the wives and children at home-stressful times!) who discuss goals and numbers and strategies. This is challenging and I appreciate the honest questions. Prayerfully moving forward to know how to share with those above me on these issues-and curious if other women have had the same experiences?

    1. Rachel Jones August 24, 2021

      One year my husband came back from a conference and said, “XXX would like to meet you.” XXX is the wife of a man my husband had met at several conferences over the years. “So, we decided that you and she will go to the next one.” We did and it was amazing. I’m so thankful both husbands recognized that we also needed that connection and that it would serve our families and work as well for us to attend. Since then, we have had more direct conversations about who should go, or should both, or no one…and how to make it work. Of course as our kids got older, it got somewhat easier but still important to keep talking, and then to encourage younger families to ask similar questions.

  4. Sherri August 23, 2021

    Awhile back I spoke with a woman leader in missions who described training for women as needing exit and entrance ramps. I thought this was a great analogy. We may need to exit for life circumstances, such as small children, homeschooling, etc., but we need opportunities for training when we can re-enter and be more active in ministry.
    I’ve been thankful that our organization is very intentional about providing leadership training for women as well as men. I’ve also benefitted from Entrust’s Women-to-Women Ministry Training, which is very practical. Additionally, I’ve been able to translate these courses, so that my national sisters can also be trained. For more info, see https://www.entrust4.org/women.

    1. Rachel Jones August 24, 2021

      So helpful, Sherri! On and off ramps….great. And thank you for this resource, I’m checking it out now.

  5. Sara August 27, 2021

    I’d be curious to know if any of you ladies were the first one on the field, learned the language, and then got married and your husband then had to learn the language from scratch. I feel like that could be potentially very difficult for the man, and could cause conflict or tension. Was this anyone’s experience?

  6. Bonnie August 27, 2021

    Thanks for this article! My area of the world has done a good job of intentionally training women in strategy, specific skill acquisition, ongoing language learning, and other topics. I like that there have been expectations communicated at the front end and throughout terms of service regarding required training and implementation as well as optional helps for particular life situations.
    An issue is moms aren’t sometimes able to attend general strategy meetings because there’s no childcare provided. That’s a hard issue to figure out though with childcare requirements for large numbers of children, schooling, and so on.

  7. Phyllis August 28, 2021

    We don’t have a sending org, so I’m on my own for training. Now at the 20 year mark I’ve gotten some good training here, using local resources like a Bible college in our town and more. It’s good to do it in Russian at this point. I could definitely use training about how to launch kids, though! Haven’t found anything like that.

  8. Renée Grubb September 11, 2021

    We have been part of a mission “company” since 1984. 13 years stateside and 24 years overseas in 2 different countries. Training is one of our high values as well as sustainability. Honestly, our mission has been the most stable “family” we have had and that means that I have had “grandparents, aunties and uncles, nieces and nephews, and now even grandchildren” in that family – all teach me much. I am so thankful for our organization for all the continued development and trainings over the decades and the strength of member care of which we are a part of now. Over the years I have noticed that it is all about relationship and connection and the value of family and communication. We have not been perfect in any way and have to learn lessons through sorrow and suffering, but in all, it has been together. Teachability and being life long learners is so important, don’t you think especially living cross culturally and now in this VUCA world. Blessings, Renée

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