Senior Cross-Cultural Service Student
Upon returning home after a couple months in Asia, I frequently get asked the question, “So, what’s it really like to minister in the Middle East?” Growing up as a MK in South America, I thought I had cross-cultural life and ministry figured out. Little did I know all the lessons God would teach me this summer about culture and ministry in a Creative-access nation.
Since the place I was in claims to be 98% Muslim and following any other religion is considered national treason, disciple-making looked vastly different from anything else I’d ever experienced. Any form of public witness is banned, so, as a missions intern, I had to learn how the missionaries work around this apparent hurdle. Oftentimes, the disciple-making methods missionaries use do not resemble those used in the “average” mission field at all. Instead of hosting rallies and big activities to attract the highest amount of people possible, you do evangelism rather privately and with a more personal focus. Sharing the Good News looks more like being a candle in the darkness instead of a spotlight.
So, rather than handing out tracts, you meet people at public spots that don’t draw attention or put them in danger for wanting to know who Jesus is. Instead of walking around a city knocking-on doors to share the Gospel, you host people at your house and invite them in to see how a Jesus-follower lives. Instead of open-air preaching and teaching, you share long, Christ-centered conversations over numerous cups of hot chai. You go out of your way to intentionally incorporate Jesus into every situation. Thread by thread, you begin weaving the tapestry that depicts the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Following this method does not bring results fast or in great numbers, but there is no other way to do evangelism in a place that is so hostile towards the Gospel. The missionaries I worked with have been serving in the same area for seven years, without ever being able to lead a soul to Christ. “What on earth are they doing, then? Are they really investing their time well?” you may ask.
Observing what the daily life of a missionary looks like, many would be tempted to say that nothing is really being accomplished towards Kingdom expansion. Missionaries work full-time jobs that allow them to stay in the country legally, and they take their kids to local schools. They spend many hours hosting or going out to eat with their Muslim coworkers and take their kids to play-dates with Muslim families to be able to establish redemptive connections. On Sunday, they meet with local believers for worship. They teach Sunday school, help lead music, and prepare food for fellowship time. But missionaries don’t run the show. For safety reasons and because locals will always be more effective in communicating with their own, missionaries limit themselves to supporting and assisting the nationals who lead the congregations.
So, what’s the difference between those working in the Middle East, and the average person in the US who is a faithful light at their job during the week and hands out bulletins on Sunday? Why isn’t he called a missionary? From what I was able to observe, the difference is not only doing it cross-culturally. The bottom-line is that being involved full-time in “normal” life is basically the only way to make disciples in Creative-access nations. Missionaries live non-glamourous lives, immersing themselves in the culture to be like the people around them and meet them where they are. It’s about being faithful in the mundane, making “insignificant” tasks vital for the furtherance of the Gospel. This is the best way to establish trust in an honor-shame society. You must take time to see through the lenses of the honor-shame worldview, which prioritizes a long process of back-and-forth exchange, building the foundation for strong, loyal relationships that will open so many more doors.
So, move into their neighborhoods, work at their businesses, go the extra mile to show that you want to be a part of their lives, so you can show them how to find life. Isn’t this what Jesus came to do? He used every situation to minister to the Middle Eastern hearts he had around Him. This is exactly what redeeming time well for the cause of Christ looks like (Ephesians 5:15-17).
Because we are creatures of habit, making sure to be intentional is key, lest we forget why we are really in the mission field. God used Galatians to encourage me this summer. In chapter six, Paul reminds the Galatians about the important role that strong bonds play in this community-centered culture. He talks about strengthening each other and sowing in the Spirit to reap everlasting fruit. He warns the believers to not measure success by comparing. Rather each person must work diligently and not grow tired and impatient because of the lack of fruit. And here lies the danger in any ministry setting but even more so in the Middle East: missions in these very resistant lands does not bear the same results as it does in other parts of the world. I was drawn to verses nine and ten especially, where Paul says, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” God has called each of us to be faithful and persistent, knowing that if we let Him carry us through, He will bless us. His blessing may not look like what we would imagine or come in the timing for which we would hope, but it is His perfect will. What a privilege to serve God by strengthening believers who are suffering because of His name!
Since Missions is shifting away from what has traditionally been done for centuries, our expectations and strategies need to change accordingly. Missions in the 10/40 Window is not a simple task. It demands courage, perseverance, patience, and faith that God will accomplish His purposes through us in such a hostile land. But missions in the Middle East is possible, and the glory of Jesus Christ is more than worth it. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58).
Elliot Martin, 2019 Graduate
One of the biggest lessons I learned from my internship in Mayotte is the importance of language learning. Without first learning someone’s language, you cannot serve them well. In Duane Elmer’s book Cross-Cultural Servanthood, Elmer describes servanthood with a set of steps. He says, “You can’t serve someone you do not understand… You can’t understand others until you have learned about, from and with them… You can’t learn important information from someone until there is trust in the relationship… To build trust others must know that you accept and value them as people… Before you can communicate acceptance, people must experience your openness.” Openness, acceptance, trust, learning, understanding, then service. You may not agree with Elmer’s steps to servanthood, but you can read his book to hear his arguments. What I want to say, or rather ask, is how many of those steps can you do well if you can’t communicate deeply with someone?
