We’re starting a new series looking at how Bible college can help prepare Christians to serve cross-culturally. We caught up with OMF worker Christina Winrich to hear about her experience at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada and how that helped prepare her for serving in Japan.
Why did you go to Bible college?
I was working overseas for five years as a missionary (not with OMF) and gradually realized that literally every other missionary I talked to had already been to Bible college… so after five years out there, I thought it would be good for me to go!
By that point I knew that God was calling me to go long-term into cross-cultural missions work, and I also felt that he was leading me out of that particular nation and into another one, though I wasn’t yet sure which nation that would be. I figured Bible college would be a good time to discern my next place of service.
It was good preparation because it helped me dig in even deeper into God’s word, learn more about the state of missions in different nations (specifically Japan, where I am now serving!), and gave me time to grow more in my personal faith and in professional training (teaching English) before going overseas again.
How does what you learned at Bible college help you now in your ministry?
In the eyes of many others, especially Japanese pastors and lay Christians, it makes me qualified to talk about the Bible and teach about Jesus. This is important in a Confucian culture, where “experts” are listened to, but also it gives people a sense of safety in listening to me- they know I’m not part of a cult and that I do, at least to some extent(!), know what I’m talking about.
Can you share one key takeaway from your time at Bible college?
I think my biggest takeaway was to be critical of everything- to take everything to the Lord and ask him- is this really your heart? Is this interpretation of a particular verse or this way of doing things in church really from you? I think before my Bible college experience, I was less discerning and more trusting of those in authority (i.e. pastors and/or authors of Bible commentaries/Christian books). I feel I now have a more healthy scepticism about people’s viewpoints- including my own- and am, hopefully!, more faithful about taking things back to the Lord and making sure it stands up to the whole body of Scripture. Also, the intellectual and academic rigor of my Bible college helped me to more fruitfully engage my intellect and my emotions with my faith, partly by introducing me to such spiritual giants as Eugene Peterson and Adjith Fernando.
How did Bible college help clarify what you would do afterwards?
As part of my coursework, I took a class on World Christianity, which was where I learned how small the Church is in Japan and the great opportunities for Christians to serve there. This course played a big role in moving my interest in and love for Japan from a cultural or personal place to a place of realizing this could actually be where God was leading me to serve.
How would you encourage a current Bible college student?
While it is important, actually vital!, to fully engage and challenge your intellect as you learn to wrestle more deeply with Scripture, it is also vital to guard your emotional and spiritual connection to God. It can be easy to drift too far into intellectual waters and lose the life-giving connection you have with Jesus as you walk with him day by day. Don’t neglect your times of sitting at the Lord’s feet, praying, worshipping; reading and wrestling with Scripture is not enough- you have to keep the living Lord always foremost, and prayer and worship are perhaps the most crucial ways that we can do this.
Also, don’t be afraid of other opinions, other traditions, and other worldviews. Whether the Lord calls you to share his love within your own culture or to cross the oceans to serve him in a distant land, you will always be encountering Christians who pray, worship, and interpret Scripture differently from you; and non-Christians who have very different worldviews from you. Do the hard work of separating what is really from God and what is just from your flesh in your heart, your preferences, and your culture, so that you can affirm and rejoice in the ways God has revealed himself in other traditions and cultures. Without this humility, you will make a poor ambassador of Christ, who is both at home and an alien in every culture- not just yours.
What would you say to your younger self at Bible college?
Pray more. Worship more. Always leave room for God to move in your circumstances, no matter how painful or how hopeless they seem.
Anything else you’d like to share about your time at Bible college?
One of my favorite lecturers was my World Christianity professor- a single woman who had worked for decades in Kenya and adopted a daughter. This professor was an inspiration to me, of a woman who loved God deeply, loved her neighbor sacrificially, and brought all of her gifts and talents to her relationship with God and others. She thought deeply and vigorously about Scripture and culture. She did the hard, ongoing work of contextualizing the gospel, helping (in her case) Kenyans become fully Kenyan as they became fully alive in Jesus. She also introduced me to many theologians from the Global South whose writings have been a great blessing in my personal faith and my journey of making disciples in a culture very different from my own.