Three reasons not to take short-cuts when considering cross-cultural mission
I recently read the blog of a student at a theological seminary. The title of the story was, “Three reasons why cross-cultural mission is so hard”. I expected that this person struggled with cross-cultural adaptation, contextualising the Gospel in a way that the local people could whole-heartedly receive it without losing the truth, as well as the spiritual battle that goes on as Satan fights every advance of the gospel tooth and nail.
Instead, the writer shared the following:
- Language was a big barrier.
- Friends kept changing all the time.
- Lack of time and resources.
As I read in more detail, it became clear that this missionary didn’t go with an established mission organisation and had to meet each need as it came up. I realise that this is a common theme in this day and age. Many young adults feel that joining up with a mission organisation would lock them into a certain type of work or a certain way of doing things and wouldn’t give them the freedom to serve the Lord in the way they want to.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Don’t get me wrong. All cross-cultural missionaries struggle in these three areas. It’s just that these things shouldn’t be deal-breakers. The problem is, when a person heads out on their own in mission work, he or she ends up re-inventing the wheel over and over, to deal with issues that most mission organisations sorted out long, long ago. Maybe 10% of missionaries have the drive and initiative to start something new and dynamic. The rest of us don’t.
Yes, when you work in the framework of a mission organisation, there are overheads. You need to raise extra financial support; you have more orientation to understand how the organisation functions; maybe later you’ll need to lead or support other new missionaries as they undergo all the difficult transition and adaptions to life and ministry in a different culture. This all appears like a waste of time before you leave your home country. But I’ve never heard a missionary in their first few years of life in mission work complain that they have too much administrative support or emotional and spiritual care!!
So, let’s look at reasons why the three points above shouldn’t be big barriers to cross-cultural mission work.
- Most well established mission agencies have access to good language resources and programmes in each country they serve in. The OMF language school in Thailand regularly has missionaries from other organisations requesting places for new workers and many Thai Christians regularly say to me, “Ah yes, you OMF missionaries speak Thai really well.” Of course, it’s difficult to really focus on language and culture acquisition if you don’t budget time and finances for at least a year or two of good solid set apart study in Asia. (Of course other countries and regions have different language learning timeframes.)
- When I hear someone say, “friends keep changing all the time”, it tells me two things: i) The mission community of which that person is a part of isn’t very stable. ii) They haven’t made any deep friendships with local people. Mission organisations bring stability to friendships and working relationships. You are more likely to meet people with a long-term commitment to the country who work in an established mission organisation for the simple reason that all the extra levels of support enable missionaries to stay longer. As well, good language abilities (enabled by a good language programme) allow missionaries to make strong and lasting relationships with local people – which is an essential step in developing being at home in the culture.
- Giving the time to develop a solid support base before going to another country is something required by mission organisations. It’s not because the mission organisation is desperate to get their cut of your money – it’s because they know that’s what works best! Having a good support base means you have the time and resources to invest in language learning, spending time building relationships with local people as well as meeting the needs we see around us. There are many situations where working in a job is required to even be in the country, but this can be a burden or a stepping stone; which one is determined by the amount of financial, emotional and spiritual support the missionary has from home.
Cross-cultural mission is an essential part of our faith. Let’s not waste time and resources re-inventing the wheel. Let’s look for ways to send the Gospel to the farthest corners of the world in the very best ways we can. So let’s get over these simple barriers so we can get to the big ones of cultural adaptation, contextualisation and disciple-making of people from dysfunctional backgrounds and spiritual warfare. Maranatha – Lord Jesus come!
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