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Thinking about going
How do I know if God is calling me to cross cultural work?
The Lord’s calling is certainly not formulaic. He calls everybody in different ways. I have met someone who literally heard God’s audible voice tell them to go to a country that previously they had never heard of.
But more commonly it works in one or several of these ways:
• He arranges ‘coincidental’ circumstances
• He births a love in us for a certain people
• He continues to burden us with the injustice of a group who have no believers among them
• He arranges for us to meet others who have a similar passion and we can really imagine working with
• He shows us a particular place where our training, experiences and profession would fit well
For me, it was a growing awareness of the millions that have never had a chance to hear and a clear knowledge that God was calling me to do something. As I pursued this over several years, it gradually became clear that it was a calling to Muslims in South Asia.
As for when to go, seek the wisdom of your friends and mentors, as well as those who have gone ahead of you. Don’t rush. Seek the Lord. Prepare well to make it long-term. Go in faith!
If I’m really passionate about serving the poor is it most effective to do this through a local church?
There has been a growing emphasis in recent years on churches being ‘missional’: reaching out to their communities through social action, as well as preaching and teaching. This is generally very positive and has led to more western Christians becoming involved in church-based projects such as food banks, after-school clubs, debt advice etc.
Many of our teams in the Muslim world are involved in community action in their cities and towns, and there are many testimonies as to the positive way this is received by local people. One of the big differences between life in the UK and in many Muslim countries is that Muslim societies are often far more community-based than those in the ‘individualistic’ west. Hence ‘serving the poor’ in local communities involves a whole way of life rather than simply being a ‘church project’ which we add to our already busy and over-compartmentalised lives.
It’s also worth remembering that in some of the very poorest places on earth, there is no local church yet.
I don’t sense God leading me to work overseas. Is it selfish for me to send financial and prayer support and not go myself?
I think every follower of Jesus is called to be a global disciple. Sometimes people look for a dramatic personal call when it should start with us aligning ourselves with what we know about God’s purposes. With a third of our world still cut off from the good news, there’s no question more workers should be going.
We need to be ready to go, but prepared to stay – stay to pray and send others. Whatever we do, we must be obedient to God’s global purposes.
“God has called every Christian to cross cultural ministry, but He does not want everyone to go. God calls some to be senders.” David Sills, The Missionary Call
What are the benefits of going overseas with an agency rather than on my own?
I’m really glad that my wife and I chose to go overseas with Frontiers. Being part of an agency has lots of benefits.
Firstly, going with an agency helped us to be well prepared for what’s ahead. Arriving in Central Asia was still a huge learning curve for us but it would have been so much harder if we hadn’t had training before we left.
Going with Frontiers has also helped us to feel part of a bigger community. Here in Central Asia we can sometimes be surrounded by people but still feel quite alone. We have great local friends but we can’t talk with them about everything. Having other people who know what we’re going through is crucial to doing well. We can ask them questions, meet up with them at events, and have the opportunity to share our lives.
One of the biggest benefits has been that we’ve been able to learn from those who have gone before us. We’re still taking baby steps in learning how best to share our faith in this new culture. Getting training and advice from people who’ve been doing this for years is invaluable. The agency also helps us by providing secure email and online information. And, they also have a crisis management team that will help us if we have a serious accident or were to be kidnapped or something similar. We obviously hope that will never happen, but we’re grateful to know that if it did, there are people who will help us.
What should I think about when choosing which organisation to join?
Probably the most important thing is to check their values. Are the things that are important to them also important to you?
Also, wherever possible, talk to people who are part of that organisation. They will be able to tell you what it’s really like!
It’s probably important to remember that whichever organisation you join, there are going to be things in the future that frustrate you. No organisation is perfect and there always has to be a bit of give and take. Ensuring that you agree on the major things (like values) will help you when the other frustrations kick in.
How long do we need to be married for before going overseas long-term?
Most people would recommend at least one full year of marriage before going overseas long-term. Of course every situation is different, and you should talk it through with your church, your family and those who know you best. The first year of marriage can be challenging even in your own culture, so remember to factor that in to any decision you make. You will certainly face a lot of challenges when you relocate to a new country and culture; ensuring your marriage is healthy and secure is very important.
Do I have to get training before I go?
Yes! Training is important. It helps to prepare you for what’s ahead so that you can thrive personally and be effective in the work you do. But you won’t be asked to sit through unnecessary training courses; the training is kept focused so that you can get on the plane as soon as possible.
To give you an idea of what’s ahead, we spent a week doing what is called the ‘Candidates Course’. If you’re going to certain high-risk countries you also have to do a 2-day security training course.
