Book Review: “Over My Shoulder” by Naomi Reed

Reviewed by Dr Catherine Hollier


From Luke’s Journal May 2023  |  Vol.28 No.2  |  Unity in Diversity 

I suspect that every Christian medical student, at some time or other, has wondered whether they should be a ‘missionary’ doctor. 

Cross-cultural missionary work seems a natural fit for those who want to use their medical skills to benefit those with desperate health needs. 

Combined with the mandate of the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations, this is a compelling option. However, we wonder, do we have what it takes? Will we survive? What will that mean for us?

Naomi Reed spent six years as a physiotherapist working with her husband in Nepal.  She developed an interest in personality types and is an accredited Myers-Briggs Type Indicator practitioner.

She also loves hearing people’s stories. (You may have read some of them in Eternity News.) 

She came across a common theme in talking with other ex-patriate missionaries – “They… seemed to be spending a lot of time looking over their shoulders and comparing themselves with someone else.”  So, she started listening to people’s stories against the backdrop of their personality types as they described their experiences cross-culturally. 

She was fascinated to see patterns emerging that resonated with each personality type, and how much understanding each personality helped shape thinking and behaviour in the cross-cultural context.

Naomi starts her book with a summary of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  This tool strives to identify our preferences in the way we:

  • Direct or regain our energy – Extraversion (E)/ Introversion (I)
  • Receive information – Sensing (S)/ Intuitive (N)
  • Make decisions – Thinking (T) / Feeling (F) and
  • Orient ourselves to the outer world – Judging (J)/ Perceiving (P)

She stresses that each type is not a hard and fast ‘either/or’, but what our preference is – an indicator.

Naomi goes on to present a chapter for each of the sixteen different personality types.  She heads each chapter with a descriptive title: “Connections”, “Finding New Solutions”, “Covering the Bases”, and so on.   Then follows an introduction of how people with that MBTI preference might enjoy or have strengths in certain areas.  Subheadings relevant to working in cross-cultural ministry outline the following:

  • initial adjustments,
  • frustrations,
  • what I need,
  • language,
  • indigenous church,
  • joys, and
  • transition.

Each of these sections proposes a short explanation of how that personality type might experience each if these areas, richly illustrated with quotes from the 49 missionaries she interviewed.  Finally, each section summarises the kind of areas where that personality type might thrive, what they might find difficult, and areas of growth that might be needed.

“… each section summarises the kind of areas where that personality type might thrive, what they might find difficult, and areas of growth that might be needed.”

Of course, I read the two descriptions closest to my personality type first, and felt the resonance of the experiences presented.  Then I read the description opposite to those types and could recognise the dissonance there.  Interestingly, the first was a description much closer to myself thirty years ago as a “youngster”.  Since then, I have moved more centrally on many of the indicator questions (mellowing with age!), so that the opposite type description was not so foreign.

Naomi concludes that she is “even more convinced that there’s no personality type that is more suited to cross-cultural ministry than another.  We each bring strengths and gifts and ways of operating that are unique and are deeply needed by the missionary and national communities that we go to…. We need to look over our shoulders and be thankful for the way God has made each of us uniquely and wonderfully… in order to serve him as a body.”

As well as our differences, Naomi was struck by our similarities.  At the end of each interview, she asked each what they had learnt from their years of cross-cultural service.

Image Volker Meyer, Pexels

“And the answers shifted.  Suddenly, it became much less oriented to personality type and much more oriented to what we all had in common – a shared walk with God. A walk where he teaches us, prepares us, convicts us, moulds us, shows us about himself and uses every experience that we go through in order to make us more like him.” 

The book concludes with quotes of heartfelt thankfulness as each describes how God has changed and taught them throughout their missionary experience.

If you are considering cross-cultural missionary work, I highly recommend this book as a reference. It will help you see where your strengths are, and also those things that are more likely to be difficult.  It will give you an appreciation for the differences between you and your future colleagues.  Most of all, it will inspire you with the variety of how God has made us, and the miracle of Trinitarian unity-in-diversity as we seek to fulfil His mandate: being fruitful and multiplying His children as we seek to make disciples of all nations.

Over My Shoulder: exploring the impact of personality on cross-cultural mission
by Naomi Reed
ISBN 1978-192-15-8901-0
2009 Ark House Press, Sydney Australia, Auckland New Zealand

Dr Catherine Hollier
Dr Catherine Hollier is a part-time GP in Newcastle who loves the richness of variety in the local church, and in patients in her practice.  She enjoys being part of the Luke’s Journal editorial team, encouraging brothers and sisters to demonstrate their Christian faith at work.


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