Lea Ann Wright, iFace Staff
Lea Ann is a staff of InterFace Ministries, an organization that seeks to serve international students in the US. She has interacted with and ministered to many international students from all over the world right here in Greenville, SC.
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:26-27, NIV)
Through increased mobility and technology, the world is getting “smaller.” Today, you can learn and experience the joy of cross-cultural friendship right where you are! God is calling once again to His people, “Whom will I send, and who will go for me?” Who will reach out across culture and language to love these neighbors on your campus, in your community, and at your job? Sometimes the hardest part is just knowing how to start. Here are some simple tips for building a cross-cultural friendship.
International students leave everything familiar; for some, it will be the first time in their lives they have been away from their family, friends, the comfort of knowing their community & culture, food, and language. It is an exciting time of their lives but also one with stress and fear. Culture shock, homesickness, and the challenges of studying in English often create a crisis point. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to demonstrate the love of Jesus through friendship, Biblical hospitality, and practical service. Having a caring, Christian friend to help them through these difficulties can create a life-long impression and is a great way for them to experience the living Christ at a point of deep need.
Have open eyes to see the internationals that God has placed around you—dorm, classes, student center, cafeteria, library, etc. Then smile and say hello! Your smile will go a long way to helping them feel welcomed. Introduce yourself and ask them how they are doing. Express your interest in learning more about them. Understand that English will probably not be their first language, so speak clearly and more slowly. Your patience and a smile will be encouraging when communication is difficult. Exchange contact information (cell #, email, WhatsApp, etc.) and follow up! Invite them to meet for coffee, have a meal, or join your study group.
Build a bridge across the Cultural Gap.
Learn to appreciate new cultures and ways of life. What are some things from their culture you can learn about or experience? As you show a genuine interest in what is foreign to yourself, you will begin to realize that there are many ways to bridge the gap: learn their real name and a few words in their language. Take them to a restaurant where their home food is served and expose your taste buds to various dishes. Eat the way they eat (learn how to use chopsticks!). Invite them over to your place and cook with them. More than anything else, ask lots of questions. Have fun and enjoy the fellowship!
As you expose yourself to what you are not used to, help them to do the same—invite them to experience the American culture. Take them to places with your friends. Maybe they have never been to Cookout or Taco Bell. Teach them new words and games. Do you know that many of them might have never played a boardgame before? Explain the differences when discussing a topic, because some things we talk about in the US might not be as popular in other countries as other things. As you continue to build friendships, why not invite them over to your home during holidays? You would be surprised to find out that Thanksgiving and Christmas are not that big of a deal in other parts of the world.
Through the Friendship Partner program, we (iFace) were able to connect many people together. A Muslim international student told me this:
“When I heard you speak about the Friendship Partner program, I thought, ‘Yes, I need someone to help me find my way around this new campus and city—someone who can help me understand these American phrases that I keep hearing people use, and someone to help me understand this new culture which is so very different than mine.’ But what I didn’t realize is that I would be meeting someone who would become my best friend. We have shared so many experiences and had so many talks about the things that really matter. I am graduating and moving away, but I will always take her with me in my heart. We are friends forever.”
Could God be calling you to join Him in befriending the international students on your campus or in the Greenville community? In her book Crossing Cultures with Jesus: Sharing the Good News with Sensitivity and Grace, Katie Rawson says that she believes, as in the book of Isaiah, God is asking us: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us (Isaiah 6:8)?” (pg. 12). She says that by following the incarnational model of Jesus as we listen to and depend on Him, we are enabled by the Spirit to make sharing our faith a normal part of living in union with Christ. (pg. 14).
Jesus said that they will know you are my disciples by your love. An atheist international student said, “I’ve been in the U.S. for nearly two months. What impressed me most is these Christian friends. I can strongly feel their love for other people. I am not religious, but I am moved by these friendly guys who love people from the bottom of their hearts.”
By God’s grace, will you reach out to internationals around you?
It has been a joyful adventure making friends from around the world serving with iFace. If you are interested in learning more or serving with iFace, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Forrest McPhail, BJU Alumnus
Let’s talk about some more misunderstandings that affect our view of poverty.
Who is our paradigm for cross-cultural missions—Jesus or Paul?