We were also helped to establish a mentoring process where you work through a ‘Personal Development Plan’ with a mentor from your home church. We found this really helpful and it was one of the most important things we did as we prepared to go.
Although it is not required, some of our friends valued the more extended training courses that are offered by places like All Nations and Redcliffe colleges.
As you prepare to go, remember that your character, maturity and godliness is far more important than any academic/theological qualifications you might have! I think there is a risk in cramming in too much before you go – Just in Time training is usually more effective. Frontiers believes in whole of life training! We must never stop learning and we have found that the real learning begins on the field, alongside experienced people.
What are the five best practises of support raising?
Here are some generally good guidelines to use in friend and support raising They may not necessarily be the best five, but hopefully you’ll find them helpful – we did!
• Keep your spiritual perspective! Being filled with the Spirit and spending time with the Lord is essential at all times, of course. However, support-raising often creates some unique stresses, so being extra intentional in this area is important. We need to recognise that God is our provider, not the organisation we work with, our support system or even our supporters.
• God will not put a call in your supporters’ lives to give without also putting his call in your life to receive. Remember you are enabling your supporters to take part in God’s global work and their calling is to give, so don’t feel bad asking!
• Identify half a dozen people who you’d like to be on your support team, then try a personal approach. Invite them over coffee/a meal to talk about supporting you, being sure that you explain the wider vision of what you plan to do. Don’t forget to follow up with them afterwards, thanking them for coming.
• Give all your supporters the vision. If I were choosing to support you, here are some of the things I would need to know: What needs is your organisation addressing? How have they done this over the years? How is your organisation addressing these needs in the specific area of work you’ll be involved in? What will you be doing and what has led you into this? What sort of support are you looking from me, that will make it possible for you to do what you’re planning? Is this the sort of commitment I’d like to make?
• Finally, if your target is huge, don’t dwell on the difficulties but break it up into manageable intermediate targets.
Can I go overseas before I have all my funds raised?
This depends on your individual team leader. Each Frontiers team develops its own policies for its members. My team leaders require their team members to have all of their funds raised before they leave the UK. Others set the amount at 90% or less.
I strongly recommend you try to be fully funded before you leave. Your first year on the field will be challenging. Adding money worries into the mix just makes things harder, and it’s not so easy to raise support once you are on the field.
“God will not lead you where He will not provide for you.” – David Sills, The Missionary Call
What do workers wish they had known before they first went?
Wow! That’s a big question. And each worker would probably answer it differently. Here are a few examples for you:
• I wish I’d known how long it would take for me to feel ‘at home’. I wasn’t prepared for the unsettled feelings I had.
• I wish I’d known how rewarding it would be and how much I’d thrive! I was so focused on all the challenges before I went that I didn’t let my heart get excited. It took me some time to relax and enjoy being part of a new community. Now I’ve done that I’m finally ready to pursue all that there is to do out here.
• I wish I’d learned to trust God more fully before I left the UK. I’ve always liked to be in control of things and since leaving the UK I’ve had to deal with visa problems, team problems and health problems. Through these situations, I’ve really learned to trust God and to hold onto earthly things more lightly. If I’d learned that earlier, my first few years would have gone much better!
What are the practical elements I need to be aware of when preparing to go to the field?
This is something you’ll cover in more detail during the training provided. Here are a few of the key things you’ll need to consider:
• Raising the financial support you need
• Having someone in the UK who can receive paperwork and process things for you
• Figuring our your visa for the place you are going
• Writing a will, getting any insurance you need to get
• Getting any vaccinations you need
• Finding the right team and fulfilling any requirements they have
• Completing the training you need to do
As you start to read this list, don’t feel too overwhelmed! We didn’t need to do all these at once, and we had people to advise, help and support us along the way.
What are the common obstacles I might face as I prepare to go?
Probably the 3 most common obstacles are:
• The objections of family and friends who don’t agree with the decision you are making.
• Finding the right place and the right team. Sometimes this happens quickly and easily, but others find it’s a longer process.
• Raising the money you need.
One thing to remember is that anything significant we do usually has plenty of challenges along the way. Don’t be surprised or put off by this! Make sure you share the journey with other people including a mentor to help keep you on track and others on the journey who you can relate with.
Life in the field
Can I use my profession when I’m overseas?
Somebody once challenged me with, “Whatever your work experience, skills and gifts, they can be used on the field.” Almost all professions can be used somehow, or the experience you have gained in your profession can be transferred to something similar.
But, you might not be asking the right question. In order to see the unreached reached, God might be asking you to do whatever it takes, which could include letting go of your sense of identity in your profession and being willing to start again with something new, something that will open a door for the gospel.
Does it cause confusion to have a focus on social justice in a church planting team?
