Moving to the Field
The question of sending a container and the kinds of things missionaries take to a foreign field has as many answers (probably) as there are missionaries. So when you ask me this question, obviously my answer will be biased toward my own opinion, but I will try to share some reasons and thoughts on the question.
First there are different levels of the question. There are big furniture items vs small kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom items. There is electrical questions which include transformers. There are things that take a lot of space in a container versus things that fit easily.
Then there are questions that depend on what you can get in your host country. When we went to Rhodesia, it was under sanctions and we could not buy refrigerators, washers, or cars in the country so if we wanted it we had to take it with us. Another African team is finding that furniture is almost prohibitive in price. All the furniture they have has come second hand from some missionaries leaving. Otherwise they just have cheap plastic chairs to sit in, which doesn’t allow for much comfort or lounging at home. Wood is hard to come by so the missionary has made bookshelves from pallets that were used in the container.
So after these questions are answered, one must ask logical questions like, ‘Is this item worth paying to ship overseas?’ At first one may think nothing is, but maybe we can break down the discussion a little more.
Let’s look at both sides of the question.
The pros of buying in the host country:
1. We can buy what we need on arrival and not have to wait for the container:
This is an important point. Sometimes it takes several months before a container arrives. It helps to do our homework and work on shipping where the container arrives at a good time. The flip side of this argument is that it takes time and money to find all the things you want and need. Shopping will mean spending lots of time in the larger cities and looking in lots of stores to find what you are looking for. It is not as easy as it sounds. Also many things are not readily available. As in many countries, the availability of many things comes and goes during a year. You might very well be looking when an item is unavailable.
2. Our home will look more like a home of the local people.
This is also a good point. I was in an American missionary home where the main
decorating theme was the US flag. Every nick knack had some kind of flag. There were more than 30 in the one front room. This kind of decorating is not the norm overseas.
Having your main ‘receiving’ room be something the local people are comfortable in is very important. However, this should be balanced with the idea of it being your home and something you are
comfortable in. There are some rooms of the house that will be less on show and can help to remind you of things you like. But it is very important for the missionary (especially the
wife) to be happy with her house. The most important reason is because if she is happy she will probably stay. Many missionaries come home way too early just because the wife is not
happy. So there needs to be a balance to having a home that looks ‘local’.
Not shipping a container will likely be cheaper.
From my answer to the first question, I guess you can see that I might not agree this is the case.
4. If we ship a container is will be a lot of hassle. Because it will arrive late we will probably have to buy cheaper versions of items to use until the container arrives.
I guess the first part of the question depends on what is meant by hassle. Yes there is hassle in getting a container, but that would be divided among the team. There are also many that will be helping with the process. On the other hand, buying everything from scratch will be just you. You may not be able to shop locally so it will take lots of time (and yes, hassle).
The second question can be minimized by taking some essential things in your suitcase, even if it means paying for a few extra suitcases. (If you go missionary ticket on British Airways, they give you one extra bag each for free.) Of course, you can also minimize what you may think is essential.
Pros toward shipping a container:
1. Most of us have received many wedding presents or have bought the things we most want to use in our house. We have the choice of giving it all away, storing it, or selling it for a minimal price or taking it with us. It is better financially to take what we already have and feel like we need with us.
2. Many things in Africa are not the same quality we are used to using. They are also usually more expensive. So if we look at buying what we need there we must realize it will cost us more money and we will probably not get as good of a quality as what we already have.
3. If we are shipping some things anyway, like what we cannot get in our host country, then we might as well add a few other things. The difference in cost will be minimal.
4. This one may sound a bit strange but it is important to note: Churches and supporters will normally give money for shipping, when they may not as easily give money for buying. This was the case when we came home from Africa. Our congregation said they would pay $5,000 to ship our container of stuff home, but were unwilling to just give us the $5,000 to buy stuff on this side. So we were blessed with shipping home mementoes and things we loved from Africa that have continued to bless our lives and our home. We felt like our home came with us and not that we had moved and left it all behind.
In In case you can’t tell, I am on the side of a container. I would however moderate the large items shipped unless you already had them. I would not take items like heirlooms from a grandparent that cannot be replaced. Some things are best left in a safe place at parent’s homes.