Matthew Bohin, Assistant Pastor of Adirondack Baptist Church (Adirondack, NY)
Football and Flat Tires
I am a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan. Autographed cards of my favorite players? Check. Jerseys of the greats like Brian Dawkins and Nick Foles? Check. Eagles mugs, cups, socks, ties, and Christmas ornaments? Check. Attendance at a Philadelphia Eagles football game? You bet.
In fact, the first time I ever went to a game was early on in my high school years. I grew up in Massachusetts, so my first ever game was watching the Eagles play the New England Patriots near Boston. I was excited. Although it was only preseason, I was looking forward to seeing my favorite players in person. I wanted to be at the field, see them score touchdowns, hear the crowd, and experience my first NFL game in person. Needless to say, there was high anticipation. So with my Eagles jersey on I hopped in the car with my grandpa and headed down the road.
As we traveled, my anticipation built. But just as we were less than an hour away from the stadium, I looked out the passenger side mirror and saw our back tire shredding. It was flat—so flat that it was riding on the rim and beginning to tear. We pulled over and assessed the damage. There was no doubt: it was a flat tire.
At this point, I could have done two things. I could have given up, or I could have allowed my anticipation to drive me to fix the flat. And that's exactly what happened. We worked rapidly to fix the tire and get to the game before kickoff.
My excitement for the football game drove me to work precisely and diligently to assure we'd arrive on time. My anticipation fueled my work.
Why do I relate this story on a blog about ministry?
I currently serve as the Assistant Pastor at Adirondack Baptist Church in Gloversville, New York. I have the privilege of working with a number of ministries at church: children, teens, young adults, counseling, and administration. However, I would be unfit for the various roles God has given me without the diligent time of preparation behind me.
What preparation you ask? Well, I've been in your shoes before.
I spent eight years at BJU earning my Bachelor's degree in Bible, Master of Arts in Theological Studies, and finally my Master of Divinity. God gave me the chance to serve him through two church internships and three summers as a camp counselor. I also had the experience of working in the residence halls at BJU for a number of years.
I never dreamed I'd be at BJU for THAT long! But, those experiences prepared me to pastor in my present role.
Your preparation now lays a foundation for your anticipated future ministry. But, your anticipated future ministry must also provide the fuel for engaging in diligent preparation in the present. When you are in the throes of your studies now, are you motivated by your future ministry?
Many students today engaged in college or seminary studies disconnect their dreams for future ministry from their present work of preparation.
In the six years I spent working in the residence halls at BJU, it saddened me to see students wasting the time God allotted for their education on other pursuits. Now, recreation in and of itself is not bad. Video games, sports, entertainment, or other avenues of rest are not wrong. But many times, students in educational settings justify inordinate times of rest at the expense of their education.
Students would spend hours watching YouTube videos while failing to spend hours studying for their doctrines tests.
Ministry majors would claim that it's the "easiest" degree while failing to pour their time into their papers and projects.
Residence hall men would spend their weekends out enjoying the community while neglecting to serve in their local churches.
Why? Why do we expect laziness in our ministry preparation to produce fruit in our ministry futures?
Let me argue that we are lazy in our preparedness because we fail to connect our studies with serving our future congregations.
Just like the desire to see my beloved Philadelphia Eagles inspired my hard work to get me to the game, you must develop a desire to serve your future people in order to inspire your current studies.
You aren't just studying for yourself—you are studying for blood bought souls. You aren't just preparing for the next educational step—you are preparing for a ministry sanctioned and overseen by the Lord. You aren't just waiting for your future to happen where you'll be a good shepherd, missionary, church planter, or bi-vocational worker—you are shaping your future now.
Your Future Is Caring for Blood-Bought Souls.
I'm assuming if you're reading this, you're preparing for some form of ministry whether as a pastor, missionary, or some non-traditional form of ministry. Your studies are preparing you now for service to blood-bought souls.
In addressing the Ephesian elders, Paul says, "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood" (Acts 20:28, ESV).
Jesus cares for his church—the people to whom you are preparing to minister. Every test you take, every research paper you write, every project you submit, or every lecture you attend is not just for your own edification but for the benefit of those Jesus purchased with his cross-shed blood.
Every time you put off an assignment, prioritize unnecessary rest (i.e. laziness), or neglect a project altogether you are doing a disservice to those for whom Christ died. If Christ could give his life for souls, can you not give five hours of study for a class paper?
One thing that helped me as I went through my coursework at BJU was keeping in mind the people to whom I'd be ministering. I now know who they are: citizens of Fulton and Montgomery County in upstate New York who attend Adirondack Baptist Church in the city of Gloversville. Although you do not know where God will lead following your studies, keep these unknown people in mind. When you candidate at a church, enter the mission field, or begin at an organization, you can go to them with the knowledge that you studied, prepared, and learned for them.