Wherever you look in both Old and New Testaments you find that social justice and the needs of the poor are close to the heart of God. Jesus himself spoke far more about the ‘kingdom of God’ than he did of the church. In fact in his own ‘manifesto’ in Luke 4:18-19 he says he came to proclaim both good news and liberty. So it seems that a key function of any church or church planting team, whether in the UK or in a Muslim country, is to work for social justice, as well as to preach the good news.
Most Muslim countries are located in the poorest parts of the world, in Asia and Africa, and many of our teams are involved in projects which bring blessing and transformation to the communities they belong to. Sometimes this is done formally through official development programmes, and sometimes informally, by seeking to bless neighbours and friends. So rather than there being ‘confusion’ between church planting and social justice, many team leaders would argue that, to be truly effective, they should be involved in both.
What’s the secret to longevity overseas?
This varies from person to person but there are some common factors.
Firstly, the ability to be flexible is really important. If you spend 10, 15 or even 20+ years overseas, you’ll probably have to make a lot of changes during that time. You might be thrown out of one country and need to move to another location. You will have team mates come and go. You might need to change your profession a number of times. The list goes on! Be ready to be flexible and you’re more likely to keep going.
It also really helps to have a strong sense that this is God’s plan for you. When things shake around you, having that internal security that you’re doing the right thing is crucial.
People who do well in the long-term also tend to be good at being self-directed spiritually. By that I mean that they are able to keep a vibrant spiritual life even though there may be no local church for them to be a part of.
Do I need to live in a slum in order to reach out to people there?
There are many ways to serve the poor, not all of which involve living in a slum! However we do have teams who have chosen to do just that, adopting a very basic lifestyle in order to live as close as possible to those they are seeking to bless with the good news that Jesus cares for them too. This lifestyle carries obvious challenges but can also be very enriching.
Two of the reasons they have given for choosing to live in this way are:
1. Accessibility – living in a slum or shanty town gives instant access to the community you are trying to reach. Often helping to meet the needs of that community provides a ready bridge to sharing the good news.
2. Identification – just as Jesus chose to leave the blessings of heaven to live incarnationally amongst those he came to save, living amongst the poor is a powerful way of identifying with them and their needs and struggles. The way we choose to live can itself be a powerful testimony of Christ’s love and compassion.
These are important issues to consider whether living in the slum itself or not – for example could work with an NGO make you sufficiently accessible? And could you identify through a similarly simple life even if it’s not possible to live physically alongside a community?
Does caring for people's physical needs distract from or complicate sharing the gospel with them?
When he was here on earth Christ chose both to heal the sick and share the good news. These 2 aspects to his ministry complemented each other, and enhanced the effectiveness of his work. It is always good for us to follow his example, and seeing someone healed through prayer, or helping a child with a financial gift to be able to attend school, can be both a powerful witness, and immensely rewarding on a personal level.
There are of course challenges – helping someone with physical or material needs can raise false expectations and lead to unrealistic or greedy demands for financial handouts. However provided we act with wisdom and avoid the trap of creating dependency, these challenges can be managed effectively. Even Jesus occasionally had to withdraw from the crowds, some of whom were mainly interested in the miracles he did, in order to spend time with his Father.
What will it look like safety-wise if I choose to work in high-risk country?
“Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20)
I was living in a country when there were occasional attacks on foreigners, where we were constantly made aware of sectarian violence in our town and where many workers were forced to leave for different reasons. We can’t pretend that such things don’t happen.
But God is faithful and gives us grace for each situation. He sometimes gives wisdom and strength to stay and ride out the storm, He sometimes calls us to flee to the next place (Matt. 10:23). I know many people who live and work in dangerous places and all will testify to God’s grace for that situation.
Be aware too that media reports often give us a false picture of the overall situation somewhere. What usually hits the news is the unusual, the rare, the unexpected. It is usually not the norm. Years and years of feeling safe and secure somewhere is also the experience of many of our workers. I was more concerned about the dangerous roads and the mosquitoes than the threat of violence. We do need to be wise, keep our eyes on the news, our ear to the ground and not seek out danger and trouble. But ultimately we trust God. As the song puts it:
‘No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand,
Til he returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I stand!’
How long does it take to learn a new language on average, and how important is this?
Learning the language and culture of the place you’re going to is vital to staying there long term. Not being able to communicate in the heart language of the people you’re living among will seriously limit your effectiveness.
Many people think they can’t learn a language because they didn’t do well in French or Spanish when they were at school. However almost everyone finds it’s completely different when you’re living among the people and have a great motivation to learn. And it’s much more fun learning when you’re there!
It’s impossible to say how long it takes because learning never stops. With Frontiers we are strongly encouraged to devote significant time to acquiring the local language in the first 2 years on the field. People who do this are usually comfortable in conversation on a whole range of topics.
