Editor’s Note: This article was written by a staff member of OneLink International. Their identity has been kept confidential for security purposes. OneLink gave a breakout session at the 2023 MBCollegiate Conference.
For many, the prospect of serving overseas brings a host of conflicting emotions. These emotions range from excitement to terror, curiosity to concern, and even fear. However, these emotions should not get in the way of us going and doing as God calls us. When God calls someone overseas, He equips them and strengthens them for the task at hand. In addition to this, He also expects, and reasonably so, those He calls to gain some training and prepare themselves when possible.
At OneLink International, we have identified five essential skills needed for college students to be successful in cross-cultural work overseas. The five areas are:
- Training in Godliness
- Training in partnership development
- Training in cross-cultural communication and sharing of the gospel
- Training in safety and security
- Training in debriefing and returning well
Over the course of the next five weeks, we hope to flesh out a framework Missouri college students can use to begin growing in these five areas.
Training in Godliness to Grow in Godliness
There is no end to the amount that could be written on this subject, and indeed books and books have already been written about it. It is the pinnacle and the most important of the 5 skills we listed above. Without godliness all the rest are mere vanities and clouds that bring no rain. 1 Timothy 4:8 says, “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
It is hard to write a succinct article outlining what it means to be trained in godliness, but we’ll attempt to do so by highlighting six areas.
John 15 says (paraphrased), “If you abide in me and I in you, you WILL bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” It should be the devoted Christian’s goal to learn to abide in Christ, attaching oneself to Jesus just as a branch is attached to a vine.
When we go overseas, we leave behind many of the attachments and crutches we have learned to rely on in order to be with Christ. We leave our church family and have only a few Christians around us. We leave our Christian radio. We leave our huddle of those who encourage us. This may sound dreary, but it is actually a great place to be. When we leave these crutches behind, we learn to truly rely on God to sustain us.
How do we train ourselves to commune with God, listen to God, and be with God so that it is an established part of our life before we go overseas? The answer to this question can be found through prayer.
It’s hard to find a Christian who prays as often or fervently as they should. However, it is equally difficult to find a fruit-bearing Christian who does not fervently pray. Prayer involves not just talking to God, but listening too. When you go overseas, you’ll find yourself in countless situations where you don’t know what is going on. You have far less control over what happens around you. The only way to live successful Christian lives in situations, such as those mentioned above, is through prayer.
My first boss overseas told me, “Everything you experience with your five senses is only 20% of reality. The other 80% is what is going on in the spiritual realm around you that you don’t see. So when you find yourself in trouble or don’t know what to do, remember to pray and engage in the 80% you can’t see.” We engage through prayer.
The greatest gospel presentation is only as effective as the work of God behind it. Prayer is the bedrock and foundation of what we do.
The next area of concentration to train in godliness is in the area of the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the very words of God breathed out (2 Timothy 3:16-17). When we run into all those confusing and new situations, we can turn to the words of God. When we are trying to communicate the good news of Jesus, we must rely on His words about Himself.
For a short summer trip, often the best tool we have to cut through language and cultural barriers is the ability to point interested people to the Word of God. Sometimes you will work in areas where the Scripture has not yet been translated, but often you will have access to at least some part of it. Since summer trips involve at least one person working in their second language, there is no better way to cut through the communication gap than by using the truth you want to convey in the Bible. Let the translated Word of God speak to them.
A wise person once said, “Scripture memory gives the Holy Spirit a vocabulary in our lives.” Committing Scripture to memory does several things for us. First, it helps us recognize and hear the voice of God. It gives us familiarity with His voice. Second, by memorizing and meditating on God’s word we are more likely to respond correctly to all the situations where we do not know what is going on culturally. Lastly, memorizing Scriptures is important because it will manifest itself in telling stories when you share the Scriptures in many parts of the world. Stories are a good way to bring people to the truth of the Scriptures
Sharing your faith
Training in godliness also involves sharing your faith. Airline seat belts are not disciple makers. If you are not learning to share your faith in the States where you have the language and cultural understanding, it is unlikely you will be able to share it overseas.
Christians tend to waste time they could be sharing the gospel by worrying about which method to use. A campus minister in Oklahoma named Matt once said, “You want to know the best method of evangelism? It’s whatever method you use.”
