Preparing for Cross-Cultural Work

An outline on preparing for cross-cultural work, written by Jeff Boesel, Director of Mobilization for One Challenge:

I.      Spiritual Preparation

A.  Develop habits of feeding yourself spiritually. If you end up in a place where English is not the spoken language you may have little opportunity to worship in your own language so self growth is critical.

B.  Develop habits of feeding yourself spiritually. If you end up in a place where English is not the spoken language you may have little opportunity to worship in your own language so self growth is critical.

C.  De-clutter your spiritual life. In our own culture we hold onto some bad habits that usually have cultural background. Habits that we know are wrong deep down but justify. It is best to deal with these before you go than try to deal with them in the midst of cross-cultural stress.

D.  Develop a deeper sense of listening to God. Most of us are too busy to take time to listen. This is a key spiritual discipline for fund development and cross-cultural ministry.

E.  Deepen your prayer life. As with the above you will find that we often get by with minimal prayer in our US-based Christianity. We find we can do most things on our own. This will not be true in another culture. Better to develop the habit of a deeper dependence on prayer before you go.

II.     Emotional Preparation

A.  Cross-cultural ministry often requires a lot of leaving. Begin to clean up your relationships now so that the leaving process does not create baggage that is best left behind.

B.  If you are single, consider getting some counseling to help you walk through your life and deal with any issues hanging on from past hurts. Cross cultural stress tends to bring out our ugliness. Don’t go into it with any more baggage than you have to.

C.  If you are married, consider doing some marriage counseling. Not to imply that you need it in your own culture, but living cross culturally tends to strip us bare of all the coping habits we have developed to cope with that person living with us. If you have some of those it may be good to deal with them before you go. Also, improved communication between you and your spouse is critical.

D.  If you have children, prepare them for what is ahead, even if they will not be coming with you. They will be losing their home, at the least.

III.    Educational Preparation

A.  Make sure you have the education or training needed for what is ahead. This education does not have to be formal but must be usable. In other words, formal Biblical education is not required unless you are going to teach at seminary or something, but the proper application of the Word to life and ministry is critical so a working understanding of scripture is necessary.

B.  Many times getting a usable visa is dependent on having the proper certificate to do what you say you will be doing.

IV.    Experiential Preparation

A.  Work Experience:  It always helps to bring something to the “game” in the way of skills. Don’t think job title; think what skills it takes to accomplish what you have done. Often God uses those skills in different ways for his Kingdom.

B.  Ministry Experience:  The absolute best preparation for cross-cultural ministry is ministry within your own culture.

1.  Mono-cultural experience has value so get involved in your local church ministry or with para-church organizations in your area working in areas of interest.

2. Cross-cultural experience is certainly available in all of our local experiences. The world is literally at our door. You have to look no further than the closest university or ethnic body of believers.

3. Short Term missions experiences are a great intro to what life and ministry are like if approached with that goal in mind. Let me say here though that longer term missionary life is more like your current “day to day” than it is like any short term “busy every second” experience.

V.     Physical Preparation

A. If you haven’t done so recently, get a full physical. Cross-cultural living adds significant stress to your body. Also, nearly every mission agency will want some kind of medical report as part of the entrance process.

B. Focus some on your physical conditioning just as you should spend time focusing on your spiritual conditioning. A missionary who is constantly dealing with physical issues due to lack of care is hindered in how God can use them. I am
not referring to disabilities that God may have allowed in our lives to help us rely on him. Things from God push us to him. I am talking about problems of our own making…neglect in caring for the body God has given us.

VI.    Practical Preparation

A. Make sure that the leadership of your home church knows of your consideration of these steps. They need to be your greatest support and guide through the process. You will be an extension of their ministry wherever you go…at least, that is how you want it to be, it they are open to considering that.

B. De-clutter – so many of us, especially in the United States, have way more stuff than we really need. I remember when we first when to Guatemala we had stuff stored in our attic and in the barn of a supporter friend. Some of it was sentimental
stuff we still have but when got back we threw most of it away. Why didn’t we just do that initially? Shrink your physical footprint, so to speak.

C. Learn to live more simply. Missionary work is not the career you should be pursuing if you want to be comfortable by US standards. Most agencies try to provide adequate funding so that you live at a middle class level for the area you are
in. However, that may be well below where you live now. Also, our “extravagance” can be a deterrent to our witness…though we wouldn’t consider it extravagance in our own culture. I am not recommending that you “become” a national. You can’t. As a Guatemalan once told us, “Your mother’s not Guatemalan.” Strive to be an accepted and, if possible a respected, outsider to the culture.

D. If you have a sense for where God may be leading you, begin to acclimate yourself to that culture and language by developing relationships with people of that culture within your local area. This may take some research, but that too is
good preparation for what is ahead. Though there may be value in language learning programs, I would more strongly recommend a relational learning approach. Learning vocabulary and grammar is not learning a language. Knowing how those words and grammar are used in any given situation is. Proper language learning cannot happen apart from cultural learning.

E. If you are a meat and potatoes kind of person, you might want to consider expanding your palate.

VII.   God’s Will

A. Do a study of Nehemiah to gain a better understanding of recognizing and following God’s will.

B. As I mentioned earlier, practice the art of listening in prayer.

C. Practice a life of obedience to God’s leading. Many of us have little in our lives that force us to depend on God’s leading. Our lives are pretty much laid out in front of us. Missionary life is certainly not that way. Push yourself out of
your spiritual comfort zone.

D. Begin praying for the nations. A systematic way is usually best, like using Operation World, or a similar guide, to lead you through various people groups. God often plucks our heart-strings as we pray.

E. Take the Perspectives course, if you haven’t already. If you have, and you have time, volunteer to help put the next class
on in your area.

VIII. Finding an Agency: This requires an entire paper on its own, but just a couple of comments here.

A. Finding an agency takes some time. I usually recommend that people start the search process 2-3 years before they envision themselves living somewhere else.

B. Focus on the philosophy and strategy of ministry, the values and how money is handled within any agency you are considering.

C. Seek God’s peace over the lowest financial support requirement!

IX.    Entrance Process and Training

A. The entrance process into agencies takes time and so does the training they require. Once again, a 2-3 year window is a good starting point.

B. Don’t quit your “day job” until you have enough support raised for your agency to pay you a salary…or until God tells you to, whether it makes sense or not. Obedience is always preferable to the Jonah approach.

C. Practice being a “learner” no matter how learned you already are. You are beginning a path that very few have taken ahead of you. But those who have, in general, know the path ahead better than you…no matter how crazy some of their advice may sound.

X.     Finding Funding

A. This is a future project but anyone considering missionary service should give some thought to fund development
before jumping in.

B. Make a list, hopefully on a spreadsheet that can be transferred easily if and when needed, of anyone and everyone you think will want to know you are taking these steps. Then divide them into three groups. Identify the core. These are the
people who are very close to you and walk along with you now…praying for you and caring for you. Get them involved with your process as soon as you can. Have them seeking God’s direction with you. The second group is made up of people you think may want to be part of your financial support team. The third group is comprised of everyone else you want to know you are doing this. They may or may not partner with you in some way but you have a relationship of some kind.

C. Make a list of churches within which you have had ministry. If you have never been involved in local church ministry, begin right there. Get involved!

D. Begin supporting missionaries individually, if you are not already. If you are, get to know them better and ask them about how God provided for them financially. Be the kind of supporter that you want your future supporters to be!

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