Imagine that tomorrow you wake up and you’re headed to a foreign country to serve as a missionary. Let’s assume you’ve received thorough theological training and have a biblical understanding of missions, conversion, and discipleship. What would you be worried about?
Maybe you’re married, how will living cross-culturally affect your marriage? Maybe you have kids, what will you do about childcare? Maybe you’re single, how will you communicate without knowing the language?
The missionary task can be overwhelming and stressful because it changes almost every aspect of your life. How do you find a bank? How will you learn the language? What does medical care look like in this new country?
Aspiring Missionaries Need Experience in Cross-Cultural Contexts
Aspiring missionaries need more training in cross-cultural contexts. Unfortunately, it’s uncommon for candidates to get opportunities to train overseas for an extended period of time. While some training programs will offer opportunities for them to take part in apprenticeships, they are often led by those who are very busy actively serving in the field.
When these candidates experience life in a cross-cultural environment, they need regular, focused time to debrief and process what they are going through. They need to embed themselves into a local community where they can learn the language and overcome the disorientation that comes with living in a foreign context.
In a Foreign Context, All of Life Becomes Training
When you train to be a missionary in a cross-cultural environment, your entire life becomes training for the missionary task. From language and food to banking and childcare, everything changes.
While this is not your long-term landing spot, you are surrounded by experienced missionaries who are dedicated to helping prepare you for missionary work. When you train under mentors in a cross-cultural setting, you gain experience observing them rely on the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures before embarking on your own missionary journeys.
Consider the example of Paul’s mentorship in Titus’ life. Before Titus was sent to Dalmatia in 2 Timothy 4:10, Paul brought him with him to Jerusalem and Corinth (Acts 15:2; 2 Corinthians 8:6, 16–17). In Titus 1:4, Paul describes Titus as his “true child in a common faith.” While your mentors do not possess apostolic authority as Paul did, God uses those who are older than us in the faith to help us grow in maturity and prepare us for gospel ministry.
God uses those who are older than us in the faith to help us grow in maturity and prepare us for gospel ministry.
When you do arrive at your long-term home, adapting becomes easier. What was completely disorienting in training is much less disorienting because you’ve seen this before. The language, food, and people may be different, but different is not different anymore. You’ve experienced great change, and you’ve overcome it.
Why Doesn’t Every Missions Training Program Take Place Overseas?
If aspiring missionaries need more experience overseas, why doesn’t every missions organization start a program overseas? For a number of reasons, setting up a missions training program in a hard-to-reach area is incredibly difficult.
First, you need trusted staff members who are willing to move. Most missions training programs employ former missionaries who are back in the United States for family or health reasons. It’s difficult to recruit and retain missionaries to live cross-culturally who will primarily train new classes of aspiring missionaries.
Second, students regularly need visas – not only to serve as a missionary but simply to attend the training program. This creates an extra obstacle that could exclude some who aspire to go overseas.
Third, setting up a missions training program in a foreign country is more expensive – both for the students and the organization putting on the training. Because of these reasons, many missions training programs simply cannot take place overseas.
Cross-Cultural Training is Worth the Sacrifice
If it’s possible for you to attend a training program that takes place cross-culturally, consider applying. It’s worth the sacrifice.
At the Radical Training Center, your theological, cultural, and linguistic education will be embedded in the unfamiliar because you are preparing in a place where you’re unable to communicate well in the community. By living cross-culturally during training, you will not simply learn how to learn a language, but you will invest extensive time into learning the local language. During this training, challenges will arise and will reveal character when you’re under pressure and your social engagement is extremely limited due to the language barrier.
Cross-cultural training is designed to prepare you for life on the mission field. By God’s grace, I pray that this training leads you to fruitful ministry on the field for decades to come.