I remember the first time I stepped outside of the Delhi airport. With a rush of anxiety and exhilaration, my teammates and I awkwardly navigated our way to our hotel that night. I was the furthest from home I’d ever been, and I’d be here longer than any other prior trip I’d taken overseas. But there was something thrilling about the unknown, and I couldn’t wait to see how God would work that summer.
Learning for the first time how to live cross-culturally stretches our faith and grows our view of God more than ever before. These trips widen our view of global lostness and help us to see the brokenness beyond where we live. They also provide a window into the rich and beautiful diversity of cultures God has created. But what do we do when all of these trips are cancelled for the foreseeable future?
Sometimes God allows us to wait, knowing that in the process he wants to do a much deeper work in us as we prepare to go to the nations. Cultivating spiritual disciplines where we are now will be invaluable on the foreign mission field later. I reached out to a few missionaries and asked them to tell me what practices they would encourage developing while we’re still in the States. Here’s what they said:
For one church planter serving with Muslims in Manchester, England, he has seen prayer as a lifeline for everything he does in ministry.
“Every time that somebody comes to our lives asking us how to evangelize the unreached, we always teach them how to pray rather than a methodology.”
One of the best ways to learn how to pray is to look at God’s Word. When Jesus’ disciples had no clue how to pray, they asked him for help and he taught them (see Matt. 6:5-15). Jesus tells them not to be hypocritical in their prayers, wishing to be seen. Instead, he tells them that it is better to pray with him in private. In the privacy of prayers, we can come to God in our realest form, calling out to him for help and asking him to make our hearts more like his. Likewise, praying for brothers and sisters around the world knits our hearts to the universal Church and reminds us that we serve a God whose mission is greater than ourselves. Paul reminds us of this in Colossians 4:2-4:
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.”
Our prayers extend beyond our physical limitations. While we cannot be overseas, we can learn how to pray for the nations and the work God is doing around the world.
The discipline of learning is a key practice for anyone looking to spend extended time overseas. Something I’ve noticed about myself is that I lose this sense of wonder once I’ve lived somewhere for a while. As time goes on and the busyness of life surrounds me, I gradually become numb to learning about my city, my neighbors and others I encounter. We need to help each other to fight this complacency. We need to regain a sense of wonder and curiosity about where we live and the lives of those around us. Donald Whitney, in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, described the discipline of learning in this way:
“Learning that’s mostly by accident does not lead to godliness. We must become disciplined, intentional learners if we’re going to become like Jesus.”
Primarily, we must be intentional learners of God and his Word to understand what it means to know God and walk in obedience. But we should let the intentionality of learning God’s Word spill over into learning about God’s world and how we interact with it. Learning teaches us humility, reminding us we don’t know everything. It also teaches us about God’s grace as we lean into him to help us gain understanding. One missionary in South Asia described the process of learning overseas this way:
“All these little details that are so different, so new and so foreign can be really overwhelming, but you just have to remember that you’re learning. You may look funny and silly and it may be common sense to so many people here, but this isn’t your world that you grew up in. It’s okay to not know, to ask questions or to look silly or to figure it out through mistakes.”
If we plan to enter a new culture, developing the discipline of learning is key while we’re still living in the States. Start by seeking to better understand the community we live in now. Maybe that means understanding the history of our cities or getting to know the workers at the restaurants we frequent. The broadness of this discipline makes it one where we always have room to grow.
One missionary serving in Tokyo, Japan, noted the importance of stewardship for Great Commission purposes. He encouraged believers to begin this practice while they’re still in the States.
“For those who intended to do overseas missions but were inhibited by the coronavirus pandemic, you should give money to missions because it’s quite possible that someday you too will be raising support. Embody integrity by being a model sender first.”
The pages of Scripture are filled with verses regarding stewardship in many areas of life. On several occasions, Jesus specifically addresses stewardship and how it affects us on a spiritual level. In Matthew 6:19-21, he tells us how what we do with our finances is tied up in what we most love:
“Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In God’s mercy, he spared us his wrath and made us his children. Now we are recipients of his abundant generosity and love. Therefore, love, not guilt, is what motivates us to give sacrificially of all that God has blessed us with. Our hearts and wallets tend to be deeply intertwined whether we realize it or not. If this is true, then we have to ask ourselves, “How is the mission of God prioritized in how I budget my money each month?” We can always give our resources towards the Great Commission though we are not able to physically go.
While we may be waiting for the opportunity to serve overseas, we can cultivate healthy practices that deepen our love for God and his world. As we root ourselves in Christ through regular habits of prayer, learning about God and his creation and wisely stewarding our resources, Christ becomes infinitely greater to us. We realize that we are not the savior of our story, but God is the one who is doing the work of redeeming. He simply allows us to take part in that mission.