While it is true that you can never really get to know a place before you get there (sort of like, you can never know what it is to do a new job until you actually get into it), there are some things you can do to prepare yourself in at least a partial way. One great way I have found to help prepare to go to a place is to read good books on it.
There are library shelves full of great books on both living in and partnering with people in West Africa. I will just list three here that I have very helpful.
The first is David Maranz’s African Friends and Money Matters. One huge area of concern for people from NA travelling to West Africa is the great disconnect between the ways the two cultures relate to money. This one topic can be a source of fear, mistrust, confusion, and frustration – just for a start!
Maranz tells stories that explain the differences between how we relate to money and one another, and makes clear that people in WA are acting quite normally within their own context – which we have entered. He manages to normalize some very strange things, and brings understanding, empathy, and humour into what might otherwise be very trying situations.
This was the first book I read when our family was contemplating travelling to Nigeria in 2008, and I would say if you have never been to Africa before it really is a MUST read.
The second book I read was Duane H. Elmer’s Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry. It is a little broader in scope than Marantz’s, but his aim is basically the same – helping the reader understand the cultural divide so that it can be effectively bridged. I would also put it into the MUST read section.
A book I read just recently is Mary Lederleitner’s Cross Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission. This is a book that is much narrower in scope. Lederleitner’s goal is to help churches and other organizations which have partnered with majority world communities. I found this a very good book because both of my NAB churches have formed partnerships with a Fulbe community in Nigeria, and it speaks directly to our situation.
If any of our reader’s churches are planning to partner with us (which we really hope will happen), I trust that this book gets a wide readership within their mission leadership.