Your Future Is a God-Watched Ministry.
But your preparation is not only one for blood-bought souls. Your preparation is for a future of God-watched and God-ordained ministry. Paul urges Timothy, "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word" (2 Timothy 4:1-2, ESV).
The time you spend now in your studies, courses, lectures, and homework is preparing you to minister in the presence of God.
Since becoming a pastor, God has constantly brought this verse to my attention. My ministry is not ultimately about people but about God. He will evaluate my work as a pastor. He is the one to whom I answer.
So what does this truth have to do with preparation for ministry? Your ministry preparation is providing you the tools to serve God well. It sharpens you. Those papers and long reading assignments strengthen you to stand before God as the best servant you can be.
If you were a knight in medieval times, you would want to appear before your king or lord with the best armor, best weapons, and best skills. Why? Because you want your lord protected, defended, and pleased.
Your preparation for ministry at BJU or any other school gives you tools to do the work of your Lord well.
Your Present Is a Reflection of Your Future.
One last thought.
As you prepare, you truly are becoming the person you will be. The same habits you form in college now are the same habits you'll take with you to the pulpit, mission field, counseling room, or job. Practically speaking, the same diligence, perseverance, or studiousness you show now will show when preparing for sermons, counseling sessions, or missionary outreach in the future. The same laziness, carelessness, or lethargy you show now will show when preparing for sermons, counseling sessions, or ministry outreach in the future.
Are You Excited for the Football Game?
As we approached the Eagles game, I was glad we worked hard to fix the flat tire. I was excited to go see my team play in person!
Do you approach your studies with the same effort I used to fix our flat tire that day? You have a great ministry ahead of you; are you preparing like it? Do you serve your future congregation or counselees now by the time you put into your work here at BJU?
By God's sovereign grace, you will have the privilege of serving souls in the future! Study, prepare, and expend yourself in light of that future reality.
Matt Jones, Missionary to Thailand
In the last CGO article, we spent 1354 words illustrating the reality that when you interact with missionary kids on campus at BJU, it’s pretty common for their insides to not match their outsides. MKs have spent a lifetime on the mission field learning what’s “normal, expected, and appropriate behavior” while kids growing up in the States have spent their lifetime learning how to operate within the cultural norms and boundaries of American society.
Those of you who have traveled outside the U.S. for missions trips or family vacations understand clearly that American culture emphasizes customs, traditions and values that are very different than even neighboring countries like Canada and Mexico. When MKs spend their developmental years outside the boundaries of the continental U.S., the way they approach life will naturally be quite similar to the way people in their host country approach life.
When you see a new international student from Haiti staring wide-eyed at all the choices on the Chick-fil-a menu in the Den, don’t get impatient if they have to take a few extra seconds to order. Similarly, don’t think it’s all that unusual when you see a group of Chinese students grilling bacon and cooking noodles in a hot pot at the gazebo. You might not like the smell of kimchee, but you can tell Korean students love their fermented cabbage. For them, it’s one of the few reminders of “home” and a life they’ve left behind.
So why is it so easy to give grace and be patient when international students on campus at BJU do things that are “different” or “out of place”? Simple answer: Their outsides match their insides. You don’t (or shouldn’t) expect them to know what you know. You don’t (or shouldn’t) expect them to act like you act. You don’t (or shouldn’t) expect them to enjoy the exact same things that you enjoy. When you see them, the differences in their appearance or accent rightfully elicits a sense of compassion and understanding because you realize their background and culture are very different than yours. You understand that they don’t understand all you understand, and you understand that you don’t understand all that they understand.
Simply put, we don’t hold international students to the same set of cultural expectations that we do for those who grow up around us in our American culture.
**Enter missionary kids from stage left**
MKs arriving on campus probably just got off the same plane from Tokyo or Lima or Frankfurt that brought the international students to the States, but our expectations for these two groups are vastly different. When we see them unpacking their stuff in their dorm room, we don’t expect the MKs to be struggling with culture shock. We don’t expect the MKs to be craving the exotic foods they’ve eaten their whole lives which are now only available at Sirin Thai for $10 a plate. We don’t expect the MKs to be struggling to figure out how to use a credit card or pump gas at QT. On the other hand, we DO expect them to know what we know and think like we think. We DO expect them to be able to talk about baseball or American football or the NBA. We DO expect them to be able to order a triple shot dirty chai latte at Cuppa Jones or Bridge City Coffee.
Why do we expect these things? Because these are things that most American college students have been doing for years.