Some see Jesus as the ultimate example of how to fulfill the Great Commission. Others argue that Paul is the primary example. Does it matter?
While the Son of God made flesh is our perfect example of righteousness, His ministry lifestyle is not the paradigm for cross-cultural missionaries in the Church Age. Jesus never left Israel and focused on the Jews. His teaching ministry was attended continually with signs and miracles. Before His death and resurrection, He chose and trained men whom He would later commission with the task of making disciples among all nations.
The Holy Spirit was poured out in Acts 2. After this, and on through the rest of the NT, we see the first sixty years of the Great Commission. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is our God-given example of a cross-cultural servant of the Gospel. The nature of Jesus’s earthly ministry and the unfolding of biblical revelation naturally lead us to consider Paul and his co-laborers for a model of how to “do missions.”
There is no conflict between the ministries of Jesus and Paul. Jesus and Paul ministered under different circumstances for different purposes.
A Closer Look at Poverty: What is it? What is the church to do about it?
A casual look at most missions literature today would reveal that many professed Christians believe that relieving world poverty and helping people achieve a higher standard of living is central to the task of the Church. The vast number of aid organizations, many with Christian roots, exist to promote upward mobility, economic development, and justice in foreign governments. The lion’s share of resources used towards “mission” are used for these purposes.
A simple question that is often left unasked is, what is poverty? When the Bible speaks of poverty, it is not describing people on government support, people with less, those in less developed contexts, or those unable to achieve middle class economic status. Those who are poor in Scripture are those that who do not have clothing, food, or shelter. They are people that cannot survive without emergency aid given to them by others. Search the Scriptures, and you will see that this is so.
What places and circumstances require such aid in today’s world? Those in refugee camps, in war zones, and suffering from recent devastating natural disasters are the kinds of people that need our attention. There are also individuals in our lives that we may meet in real need and genuine poverty.
The love of God commands us to reach out and help those around us. Righteousness means mercy and compassion. Yes, as individuals, we must be generous.
Missionaries today are not bound by Scripture to double as social justice agents or charity organization professionals. These means may be necessary at times, and may even meet a timely need, but these are the exception, not the rule.
Factor #7 A consistent spiritual focus of ministry can be difficult to maintain.
Keeping the Gospel clear among the poor
We can obscure the focus of ministry when we sweeten the call for repentance and faith with any material benefit for those that answer. Many among the world’s relatively poor profess Christianity in order to get a better deal in this life. Some of that is just human nature—being sinners, none of us desire the truth of the Gospel apart from saving grace. However, when aid work and charity programs are combined with evangelism, often the result around the world is large numbers of public professions with little enduring fruit.
If we are to use compassion ministries in conjunction with cross-cultural ministry, it must be done in a way that guards the Gospel and discourages false faith. Too often our love for visible success and desire for eternal fruit through our short-term efforts clouds our minds from reality. Those cross-cultural laborers who know the language and culture are best equipped to understand how best to use aid in ways that encourage true faith. Methods that confuse the hearers or encourage them to false faith are unworthy means for giving the Gospel message.
The Local Church: guarding spiritual relationships amid relative poverty
We can blur the focus of our ministry when we are confused about our role. Church planters/disciple-makers in the New Testament were not aid organization managers who wielded power and influence through their funding from overseas. Nor were they employers of those that they led to Christ. They were servants of the Gospel whose primary identity was that of being teachers of the Word of God. They were either financially independent of those with whom they served, as Paul, or dependent upon those they served, as Peter. There are no examples in the NT of church planters or spiritual leaders acting as financial patrons of the people that they served.
The norm for pastors in Scripture is that local congregations help provide for their pastors materially as he provides for them spiritually. This is true for cross-cultural laborers and traveling evangelists in the NT as well. But what has happened in modern times among cross-cultural missionaries is that they are not merely independently supported as Paul was (by his own hands and by love offerings), but they also become financial patrons to those whom they serve.
What happens when spiritual leaders become financial patrons, and believers they lead become their clients? People follow their leader because of the authority, status and power that he/she wields because of financial influence. The people do not give generously and fulfill their ministries apart from their patron’s immediate support. The people do not learn to support their own pastors as commanded by God. Servant leadership is almost impossible.
