1. Learn the Language
As you learn the language, you won’t just be learning how to express yourself, but how the people of your country express themselves. As you do this, you will understand their mentality. Culture and language are inseparable. Therefore the faster you do this, the easier your transition will be. There are two ways to help you along with this. First, try to force yourself into real life situations that will make you learn. Class study has its place, but if that is all you do, it will take you twice as long to learn. Second, try to talk no matter how bad you think you sound. If you wait until you can say something perfectly, you will never speak the language (1 Peter 3:5).
2. Laugh at Yourself
You are going to make so many mistakes in the beginning, that if you stress over each one like it is the end of the world, you will never give yourself room to grow. Accept your inability, ask God to use you, and move on to the next thing. Your good attitude, about your cultural mistakes, can make you more approachable when the people you are trying to reach make their spiritual mistakes and need your help (Proverbs 17:22, 15:13).
3. Labor with Another Missionary
Find a veteran missionary with whom you share a similar background, if possible, and commit to be under his ministry for at least a year. I would recommend two years. When I came to Russia, I already spoke the language well enough to witness to people, and was preaching to the youth group a month after we arrived. I still spent two years with a veteran missionary and would do it again. There are a thousand pitfalls, and it is better to learn about them through the experience of others, than to personally fall into every pit yourself. Also, most missionaries don’t speak the language when they arrive, and being a part of another man’s ministry helps you have a ministry outlet while you learn the language.
I recommend involving yourself on purpose in the ministry. Although you might feel useless to some degree, many times just being around what is going on will be a lesson worth your effort. Also, when you are apart of another missionary’s ministry, realize that you may do many things differently when you start your own work, but do not condemn him unless his actions are sin. God uses different people with unique talents and weaknesses. Be thankful for what you learn (2 Timothy 2:2).
4. Listen More than You Talk
This might seem to contradict what I said about learning the language, and forcing yourself to talk, but I don’t think it does. What I mean is that you need to have a teachable spirit. Your talking should be in the form of questions, and then exploring the answers that you get. Try to find out every thing you can about anything that might effect your ministry.
As a missionary, you need to be an ambassador, building contractor, lawyer, linguist, historian, musician, teacher, driver, travel agent, technology expert, logistics expert, doctor, plumber, electrician, mason, public relations expert, realtor, landscaper, financial expert, not to mention preacher, parent, and husband but all of it in another country. You have a lot to learn (James 1:19).
5. Live in a Way that Lets You Be Effective
I understand the apprehension of living financially far above the people you are trying to reach. I think you need to be sensitive to their position. However, if you live just like the people you are trying to reach, then you will have the same problems that they have, and it will take up the same amount of time to deal with those problems, and at the end of the day, you won’t have the time to do what God called you to do.
Case in point, I did not buy a car for the first six months on the mission field. When I had to go somewhere, it always took a lot longer to get there. Adding in the time it takes to find the place on foot, it could take three times as long to do some simple task that had to be done. This gave me less time to do the ministry God called me to do. You are not trying to make your life easier for the sake of having an easy life, but for the sake of spreading the gospel, by getting rid of things that slow you down (Ephesians 5:16).