The Place of Training in Cross-Cultural Mission

17 Feb 2021

In our first six years serving as missionaries among the Unreached of Asia, we saw 12 units come and go. Lovely families who had uprooted their children and moved them across oceans, only to be back where they started within sometimes as little as nine months on the field. Single missionaries who received a call to missions, signed up, shipped out, and then crashed and burned in the whirlwind that is learning language and culture. Couples who left families behind to serve Jesus overseas, only to return home for good after discovering that the missionary call was “not a good fit”. That the sacrifice of leaving family support behind after having a child was too much. That the work was too tough for not enough fruit. 

It is not difficult to imagine the pain, tears, and immense amount of time and money behind each of these 12 units’ stories. Which begs the question, is this normal?  Is there any possible way we could better prepare our missionaries for fruitfulness and longevity on the field?

A friend from Pioneers Africa once asked me, “Would you go to war without first attending basic recruit training? Neither do we send our missionaries without first seeking to train them with excellence.”  This intuitively makes sense to us. There are skills to learn and practice, new ways of living and being to adjust to, and old patterns of relating and thinking to release if someone wants to join the military—let alone if someone wants to serve as a cross-cultural worker. Research also backs this up with the second clearest indicator for a missionary’s length of service being the amount of time invested in pre-field training[1]. Even Jesus spent an intensive three years training his disciples before releasing them as missionaries!

I went to the field after completing Bible college and a two-year ministry internship in my home country. Yet, my lack of emotional awareness and achievement orientation almost derailed my young family from serving long-term after just one term in the pressure cooker of pioneering mission work. I cringe to imagine where I would have been without being equipped with at least some of the perspectives and practices that ultimately brought us through that trying time.

And what of the immense differences between ministry in our home cultures and across cultures? As Evelyn and Richard Hibbert wrote, “Missionaries who lack specific training in cross-cultural ministry tend to replicate methods of evangelism, church life and ministry from their home context that are often unsuited to the new cultural context they work in.[2]

So how are you being trained for missions? How are you encouraging intentional and specific equipping for those you are sending to serve among the nations?  Want to learn more about how Pioneers is committed to sending well-formed disciple-makers into the Harvest? Just reach out to us and we’d love to hear your story and learn how we can help you prepare for cross-cultural missionary service!

-JCL serving with Global Disciples Sydney, a Pioneers Discipleship Training Community.

Is God calling you to join the mission field? Get in touch.

[1] REMAP II: Worldwide Missionary Retention Study & Best Practices. High retention agencies average 3 semesters of formal training and 5 1/2 weeks of orientation compared to 1 semester of formal training and 3 weeks of orientation for low retention agencies.

[2] Training Missionaries: Principles and Possibilities. William Carey Library. Loc. 151 Kindle

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