So, let me ask you a question: when someone doesn’t live up to your expectations, what happens to your opinion of them? When someone stands way to close to you when they’re talking, how does that make you feel? When someone pulls out in front of you in traffic after not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, what’s your reaction? Disappointment? Frustration? Anger? You EXPECTED them to stop because that’s the rule of law; but for one reason or another, they chose to not follow the norms of society. There was an expectation that they would behave in a certain way, and they failed to live up to that expectation. Have you ever considered how many cultural expectations you place on people around you without even thinking about it? We have hundreds of unspoken expectations in American society regarding things like etiquette, personal space, manners, behavior, and the way we dress.
**Enter missionary kids from stage right**
As MKs are learning to navigate and embrace the U.S. culture, it’s really easy for them to step on cultural landmines that can defy our personal expectations of behavior. Maybe in their host country, nobody EVER stops at stop signs so neither do they. Maybe in their host country, people have no concept or appreciation for personal space, so they stand a bit too close when they’re chatting with you. Maybe in their host country, liking cats isn’t considered deplorable behavior. I know—gross, right? Totally unthinkable, but it’s true that in some remote, back-woods, underdeveloped pagan corners of the world, people allow cats to coexist in their presence.
So, what can you do as a red-blooded-mono-cultural-American to help build bridges between where the MKs are coming from to where they are now as undergrad students at Bob Jones University? Good question.
Four Ways to Build Bridges with MKs on Campus
1. Be a Cultural Translator.
Take time to help MKs understand the “whys” behind the things that Americans think is normal. In conversations, double back from time to time just to make sure they are on the same page you’re on. Take time to ask them “Does that make sense?”. If you notice things that they do that are out of the ordinary that might offend some people, explain it to them. They’ll likely welcome the input.
2. Ask Them Tons of Questions.
Take time to try to understand the “whys” behind the things they think are normal. Ask lots of questions about where they grew up. Ask them about their favorite foods and favorite experiences. Ask them what they miss most about their mission field. Ask them when they’ll get to see their family again or travel back to their “home” overseas. Ask them what’s hardest about being in the States.
These types of questions might feel a bit awkward at first because we often reserve questions like these for deeper friendships or until we’ve known each other for a long time. For many reasons, most MKs LOVE to jump right into this level of conversation, so just go for it and don’t be shocked when they ask these sorts of questions about you!
3. Don’t Assume Anything.
Even when they give the impression that they’ve mastered the U.S. culture, realize that MKs are pretty good at being Cultural Chameleons. MKs have amazing skills at adapting in social settings based on who they are with, and just because they laughed at your joke, it doesn’t mean they “got” it.
Also realize that things that might seem harmless to you like touching their heads or putting your feet on their beds might be really upsetting to them.
4. Make the Effort to Find Them.
Ask them from time to time if they need help with practical stuff like getting to Walmart or the grocery store. Invite an MK to a meal once a week. Check in with them weekly and give them a safe place to just talk. Don’t worry about having the right answers or the right words to say; just listening is golden.
MKs on the BJU campus often function like Hidden Immigrants. Physically, they may not look or sound like international students, but they bring to campus a very multi-cultural background that may cause them to color outside the cultural lines of the U.S. society. Rather than interpreting this behavior as strange or antisocial, take time to reach out to them through conversations, meals, and kindness.
Working to build bridges to and from MKs on campus is a rich and rewarding endeavor that will likely create some of your best and most fulfilling lifelong friendships!
Matt Jones, Missionary to Thailand
Let’s talk about hearts. No, not metaphorically. Not figuratively. Not philosophically. I’m saying let’s talk literally about your heart. I’m referring to your squishy little grey 10-ounce organ that’s sitting about 16 inches below your eyes right now and silently working hard to keep you alive.
Consider the facts: Your heart circulates your 5.6 liters of blood through your entire body around 3 times per minute. The average child has around 60,000 miles of blood vessels inside of them, while a typical adult has about 100,000 miles of arteries, veins, and capillaries supplying every inch of your body. In one day, your blood travels nearly 12,000 miles inside of you! That is the equivalent of driving from New York City to Los Angeles and then back to New York City and then back to Los Angeles and … then back to New York city once more. All in a day.
But what happens when that blood flow is disrupted? What happens when your heart says, “I’m tired of your throwing French fries and chicken nuggets at me, and I’m tired of your spending more time on Instagram than you do on the treadmill.”? Well, if your blood flow is restricted to your heart for any reason, you have a really serious problem that needs immediate attention. Doctors refer to any condition that affects the way your heart operates as “heart disease,” and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States is heart disease.