The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
This one thing can sharpen the focus of our ministry: the only thing required of God’s people in any given place to fulfill the Great Commission is to proclaim the Gospel through the enabling power of the Spirit. If we teach or exemplify through our ministry methodology that anything else is necessary to accomplish the task of making disciples, we render most Christians in this world incapable of obeying Christ!
Many cross-cultural missionaries lack faith in the power of God’s Spirit. They trust instead in a plethora of programs, buildings, and social aid. The national believers assume that if they too want to serve Christ and plant churches, they will need massive capital in order to do the same! The more complicated and expensive our methods on the field, the more we handicap the faith of the people we are striving to teach to obey Christ. The more simple our methods, the more reproducible they are, which encourages the faith of the people. Methods matter profoundly because of what they communicate about our faith in the power of God’s Spirit.
Factor #8 Changing times can obscure unchanging needs.
Avoid getting sidetracked from a primary need
Compassion ministries have their place and are current expressions of God’s love and mercy. People in this generation are far more interested in these types of ministries than past generations were, and that is just fine. But who fulfills these ministries, how they do so, when, and how these affect local bodies of believers on the field need to be grappled with. Compassion ministries must not be allowed to distract God’s people from the primary need of making disciples.
The 1 Corinthians 9 principle
Cross-cultural missionaries who are willing to labor for the Lord Jesus on pioneer fields must embrace the 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 principle: “I must be all things to all men with all discipline of body and spirit that I might win some.” This spirit is contrary to the spirit of our day.
Men and women are needed who are committed to labor for the Gospel who possess the spirit of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9. These will lay down their personal rights and embrace a life of discipline for Jesus’ sake. They will not insist on privileges or comforts. They will sacrifice and do hard things like conquer languages and understand and adapt to other cultures in order to preach Christ.
Missionaries may have to be creative and tolerate extra pressures in order to live where Christ is not named. They might have to be bi-vocational. They might have to endure the continual strain of imminent expulsion or imprisonment. But they will do this out of love for Jesus Christ. They will discipline their bodies and spirits by God’s grace and pursue His glory among the nations.
A return to biblical priorities and simplicity in cross-cultural missions would clarify the Gospel, empower believers for ministry, free up resources, promote reproducible methods of evangelism and training, and, above all, bring more glory to Jesus Christ whose name we proclaim.
Meet the challenges and share in the blessings!
Forrest McPhail, BJU Alumnus
Making disciples cross-culturally is a tremendous privilege, one that requires serious commitment and focus. What we are considering in these posts is no mere academic exercise.
Last time we covered 2 of 8 factors that contribute to the challenges faced by most cross-cultural missionaries, especially those laboring in more pioneer contexts. Here are a few more:
Factor #3 Intense discipleship requires dealing with sin
First generation Believers
Most converts in a pioneer setting will be first generation believers. Understanding and believing the Gospel message is the first major step. Following that, all believers in Jesus Christ are on the path of “renewing our minds” so that our lives can increasingly reflect our Creator (Eph. 4:20-24). Most of the young believers we are teaching have just begun to walk on the road of the knowledge of God. There is a huge difference between them and those who come to faith with a Christian background. Everything about the Christian life and the local church is new and foreign. It is radical to them. The Christian conscience must be built with the help of the Word and the Holy Spirit. The missionary needs much love and patience as he shepherds.
Obviously, one important aspect of discipleship is helping believers understand God’s commands in order to make decisions that please Jesus Christ. We must believe that the Holy Spirit will help them apply the Gospel to their culture. Only in this way can missionaries equip the believers to serve God effectively. It takes time. There are no shortcuts.
This means we must rely upon the believers to apply Scripture to the many events of life. Weddings, funerals, house-warming parties, baby dedications—all provide excellent opportunities for exercising discernment. We must enable them to apply Scripture to how they interact with the many religious and community events that are going on around them. This is discipleship.
Loving Church Discipline
In church planting, it is crucial that loving church discipline be understood and implemented when necessary, from the beginning of the ministry. The NT everywhere demands that God’s people “perform deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:16-21). Church discipline is an essential doctrine of church life that helps to clarify the Gospel.
Should we put off the exercise of church discipline until the church is mature? Absolutely not, for God commands church discipline to be lovingly administered. It has everything to do with laying a solid foundation of the Gospel. Where loving church discipline is not understood and applied, the foundation of the Gospel quickly erodes.
