Joel Arnold, Missionary in the Philippines
This concludes our series on "Ask a Missionary." Joel Arnold from the Philippines answers four questions with engaging answers. I hope you find it helpful. If you have more questions that haven't been answered, send them our way!
1. Do you recommend seminary for missionaries?
Absolutely. To make the point I'll highlight two wrong ideas.
First is the notion that advanced education isn't really necessary for pastors or people going into ministry. The ministry is really about heart for people and yearning to reach the lost, isn't it? And after all, there are people who had passionate evangelistic zeal, only to have that cool during their years of education. Plenty of pastors have been effective without graduate education.
The best response here is to recognize that our expectations are rather different for any other kind of "professionals." I don't accept heart or zeal as a substitute for training with my doctor, dentist or airline pilot. I want training—solid, core knowledge. We ought to expect the same thing from people who will deal with people's souls. This is no casual work; it requires much more than casual training.
But a related notion is that missionaries are the people who didn't make it as pastors. They lack the social skills, training or leadership to do ministry here, so we'll send them abroad where the expectations are lower.
I, of course, find this notion completely odious. It's a massive slight on Christian brothers and the needs of lost people abroad—shouldn't we send our best quality of ministers to reach them? But it also ignores a basic reality of cross-cultural ministry. Transcending culture with the Gospel is one of the most challenging types of ministry. How do you confront fallen thinking in a Buddhist, pluralist, secularist or Islamic culture? How do you solve the deep ethical and social conundrums faced by new believers in these contexts, possibly setting precedents for future generations of believers? These are hard questions and they demand our caution.
For these reasons I would strongly urge every missionary candidate to attend seminary. You need the basics of exegesis, systematic theology, practical theology and life shaping that every seminarian seeks. But I would also urge missionaries to seek cross-cultural training. A three-month intensive program should be the minimum. Ideally, it would be excellent to take a one-year Master of Arts type of program.
2. If YOU could ask another missionary a question, what would YOU ask them?
With so many opportunities and open doors for critical ministries, how do I make strategic decisions on what to do? How do I balance my limited time and protecting my family with the reality that there is so much to do?
3. How are you or your team using your unique gifts to reach people with the Gospel and disciple them?
The Lord gave me the privilege of doing advanced seminary training and has given me a love for teaching. Now I minister in a Bible college with three other men that hold doctorate degrees in Bible. We train about ninety students a semester for the ministry and hold regular block classes for pastors across the Philippines.
How does this fulfill a unique need? The last century of American evangelicalism brought an amazing multiplication of educational and training riches. We have far more books than we can read, multiple excellent commentaries on every book of the Bible, endless free online courses and resources, and men with earned PhDs that hardly use them. In short, we have a surplus.
When you leave the US, particularly for the majority (developing) world, everything changes. Exchange surplus for famine. In place of the casualness that comes from having more than we can possibly use, you find a deep hunger for truth. People are ready and willing to make great personal sacrifices in order to learn, then immediate apply these lessons in their ministries. I view my role as transferring a small part of the surplus to places where it will be deeply valued.
Believers in North America should hardly accept defeat. But missiologists are nearly univocal in affirming that the growth of the church is coming from the Global South—the majority and developing world, particularly in Africa and South East Asia. These men and women can teach us many lessons about sacrifice, diligence, and ministry that is genuinely driven by a passion for truth. But if there's something we can help them with, it's solid grounding in exegesis and theology. Our generation has a unique opportunity to contribute to a great work of God that is dawning in our day.
4. If you were to meet a young person who said they wanted to be a missionary, what advice would you give them?
Learn to be flexible. I wouldn't say lower your expectations in life, but I would say learn to broaden them. Eliminate things that you feel like you "have to have" and learn to enjoy lots of ways to live. Take a trip to the developing world and learn to accept people as they are, finding real joy in the differences and learning from them. Read and get training in cross-cultural interaction.
Forrest McPhail, missionary in Cambodia
We continue our series from last week - this time, Forrest McPhail, a missionary from Cambodia, will answer some more questions that students submitted.
1. Name a time when God saved your life. What was your closest near-death experience?
There were two similar occasions when God spared my life through miraculous means while I was driving my moped long-distance to village Bibles studies. In both cases, I was driving down the highway in Cambodia heading for home.
The first time, I was in my lane driving normally, fast because of the highway. Ahead of me, a city bus came barreling towards me, passing a vehicle in his lane, which would certainly shove me off the road. Steep drops into rice fields were on both sides and there was no time to stop and jump off. Right as the bus and would have hit me, I swerved off the highway onto a built-up patch of dirt that just happened to be at that exact spot, just enough to keep me from crashing below.
Another time, I was passing a parked semi-truck in my lane, as I began to pass, again going highway speed, a pickup truck suddenly came flying up a steep dirt road from the left, swinging on to the road coming towards me to pin me against the parked semi. I closed my eyes, holding on. I opened them to find I was passed the two trucks. There was no room for such a deliverance. It had to be God.
2. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
I have eaten dog, frogs, rat, egret, water buffalo, fire ants and eggs, python, miniature deer, wild boar, jungle turtle, etc. But the worst was when a Cambodian farmer challenged me to eat his dish: jungle stir fry. It contained chopped up cow intestine and jungle weeds. He dared me to eat it and then stood there to watch. I ate it, praying all the way—and had seconds!
3. What would you or your family most appreciate in a care package?
Back when we first went in 2000, there were lots of things a person might send from the USA that would be special. Since then, Cambodian has rapidly developed and tourist has exploded, resulting in many import stores with American goods. At one point we received a care package that contained a bunch of Little Debbies. Believe it or not, it made us quite emotional!