What is the most important thing I should be concerned about when living overseas?
Your personal relationship with God is the most important thing. This is true for all followers of Jesus, not just those living overseas. Everything we do must come out of this relationship and flow from it. Without it every worker will cease to be effective. “If there is no passionate love for Christ at the centre of everything, we will only jingle and jangle our way across the world, merely making a noise as we go” – William Wilberforce.
How do I deal with disappointment on the field?
Be honest about your disappointments but don’t be surprised by them! Disappointments will be part of your life, whether you stay here in the UK or move overseas.
When we face disappointments – the every day small ones and the big, faith challenging ones – it’s important that we have people to talk to about them. We also need to take them to God, and to keep ourselves rooted in Scripture. Try not to withdraw from God or from others. Take a break if you need to. Be intentional about looking at the bigger picture. And choose to hold on to hope.
Are Muslims hostile when you want to share your faith?
The vast majority of Muslim people are very hospitable and honoured to meet you. They enjoy talking about faith and are often interested in what you have to say so long as you’re saying it with love and respect. Things may turn hostile if you begin to criticise their religion so be careful and thoughtful about how you respond. One of the things you’ll learn through your training with Frontiers is how to share your faith in culturally appropriate ways that makes sense to Muslims.
So where do you begin sharing your faith with Muslim people?
There are lots of ways to do this! You can tell them about what God is doing in your life, you can show them something from the Bible that’s a topic of interest, or you can pray with your Muslim friend when they express a need. Frontiers will point you to some helpful resources on this if you’d like to know more.
Family and relationships
What are the benefits of being single?
There are many advantages. You will often have more time on your hands to meet people, learn the language, work, travel, stay in local homes etc. For me, the most significant one of these is probably the speed in which you can learn language. You can immerse yourself fully in a local language, live with a family, even avoid English speakers much of the time if you so choose! You can really live as an insider to their culture if you have a host family who treat you as one of their own. It’s been harder for the families on my team to do that so I see the privilege it has been for me to have the freedom to do this.
What are the common struggles for singles living overseas?
Many of the struggles that single people have are common to all people living overseas! Things like cultural adjustment, health issues and the unpredictability of life. Some challenges are more unique to singles. These include deep feelings of loneliness and the sense of having to ‘do things alone’. It can be especially challenging for single women if they are living in a culture in which they can’t easily go out alone. Added to this, in most of the places we work, it is unusual to remain single. Therefore, single people have to become very adept at answering questions about why they are not yet married!
None of these struggles are insurmountable, and married people will face their own struggles too. However, it is good to be aware of them and to think them through before you go.
Is it fair to take our kids overseas or to have children when we get there?
If God is clearly calling you to live overseas and you have children, then he is obviously calling your children to be there too! It is understandable that those around you may be unsure about taking children to what might be seen as ‘dangerous’ places. In fact, it’s completely understandable that you might share their concerns.
It’s good to remember that there are positives as well as negatives to raising children overseas. For us, it’s been great to live in a place where we feel safe to let our children play outside in the streets. The sense of community and lack of fear is good and healthy for them. They love playing with the local children and adapted much quicker than we did to our new home! Our children are also growing up bilingual and with much more of a global understanding than they would have had if we were still living in the UK. Sure, there are challenges. And, there are times when they are ill or upset when we question what we’re doing. But on balance, for us, living overseas has been a great decision.
From observing those around us, we would say that younger children seem to adapt to a big life change more easily than older children. This doesn’t mean you can’t make a move if your children are over a certain age, it’s just good to bear in mind it often comes with additional challenges.
How will being overseas affect our marriage?
This really depends on you! Marriage is something that needs time and work whether you live in the UK or overseas. So, make sure that whether you go or stay, you are intentional about making time for each other. You’ll face lots of changes as you get used to a new location, language and routine, so be extra good at communicating with each other. Tell each other what you’re finding hard, what you need and what you’re enjoying.
As you get settled and the opportunities to spend time with locals increase, be sure to carefully mark out some time just to be together. Talking with other couples who are living overseas can also be helpful. If things start to feel hard, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Frontiers has a strong member care team who are there to help you to thrive individually and in your marriage.
What are the different options out there in regards to educating our kids?
This partly depends on where you go as not every location has the same options available. However, the main options are:
• To send your children to a local school
• To home-school your children
• To home-school half the day and go to a local school half a day – if this is an option where you are going
• If available in your area, send your children to a nearby international school
• If there is no international school available and you want to use that option, you could send your children to a boarding school
There are no right and wrong answers in terms of education, and you might choose different options at different ages. It’s often good to chat to others who are already living overseas about what’s working well for them and why.