There are lots of methods. Find one that you are comfortable with and practice it. Research has shown that far more non-Christians are willing to have discussions about faith than we Christians often believe. If you invited your friend to have coffee with you, and you earnestly asked for permission to discuss faith with them, I think you would be surprised at how many would say yes.
There is another word to define training in godliness. It is called discipleship, and by discipleship we mean both making disciples and being discipled to be like Christ. In the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19-20, the command is not to “go,” but rather, it is to “make disciples.” Linguist and pastor Tony Pyles explains it this way,
It’s link when your Mom told you, ‘Go clean your room!’ She doesn’t want you to just go. She wants you to clean your room. Going will be necessary in order to obey, but the command is to clean. In the same way, the command of the Great Commission is to make disciples. In order to do that, you will have to go.
The problem with making disciples or being discipled is that many people define it differently. We’ll borrow Jim Putman’s definition of a disciple, and then use that to measure our effectiveness of being a disciple-making-disciple. He says,
The definition is in the invitation. In Matthew 4:19 Jesus said, “Come follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.” Out of this we get three characteristics of a disciple. 1) A disciple is following Jesus. 2) A disciple is being changed by Jesus (I will MAKE you). 3) A disciple is doing the work of Jesus.
To be successful overseas you need to be obedient to Christ’s commands to make disciples. The easiest way to learn to make disciples is for someone to disciple you. If you do not know someone who will disciple you, ask your pastor or college minister. If you do not find a good match, ask again until you get someone who will pour into you in order to help you fit the definition above. As a college student I was reluctant to ask people to disciple me. That was a tragic mistake that put me years behind in learning this crucial skill.
Developing Godly Attitudes
At OneLink, we have identified eight values drawn from the Scriptures that we find helpful for our teams and ourselves as we seek to obey the Great Commission cross-culturally.
- Trust in God – We trust in the presence, power, and plan of God in all that we do (Prov. 3:5-6; Jer. 29:11; Matt. 6:33-34; Matt. 8:5-10; Eph. 3:12; Heb. 11:1,6; Prov 3:5-6).
- Worshipful – We seek to glorify God by abiding in Him and exalting His name above all else in our lives and work (Ps. 34:1-3; Ex. 15:1-2; Job 22:26; Ps. 4:7-8; Ps. 9:2; Ps. 16:8-10, 1 Cor 10:31).
- Integrity – We pursue greater holiness by living lives of transparency and honesty before God and others (Ps. 24:4-5; Ps. 41:12; Prov. 12:19; Prov. 12:22; Eph. 4:15).
- Commitment – We demonstrate passion and perseverance (grit) in the areas of personal spiritual maturity, supporting one another, and fulfilling the mission of God (Gal. 6:9; Heb. 12:1-3; 1 Cor. 15:58, Josh. 1:9).
- Servant Hearted – We serve the Lord and bless others by seeking to meet the needs of those with whom we work (Phil. 2:3-8; Mark 10:43-45; John 13:12-17, Gal. 5:13).
- Flexibility – We acknowledge that God’s ways and plans are above our own, and we adapt joyfully to whatever opportunities and challenges He brings our way (James 4:13-15; Prov. 16:9; Is. 55:8; Phil. 2:14-15).
- Initiative – We are proactive and intentional in our efforts to serve people and share the Gospel with the lost (Ecc. 9:10; Rom. 12:7-8; Col. 4:5, Matt. 5:43-46, Eph. 6:19-20).
- Team Player – We put the team before personal needs as we contribute our skills and maintain unity in order to accomplish team goals (Ecc 4:9-12; 1 Cor 12:12-20, Rom. 15:1-7).
To a degree, these are very basic. However, we will never master any of them on this side of heaven. These values only really come into play when you are frustrated, tired, angry, hurt, hungry, stressed, etc. If you will work on growing in these attitudes during times when life is not going smoothly, it will improve your effectiveness cross-culturally. The world will watch and wonder.
Train in Godliness to Go in Godliness
In summary, train in godliness so you will grow in godliness. When you grow in godliness, you will go in godliness.
Do whatever it takes to grow and go in godliness, and let nothing else on your to-do list take priority over it. In 100 years, no one will care what grade you got on your test. In 200 years, no one will care what major you graduated with. In 1000 years, no one will care about the achievements of your life. 10,000,000 years from now, when time is no more, the investment you make in godliness will still be valued by the King of all kings and the God of all gods. Invest in what matters.