Beyond food items, some favorites we have received in the past have included things that people have made reminding us of their prayers: personalized coffee mugs with signatures of those praying; kitchen cloth items with names of people praying; prayer lists taken from our prayer letters that had been prayed through and signed by those in a church that prayed through that list, etc.
4. If you could change one thing about how you got to the mission field or what you’ve done on the mission field, what would it be?
God has been thoroughly gracious in all things. We have been given strength and provision for every step of the way, in all circumstances. We are most blessed and grateful to God for our privilege to serve Him in Cambodia.
Our first six years on the field were largely taken up with the passion of our hearts: language and culture acquisition, evangelism, and church planting. The Lord slowed me down by allowing me to be afflicted with post-viral syndrome/fibromyalgia which greatly challenged my ability to minister. In the ten years since, we have been in a continual state of prayer regarding how best to serve Christ and be useful in the advance of the church on this pioneer field. I have often struggled with lack of physical and mental energy to do the types of ministry that we went to Cambodia to do. My passion was for aggressive evangelism and disciple making, especially in the villages where Christ was not named.
God provided many opportunities for that type of ministry, but on a much different scale than we desired. He did, however, give us opportunity to participate in and encourage church planting in Cambodia in ways that we could not have foreseen.
The lesson learned? It took far too long to accept the limitations that God had given and plan ministry accordingly. I had almost idolized a kind or style of ministry that I was no longer able to perform. I had to find contentment in my Captain’s plan and seek opportunities to serve Him faithfully within it.
We do not know how the Lord will work through us His individual servants, or how He will guide us over time to do the work for which He has called us. The key is to humble ourselves, go, fulfill our ministries, and allow ourselves to be led by our Lord one step at a time. We are, each one of us, but one very small part in the greater work that Jesus is doing through His people to build His church. He is in control of each small part. He will make no mistakes.
5. What methods are you using to make opportunities to meet unbelievers and develop relationships with them?
Missionaries have widely differing means of meeting unbelievers and developing relationships depending upon the culture they serve in, their own personal gifts and talents, and the political situation. For us, we have enjoyed a very open and friendly Cambodian culture, religious freedom, and relative ease maintaining visas. What this means for us is that we have enjoyed greater latitude when it comes to public witness and evangelism.
We have: sold Christian books in a city market, rented a market stall; held children’s and youth activities; put our children in the public school; done street preaching; went door-to-door with tracts that we have written in order to introduce ourselves; had Christmas parties; had short-term English activities; accepted the many invitations to weddings (they love inviting foreigners!); attended local funerals (as all neighbors would); sought opportunities for talking to men over noodles or coffee; held evangelistic meetings at a modest local coffee and noodle shop; took advantage of all conversations in the community and visited with neighbors regularly.
PK, Missionary in Asia
We’re starting a new series on the CGO Blog – we call it, “Ask a Missionary.” We’ve polled our student body, asking what questions they’ve always wanted to ask a missionary. We then sent those questions on to some missionary friends of ours. Our first one comes from a missionary to Asia. Enjoy!
1. How many countries have you been in?
We have only LIVED and served in two. We started a house church training school in the mountains outside of Manila, Philippines. We then moved to Beijing. I did some of my training there in the city and also traveled to others towns to teach.
2. How did God lead you to where you are now?
God promises that if you run hard after Him and submit to Him, then He “WILL direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). It is really that simple. We have seen His hand directly every time in an unmistakable way. The “keeping us from going” was done through medical complications with our oldest that kept us in the states for 15 years. Our involvement in the house church training fell in our laps as I was asked to do one block class that showed me a ministry that fit me well and had great need. Our move from training Chinese pastors in the Philippines to going into China was a series of events and relationships that showed us we would be more help to the church IN country than out. But in every case, we were content in Christ and His will and He made it clear that we had a change. Each time that clarity was brought in a unique and unforeseen way. He is faithful to lead if you are faithful to chase after Him with all your heart.
3. What are the most common ways that you have met the people who have been saved and disciple through your ministry?
Dealing with the house church means that you meet and minister in a more unique way. God really opened doors for us through the training I did of house church pastors who were brought to our school in the Philippines. As we lived with those men for six months at a time, we developed very close friendships. God used these relationships to open far more doors than we could ever go through once we arrived in country. It was exciting to see the sovereign hand of God open doors that we had no idea we would need or in ways we would never think of.
4. What’s your advice for raising a family on the mission field?
A lot would probably depend on where you are. Ultimately the key to raising a family ANYWHERE is to genuinely be like Christ in the home. Love the kids. Love your spouse. Love the Lord. Love the church. Love the Word. LIVE IT. That is the key to any family. The practical issues will fall into place depending on where you are - wise friendships, good church, family outings, etc.
5. What was your biggest challenge on the mission field?
For us it was the isolation and the constant pressure to keep on guard with what we said. It was like leading a double life. You had to evaluate EVERY person you talked to and keep your two different stories straight. To the unbelievers, I was Dr. ______, the professor in the Ph.D. department of THE Communist party university of China (anyone who knows me rolls their eyes at that thought). To believers, I was “teacher Li” or “brother Li.” So from the time you wake up till the time you go to bed, you are in constant filter mode. Everything I say can be listened to. Everything I do can be watched. Every time I go to train we could be caught by the police. Every knock on the door could be a problem. It is a hard way to live, but you just have to keep mentally alert and spiritually resting in God’s sovereignty.
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.