One of the purposes of church discipline is to emphasize community, unity, and the family identity of members of the local church. This is something that missionaries must think through carefully before heading to the field.
Factor #4: Believers face profound isolation and persecution
In the countries where the most unreached peoples live today, religion is integrated into society at an intense level. This would be true for many Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and even some Catholic cultures. When a believer in Jesus Christ repents and turns to God from idols to serve the Living and True God, he/she is often choosing to become largely isolated from the community.
Because religion is so pervasive and integrated into community events, there are many things that the new believer now cannot participate in while being faithful to Jesus Christ. In these contexts, it is important to teach God’s people how to involve themselves in the community and show the love of Christ in every way that they can, both for their own sake as well as for their testimony.
Persecution is usually in addition to social isolation. Cross-cultural missionaries serving in places where persecution is more common and severe need to have a thoroughly biblical theology of suffering and persecution (1 Peter). In order to reach people in these contexts, we need to be willing and ready to suffer as well.
Factor #5: Maintaining New Testament simplicity is crucial for church life.
Once baptized, how are believers to function as a local church? What is the cross-cultural missionary to “plant”? The early church provides us with the “ecclesiastical minimum” (J.D. Payne), activities that provide the basic foundation for local church life and ministry.
What are those basic local church community activities that are essential and non-negotiable for new believers? Acts 2:42 gives to us four main activities that occupied the spiritual life of the newly founded church in Jerusalem. I like to refer to these as the Four Pillars of the Local Church. These activities are exemplified throughout Acts and the Epistles. These can be duplicated anywhere that the church can be found in the world, regardless of circumstances:
If these four activities are taught and followed, that local body of believers is giving glory to its Savior. Such local churches will pursue the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Such bodies of believers will mature and take on new aspects of body life and ministry that are appropriate to their context later. Our role as church planters, as disciple-makers, is to teach new believers to understand these four activities as foundational body life in Christ.
When missionaries go beyond this NT simplicity and demand that young churches act like mature churches back home, often their efforts are premature and result in serious dependence upon the foreign missionary.
Factor #6: Misapplications of Bible Truth regarding poverty abound.
How we understand the matter of social justice and how it relates to the Church of Jesus Christ will affect how we perceive ourselves as His cross-cultural servants. It will affect what we think our role is on the field when our host culture is relatively poor. It will guide how we teach the local church to be a light in the world. It is important that we understand poverty biblically, as well as what the Gospel messenger’s responsibilities are regarding poverty.
The Priority of Apostolic Example: How Binding is it? Does it matter?
Apostolic example is what we find the apostles and early church doing as we read Acts and onward through Revelation. Apostolic example includes both what the Gospel laborers did, as well as what they did not do. God’s Spirit recorded for us much from the first sixty years of the Church. What is recorded is significant. It provides for us a methodology for how to obey Jesus Christ by fulfilling the Great Commission.
The apostles were clearly righteous men who were personally full of good works and advocated that God’s people do the same. However, their good works were entirely limited to their personal generosity except for the case of raising funds for the church in Jerusalem. In that case, severe persecution, famine, and a serious need to display unity between Gentiles and Jews were the reasons for the collection. They did not set out to develop foreign countries, relieve world poverty, or live by a holistic paradigm of mission. This much is clear.
Kingdom confusion: What is the Gospel of the Kingdom?
Does the church find its role in the world by applying passages written for the nation of Israel and then applying it to the universal and local churches? Is the role of the Church to do everything we can to solve the world’s problems, particularly social justice issues? What does “preaching the kingdom” entail? Is the goal to extend kingdom influence and urge the unbelieving world to abide by God’s standards? Is making disciples to be inseparably married to social work and aid ministry? There is great confusion about this among God’s people.
The Great Commission is far simpler than many people today want to assume. The Great Commission is this: proclaim the message of the Gospel to all people for the purpose of making disciples for Jesus Christ. This simple understanding of the Great Commission is the biblical one, the one that God’s people in every circumstance and culture can obey regardless of their social privileges and material prosperity. Cross-cultural Gospel proclaimers must prepare to meet these challenges.
To be continued….
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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.