The Role of International Students in the Preparation of Missionaries

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.

Philemon

Culture Specific Orientation for Missionaries

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One of the most helpful things missionaries can do as they prepare to serve overseas is to go through cross-cultural training. Different mission agencies might go about this differently, but there is agreement that before a missionary sets out to leave lives in a different culture, there needs to be proper preparation. Thus, Cross-cultural training helps introduce the missionary candidate to the challenges they will or might face as they leave live in a culture different from their own. Continue reading

We Don’t Need Missionaries

On a recent trip to Brazil, I was confronted by a statement from a Brazilian pastor who said to me, “Americans do not need to send missionaries to Brazil to preach the gospel.” Now, my first inclination was to argue with him and give 100 reasons why he was wrong. Then, I thought, why not ask him why he believes such a ridiculous thing? So I did and by the end of the conversation, I was totally sold. I share here his perspective and ask that you (the reader) give it a chance.

What did he mean? Notice he said that America should not be sending missionaries to Brazil to preach the gospel. He was specific. Here is his reasoning:

  1. Overall, Brazil has been reached with the gospel and the church in Brazil is growing. There is no shortage of people in Brazil to preach the gospel and to finish the Great Commission in Brazil.
  2. Often, when different groups come from America, they preach whatever they think is the gospel. As a result, when false doctrine is proclaimed, it spreads like wild fire leaving the people more confused and the church struggling to deal with the aftermath.
  3. There is a need for missionaries in Brazil, he argued, but the focus needs to be correct. Rather than sending missionaries to Brazil to meet a need that we Americans believe they have, we can ask what is the best way to come alongside of the church in Brazil to advance the gospel in that land.

He then suggested the following as a possible approach to the work of missions in Brazil:

  1. The need of the church in Brazil, as he sees it, is the strengthening of the existing church to reach Brazilians. What does he mean? He believes that America is gifted and one of those gifts is is a church with godly teachers and preachers. He sees the greatest need in the Brazilian church to be helping the existing church to be theologically grounded so as to be able to fight off every wind of doctrine that comes their way. America can greatly help the church by sending good teachers to train the existing pastors and equip them to finish the Great Commission in Brazil.
  2. Ongoing theological education of pastors in Brazil is critical. Some pastors, especially those in remote areas, often find themselves unprepared to deal with new teachings that come their way (most of which are from the US). If the American church focuses on strengthening these pastors theologically, their investment will go far in helping the Brazilian church.
  3. A good partnership with the Brazilian church is one in which the church in America asks the brothers in Brazil how they can help. This gives the Brazilian church the opportunity to identify helpful areas of ministry where they need help the most.

After listening to my pastor friend, I agreed with his perspective about how the American church can be most helpful in Brazil. We do need to learn to ask how we can be helpful to the church around the world rather than decide what people need and then tell them that we will offer it. The implications of this perspective are far reaching, and very helpful.  Something to think about!