Heart disease is a voiceless predator, and more often than not, you would never know that the person sitting across the room from you at Chick-fil-A has 90% blockage in two of his arteries. He’s smiling and enjoying his spicy chicken sandwich and waffle fries (and “Diet Coke,” of course) without any indication that anything is wrong. From the outside he looks fine, but his insides don’t match his outsides.
So, the question I assume you are asking right now is “What does any of that have to do with missionary kids on campus at BJU”? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Over the past four decades, missionaries, authors, sociologists, pastors, and mission agencies have dedicated countless hours of research and observation to try to better understand the unique challenges of growing up overseas as a missionary kid. Though it’s a bit presumptuous to make sweeping blanket statements about any group of people, there are certainly inherent hardships that come when your insides don’t really match your outsides. What do I mean by that? Well, again, good question.
All across campus, there are dozens and dozens of students who have grown up as “Third Culture Kids” which loosely means that they have grown up “between worlds.” Missionary kids, military kids, the children of international schoolteachers, and a few others fit into the TCK definition. They’ve spent some of the most important and impressionable years of their lives learning how to comfortably survive in a host country where they have learned new languages, customs, cultures, and traditions. These remote corners of the worlds aren’t exotic to them—they’re just “home.”
These kids have also lived with the constant tension that they would someday graduate from high school and would be expected to pack up everything they own and leave that “home” (mission field) to return to their “home” (passport) country. Metaphorically, they’ve had one foot in their passport country and one foot on their mission field. Most MKs would say they “partially belong” in both places at the same time, but not 100% in either place. Now those same MKs are sitting across the aisle from you in English 102. They’re down the hall from you in Georgia Creel. They’re working behind the counter at Chick-fil-A in the Den. When you look at them on the outside, you don’t really see all that’s inside them. Their insides don’t match their outsides.
While these MKs were learning to greet people with a bow or learning how to not offend people in their host culture, American kids were learning how to shake hands firmly and look people in the eye while talking to them. While the MKs were learning to eat rice, noodles, spicy curries, jamon, and churrascarias, American kids were chowing down on cheeseburgers, Lucky Charms, and Taco Bell. While MKs might have been the only foreigners in their whole town on the field, American kids were graduating from high school with kids they’ve known since kindergarten. The list goes on and on, and it’s easy to see how an MK’s insides might not match their outsides.
For those of us who grew up in America, it’s a challenge to understand this contrast. MKs look just like everyone else on your hall. MKs sound just like everyone else in your classes. MKs have ten fingers and ten toes (typically speaking) just like everyone else. So why don’t MKs act like everyone else? What makes them different from other students who grew up in America? Their insides don’t match their outsides.
While they look American on the outside, on the inside they’re a strong mixture of Brazilian, South African, Spanish, Mexican, Thai, Korean or 189 other countries! While American kids were learning about all the elements of pop culture in the U.S., MKs were learning how to fit into a completely different cultural system. This means there are some basic elements about “life in America” that we take for granted that many MKs have never experienced before. There are “do’s and don’t’s” that no one has ever explained to them, and it will take time for them to add American culture into their worldview. Their insides don’t yet match their outsides, and they need a safe space to tell their stories.
When students arrive on campus in August ready to face the grind of college life at Bob Jones University, every student is feeling the tension that comes from being away from home. The tension of leaving your close friends and family and getting to know new roommates is rough. Every student is wondering if it’s even humanly possible to live on dining common food for six months. Every student is wondering how many times they can wear the same shirt before they have to go downstairs to do laundry.
Sitting in Pathways every week equips the freshmen to face these and other on-campus challenges, but what about the extra hurdles that MKs bring with them from overseas? It seems that most mission organizations, colleges, and even families often treat the rigorous challenges of MK life—especially those associated with high mobility, transitions, and repatriation—much like heart disease: if there are no obvious problems on the surface, just ignore it. If you can’t see it, it will probably go away on its own. It can’t be all that serious if an MK’s insides don’t match their outsides, can it?
I mean, when was the last time an MK tried to burn down FMA? When was the last time an MK came unhinged and tried to graffiti the top of Rodeheaver? Aren’t most MKs just naturally “quiet” and like to be by themselves anyways? Aren’t they supposed to be “resilient” and able to handle everything that life throws at them?
Our problem is that we assume there is no real need to worry if we are not able to observe any serious symptoms. We presume that any underlying tension in MKs will just go away on its own if we wait long enough. Sometimes we make assumptions about MKs on Campus because we misinterpret their personalities and idiosyncrasies as something they’re not. Their insides don’t match their outsides, so they’re not only learning to be Bob Jones University students—they’re also trying to figure out what parts of American culture they need to know to survive!
So, what’s next? How can you help? What part can non-MK students on campus play to help build bridges with MKs? Great question. We’ll talk about that more in the next article…
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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.