When students leave their various countries to pursue studies in America, they arrive with certain beliefs. If they are Christians, more likely than not, they had experienced life with missionaries in their country, and come to America thinking (falsely so) that the church in America will be filled with people with the same mindset as the missionaries they had met. Those missionaries they had met are, for the most part, interested in the lives of the nationals, curious about their culture, wanting to understand why they do what they do, and welcome them into their homes. When they arrive in America, they quickly learn that this is not generally true of Americans, and there begins a confusing journey for them as they seek to fit into the body of Christ here. Several years ago my wife and I had some international students over to our home for a meal and they told us that was their first visit in an American home in their two years of stay in the US. I was shocked but that is the fact. I have heard the same from many more international students. My aim here is to suggest a helpful role for the international students in the preparation of our missionaries as we send them to serve in those various countries.
God has brought many nations to the US and into the church in this land. What an opportunity that brings to the American church as we seek to impact the church globally. Yet, many international students are shocked when they come across people preparing to go and serve as missionaries in their countries, but they never take a minute to get to know them or even ask what life is like back home. A common comment among international students is that if future missionaries are not able to relate to them here in their own homeland, how in the world do they expect to fit in and relate to people in their mission context? The presence of international students in our congregations is a gift from God, and can be used to better equip our global missionaries.
In last week’s post, I made the proposal that we should be purposeful in our training of missionaries for cross-cultural ministries. One of the ways to do this is to be culture-specific in our missionary training. If we engage the many international students present here, that culture-specific training will be obtainable. It won’t take much to have international students come to our training centers or to our churches and share with our missionaries as a way of equipping them for more effective service.
How can this be done in practice? Several possibilities:
Through the local church, have international students play a key role in the training of your missionaries. A local church, through the missionary training program, can require their missionaries to make contact with international students from the country to which they are planning to go. They can spend time with them over a period of 8-12 months, learning about their future host culture. These students normally have contacts back home and can chase down information that will be helpful for the missionary as he or she goes.
Mission agencies, as part of their cross-cultural training, can bring in students from other countries (chosen according to the locations of the missionaries in training) to come and take part in the orientation of their missionaries. Who would you want orienting you to the culture of your ministry? An American who has read books about the culture and maybe spent some years there, or a national from that particular culture? Often, these students have so much to share, but lack the opportunity to do so.
There are benefits to this approach in missionary orientation. This kind of ministry shows that we do appreciate those who have come to us from other countries and believe that there are things they can teach us about their own contexts. It helps international students fit into the church better when they cease from being visitors during their time of studies, and to actually being part of helping prepare missionaries for their home countries.
They give us an honest picture of how our labors in their homeland are going. They have grown up seeing missionaries work, and they know the growth of the church. They know how the church is struggling and what can be done to help. They have alternate views about how the gospel is progressing in their own country. Putting together how they see things and what we know of our own mission work in the area will help us keep from making the same mistakes over and over.
Again, let us not neglect the presence of the nations in our churches as we prepare missionaries to serve the nations.