How Missionaries Can Relate Better to Investigators. Few months into my mission, I found myself squatting on a stubby wooden stool in an adobe home and realizing that I struggled to relate with my investigators.
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Of course, I loved them with all my heart. I knew they were children of God and that the gospel of Jesus Christ would be a great blessing to them, but it was difficult to share my life experiences with them in a way they could relate to, as life in the high Andes was strikingly different from the life I had back in Utah.
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As I learned during my time as a missionary, relating to people is difficult but doable! Here are a couple ideas that may help you connect better with those you teach.
- Be prepared to share personal experiences. Before you leave on your mission, write down the spiritual experiences you’ve had so far in life. How have you learned to trust God? What have you sacrificed to follow Christ?
- Practice being a good listener. Don’t interrupt, keep eye contact, nod your head, and give people your full attention.
- If you are serving in a different culture than your own, simplify your stories and leave out details they probably won’t relate with or understand.
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As an investigator progresses, they may feel inclined to open up more about hardships and trials they have experienced. It is a good rule to avoid saying things like, “I know how you feel,” and immediately plunge into a loosely related story from your life.
There are moments when it is appropriate to talk about yourself and things that have happened to you, but never let it be in an attempt to overshadow another person’s life experience.
To give a non-missionary example, one evening my husband and I were standing in a hospital elevator waiting for our floor to arrive. Adjacent to us was a man holding a car seat, eagerly anticipating his floor to come.
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I asked him if he was taking his baby home today, and he said, “Yes, it’s been a long weekend!” He then asked if we had a baby, and I said that we were going to visit our son in the intensive care unit. He then replied, “Oh, I know how that is. Our daughter was in there for a couple of hours yesterday.”
I didn’t reply, but when the man got off the elevator, I turned to my husband and had to laugh in exasperation. Our son, at that point, had been in the NICU for 3 weeks and had another 7 weeks to go before we took him home. The man’s experience seemed to pale in comparison to the treks we had made to this hospital and would continue to make day after day to visit our son.
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Was this man genuinely trying to relate with us? Yes, he tried, but the effect was the opposite of what he intended. Instead of showing us he understood, we felt that he didn’t relate to us at all and was incorrect in assuming that our circumstances were the same. To summarize, DO find common ground with investigators, but DON’T belittle their experiences by automatically putting yours on the same level.
As a missionary, make it a priority to know the people you teach; ask about their background, family, and experiences so that you can share personal stories from your own life that would speak to them.
Be prayerful, and do all of this with the end goal of demonstrating that the gospel of Jesus Christ is, indeed, for everyone.