I’ll use a story as an anecdote. Towards the end of my internship, I went to a Christian doctor’s house where his family was having a prayer meeting with other French Christians in his village. As people came into the house, I would greet them with the simple phrases I knew how to speak in French (“My name is Elliott.”, “How are you?”, “What’s your name?”, “I can only speak a little bit of French.”, etc.). I couldn’t say a ton, but I think they understood me, and I understood some, but not all, of what they said. Then, the doctor gave a brief lesson from the Bible. I understood even less. Then, we prayed. Here, I became a little proud of my French ability – I shared a prayer request and prayed in French. Some of the people even said “amen,” so it must have at least made some sense. But, then came the worst part. When we finished praying, all of them started asking me questions in French. “Why are you in Mayotte?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” “Are you getting married?” “How many kids do you want?” Yes, they asked all of those questions and more.
I’ll let you guess how I answered those questions with my very limited vocabulary. Here’s my point: to some of the questions, I gave simpler answers than I would have typically given because I couldn’t fully explain the answers to those questions. I gave simplified answers rather than trying to explain the whole truth. And, I could tell other people did the same thing to me when they realized I didn’t speak French well. That’s not openness, but it makes sense. Why would I expect people to spend the time explaining personal or detailed information to me when they aren’t sure if I am understanding everything in the way intended for me to understand it? And to go down Elmer’s list, why should I expect people to accept me when I might not be giving them the whole truth because I don’t know how to explain all the details? How do you build trust with someone when you can only communicate with them on a shallow level? Can I really learn about someone if they don’t speak to me in the same way as they speak to the people they talk to every day? How much understanding can happen if they are explaining ideas in one language and I am trying to think about those ideas in a language that may not be able to literally translate the thoughts word for word? And if I perceive who they are, what they want, or where they are coming from even slightly differently than the way they are meaning to communicate those things, how could that affect the way I serve them?
The encouraging part is that many people do take the time to understand a language so well that they can think or even sound like a local. I can think of plenty of examples of international students that speak just as well as (maybe even better than!) most native English speakers. Communicating deeply, clearly, and precisely is essential to service. And getting to that point is doable. It just might take a little more than “I’ll figure it out once I get there.”
Kaylah Smith, Senior Nursing Student
I left for Romania excited at the thought of being able to learn more about the medical profession and hoping to put my limited “medical knowledge” to use while there. I hadn’t really thought about the trip much other than that. But God had much more important lessons in mind for me to learn.
The first lesson that God had me learn was the importance of seeing people the way He sees them. On the first full day of our trip (Saturday), the missionary gave us the opportunity to visit a church plant, and I gladly agreed to go along. This church plant, located in a Gypsy village, met in the open air because there was no church building. There were many children running around—and many of the little children’s parents seemed to be barely past childhood themselves. The children were filthy from playing in the dirt and not having running water in which to wash. The children wanted me to play with them, so I did so as best as I could follow along, and when we got ready to leave, they all wanted to hug me. Later, I learned about the Gypsy people: they are the poor people in Romania and the target of discrimination. I began to pray (and still pray) that, even though we could not speak these people’s language, gospel seeds were sown by us showing that God’s love does not discriminate against different people groups. God taught me through this experience that I am not better than someone else just because of my geographic birthplace, my education, my financial status, etc. He taught me that all people are precious in His sight—souls created in His image and in need of Him.
The second lesson God taught me was the universality of the church. On Sunday, we attended another church plant (this time, one with a building) in a different Gypsy village. The church service there was different than the typical U.S. church service I was used to. As soon as we walked into the church, the missionary’s wife politely pulled us aside and informed us that the women sit on one side of the room while the men sit on the other side. When one lady from our team used Google translate to interpret and tried to have the lady to whom she spoke read the interpretation, the missionary’s wife again quietly informed us that many people in the church, especially the women, cannot read. Also, for this reason, the church does not have song books. Consequently, the song leaders play a video through a speaker, and whoever knows the words sings along. Another thing that the Roma church did differently than churches here in the States was having many people pray during the service. (Usually, everyone in the church prays, but our team basically doubled church attendance that day, so we would have been in church for a very long time!) One other thing that the Roma church did differently was that, during communion, everyone drank of the same cup. (That seemed to me a picture of the unity in the church.) It was such a blessing to attend church in a different country! God made the fact that He will ransom people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) very real to me as I worshiped Him with my Roma brothers and sisters.
Throughout the week of clinic, God helped me to see how there is unity in the universal church. Seeing God bring together brothers and sisters, who live in five different countries, to further His kingdom was amazing! The brothers and sisters from Romania were the very important “behind-the-scenes” people who fed, encouraged, and interpreted for our team of medical professionals from U.S. and Canada. Our team used medicine to attract the people to the clinic, and the Romanian brothers preached the gospel to the patients as they waited for their medicine. We had missionaries to Croatia, Hungary, and Romania help and interpret at the clinic. All of us working together showed unity of the universal church.
The final and biggest lesson God taught me during my time in Romania is that all of life is ministry. During my “down time” during the week, I was able to converse with missionaries and national pastors about how God called them to ministry and how God uses them to minister to people where they are. I loved hearing the different stories from everyone, but one story especially stands out to me. My interpreter from one day was a missionary from the U.S. but a self-proclaimed Romanian. She told me how she teaches English to children as her ministry and explained with different examples of how that plays out every day. Eventually our conversation turned to the declaration that all of life is ministry. No matter what we are doing – whether it’s teaching English, using our professions, helping in various church activities, or just being a friend – all of life is an opportunity to share the gospel. Every moment of life should be spent praying, meeting people, and telling them about Jesus.
When I got home from Romania, God continued to teach me the lesson that life is ministry. God wants all of us to share Him whatever we’re doing and wherever we are—whether we’re overseas or at home. The most important thing in all of life is God’s glory, and one way we can give God glory is to share the Good News with others. Yes, God calls people to be overseas missionaries, and they have many opportunities to share the Good News with others. But God calls everyone to be a missionary—one who shares the Good News of Jesus with everyone.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.