A humorous story is told of a city slicker lost in the country who stopped to ask a farmer for directions. The farmer’s response was: “You can’t get there from here, mister. You have to go somewhere else to start!”
Those among us who feel God’s call to cross-cultural missions may sometimes feel like that. The task looks so complex, so overwhelming. We may feel stuck somewhere in small-town or rural America in a local church that doesn’t appreciate the vision. In the daily grind of study or work, we wonder if we can ever “get there from here” or if we have to “go somewhere else to start.”
The good news: you can get there from right where you are! The task of preparing for effective, long-term, cross-cultural service is huge, but not impossible. It is comparable to eating an elephant – one small bite at a time! The purpose of this article is to give practical ideas of things you can do to prepare yourself for missions, a checklist of sorts outlining small but significant steps that will help you get from here to there.
The first step in the process is persistent, regular prayer for God’s direction. Prayer for direction will become even more effective if you periodically include fasting. Recruit a few others to pray for you. As God answers in small (or large) ways, let your prayer partners know so they can update their prayers for you. Pray around the world, country by country, with Operation World, by Jason Mandryk. God may use that prayer resource to draw your attention to a specific country or people group. And don’t forget to choose one or more missionaries for whom you can pray regularly. Ask to be placed on their mailing list; include some of their prayer requests in your daily prayer time.
2. Local involvement
As you pray, ask God to give you experiences right where you are that will train you for cross-cultural missions. Many of the activities in missions are either identical or similar to the things we do in our home communities. Be alert for opportunities to serve God and others right where you are. Offer yourself to your pastors and local church mission/outreach community. Do so more than once: they may be surprised the first time and unprepared to give you an assignment. Don’t be surprised when requests for your help don’t fit neatly into your schedule! That is what service is all about! Ask God to help you find a way to respond to needs while still getting your own stuff done.
3. Input from others
Share your vision and calling to missions with your parents, pastors, and youth leader or spouse. Share when you have their full attention. Request their prayer, suggestions, and participation in the preparation process. If you are really courageous, ask them to point out areas of your character and personality that need growth. Then begin to work on those weaknesses. Prayerfully select someone with experience in missions and ask him or her to serve as a mentor to give you suggestions and direction for study and ministry training.
4. Personal Bible study
Don’t lose sight of the basic discipline of daily Bible reading. Read through the Bible each year. In missions, you will need a thorough knowledge of the Bible plus the skill of finding nourishment from the Word each day; you will likely not have a local church in your heart language on which you can depend. In addition to Bible reading, make it your habit to memorize some Scripture each week. Bible verses become your tools for ministry, your weapons for spiritual battle. Don’t fool yourself by thinking that irregularity in your devotional life at home will produce faithfulness on the mission field. Become – at home – the person you want to be in missions.
5. Bible school
Consider the possibility of attending a Bible Institute. Sure, it will cost you money – but it will be well worth the time, money, and effort. Choose courses that will help prepare you for missions. There are also many good courses you can take by extension online. One excellent course is Perspectives In The World Christian Movement (William Carey Library). Ask experienced missionaries for a suggested list of resources for reading, viewing, and listening. Set a goal for the amount of time weekly you wish to devote to learning about missions and pace yourself accordingly. As the Chinese say, “The journey of ten thousand miles starts with the first step.”
6. Practical skills
Learn a marketable skill. Both Jesus and Paul took time to learn a trade before they began their ministries. Keep in mind that creative access countries will probably not grant a religious worker’s visa, so that may mean getting a college degree, going as a university student, or establishing a business. This kind of preparation seems to take so much time, but view it as preparing for a cross-country run rather than a short sprint, or like planting an apple tree rather than a zucchini squash.
7. Personal evangelism
Remember that, while missions may take many forms, the primary purpose is sharing the Good News about Jesus. Crossing an ocean and learning another language and culture does not make sharing God’s Word easier. Make sure you learn how to share your personal testimony and the Gospel right at home. Create opportunities to share. Share repeatedly until it becomes a way of life for you.
8. Language learning
Befriend unchurched people. Look for immigrants in a town or city near you and reach out to them for Christ’s sake. Ask them to help you learn their language. Purchase a language-learning program such as Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur or download the Duolingo app on your phone and learn some of the basics. Also learn about the primary religion of the country of your interest, its basic beliefs, how it compares and contrasts with Christianity, and how to skillfully share the Gospel in that context. In fact, ask people about their religion and try to share with them appropriately.
9. Practical discipleship
Missions also includes making disciples. That is the whole goal of witnessing. Ask God to show you at least one new Christian with whom you can meet regularly in order to teach the basics of the Christian life and help them become established in his/her walk with Christ. Then ask God to help you start a small group for Bible study and prayer. Small groups are a vital component of missionary work, so you will want to become skillful as a small group leader.
10. Missions study
Grow in your knowledge of the history of Christian missions by reading missionary biographies. We can learn much from missionaries’ visions, failures, and successes. As we read their stories, they become our mentors. We can avoid some of their mistakes and be inspired by their dreams and sacrifices. A great overview of missions history is Ruth Tucker’s From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, A Biographical History of Christian Missions (Zondervan). Bruchko (by Bruce Olson) is a gripping story of a 19-year-old who was captured by the Motilone Indians – an interesting book that wonderfully illustrates missions strategy.
11. Short-term trips
Going on a short-term team to a country or culture of interest to you can be very helpful. You will get a feel for what it is like to be in the minority, to be unable to express yourself well, to be surrounded by strange sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Remember, however, that two or three weeks are inadequate for a realistic view of what missions is like. You will not have gotten past the “honeymoon” stage in that short time period.
12. Cross-cultural training
Consider spending some time as a trainee and intern at the Mission Training Center [www.mtcinnyc.com] in New York City. The MTC is a great place to learn how to survive in the city, meet people of other cultures, begin language learning, and more. There is no substitute for study combined with hands-on practice under the guidance of people with missions experience.
One word of caution in conclusion: beware of Satan’s attempts to derail you and cause your vision to fade. He has many “tricks in his bag.” One is to get you to give up on your church and just “bail out.” Another is to fall in love with a person who does not share your vision. Still another is to become entangled in business or in debts that make it nearly impossible to pursue your vision. Recruiting people to pray for you and to mentor you will help you recognize and avoid these and many other traps.
If you feel as if the task is too overwhelming, just remember how to eat an elephant and how to walk a journey of ten thousand miles. You can get there from here…one small bite at a time, one small step at a time!
Written by: Allen R.
Previously published on the DNI website: www.destinationsint.com