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Getting PhDs to the Mission Field

Dec. 9, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Seminaries and graduate schools around the world are asking for PhD holders to come as missionaries and teach Bible and theology.  I know of one major seminary in Europe who posted their openings in a major evangelical magazine, only to find no takers.  Why is this and how can we help?

Why They Are Hard to Find

1.  God has not called them.  This is simple enough.  To go to another culture with your spouse and kids usually requires God to uproot you in some way that is so clear that you believe God is leading you to the field.   

2.  Some think raising money is below their degree.  I only write this because I have heard it so often.  Raising support is for the M.Div. students, so I have been told.  It is for the staff of some campus ministry or for helping orphans and those on the margins of society. I know of many that would rather work at Starbucks or UPS than ask people for their support to go overseas. 

3.  It is a career killer, or maybe better an inhibitor.  You can't participate at ETS/SBL. Your library (if you have one) is more limited.  The education level of the students (in some cases) is at a much lower level then what you find in the US (though that seems to be changing for the worse here).  Their colleagues might not be as educated and able to provide them helpful feedback or sharpening of ones own skills.

4.  It may involve learning ANOTHER language.  Most PhD students have learned Greek, Hebrew, German and French and now we are asking them to potentially teach it all in another language.  This is a real challenge.  Who wants to spend 2-3 years trying to master Japanese in order to teach Greek when your mother tongue in English after having spent years toiling with participles?

5.  You don't have very many friends who can support you.  One reality that faces graduates is that in the last six years you have probably lived in three different locations, and in each locations you probably did not make a lot of friends.  You have spent a lot of time in libraries or have probably only gotten to know your fellow classmates.

6.  You can still teach modular classes overseas without leaving your job in the US. 

7.  Debt.  Plain and simple, going to school costs a lot of money.  Very few escape with a PhD and less than $45K of school loans from the various institutions they have attended (at least in my experience).

How The Church Can Help

1.  Pray God calls them (or me or you).  There is such a great need for well-trained, godly, pastoral cross-cultural teachers.  

2.  Challenge the belief that fundraising is not for them.  Have them read Steve Shadrach's Viewpoints.  It could be that one of the reasons people have a hard time asking for support is because they do not think the people around them are generous.  That is fair.  That means we should be even more open in our generosity and encourage them to go by pledging our support.  

3. Seminaries in the west must talk to students about the global Church and do so often.  It is not enough to talk about it in the Missions 101 class.  It should permeate all of our classes.  Maybe seminaries should offer some full rides to students interested in teaching in developing countries.

4.  Churches should talk about being missional not just in their community, but around the world.  They should also disciple these students and get them into small groups with people in the church who are not theology students, but serving the Lord in different career paths.   

5.  Create a way to get rid of the debt.  I have prayed that some donor would come to TLI or set up on their own a fund that would pay off the debt of PhD's if they committed to 5 years of service overseas. Medical doctors have a program like this.  I believe this incentive would unleash many into service. I am thankful for places like Bethlehem College and Seminary that are focused on keeping the costs low.

I am sure there are many reasons people do not go and many more ways we can help them.  This is just a starting point.

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The Cycle of Culture Shock

Nov. 21, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

In 1960 Kalervo Oberg traced the steps we take when learning to live in a new culture. They are helpful, especially for missionaries and those that send them.

The Tourist Stage (3 weeks-6 months)

When we first move to or visit a new culture, everything is new and exciting. This is the stage where more short-term teams and vacationers find themselves. It is fun to explore, see new sites, learn history, eat new food and get to know new people. There is no need to learn the language as you are probably with someone who can speak both yours and the local dialect.

However, visiting and moving to are very different. To become part of a community, things are about to get hard.

Disenchantment (6 months - 1 Year)

Have you ever been overseas for a short-time and just longed for your favorite food or drink? Maybe it’s a simple as a coffee from Starbucks or a hamburger from your favorite restaurant. That longing can be satisfied if you are headed home, but when home is where you have moved to, your diet will mostly likely have to change.

And so frustration begins to mount. Simple things like shopping and transportation have to be relearned. You might need to think about how to make sure the water is drinkable or if the food is safe. You might be tempted to pay a bribe just to get something simple taken care of.

If you have to learn a new language, the frustration is even higher. You might have two Masters level degrees, but you find it hard to communicate at a 1st grade level. People smile and laugh at some of the things you say.

Everyone who may have helped you move into your new home has now returned to their normal schedule, which means they are no longer providing you meals or calling to see how you are doing. There is a sense of anger and abandonment and you wonder if people even care about you - including the people back home who can not understand what you are going through.

This stage is what burns most missionaries out. They being to make a list of things they will do when they get home - eat at this place, drive to this place, talk to these people, etc. There is now a decision to make - will you resolve to stay or will the pressure and anxiety be too much to handle so that you will either live in ghetto with people from your own country or you will move home discouraged and rudderless.

Resolution (1 Year+)

Those who decide to stay continue to learn. This does not mean it is easy, but in your heart you resolve to press forward. This is when the missionary makes the new culture their own. It does not mean abandoning where you are from, but adopting where you are now.

Adjustment

Eventually the new culture becomes home. Going “home” means staying where you are serving, not going back to the sending church. Food and the rules of relationships and interaction become normal. You don’t miss your sport’s teams back home because you are not even sure who is on the team - you may have (God forbid it!) learned to enjoy soccer.

Reverse Culture Shock

I personally believe this is the hardest to be ready for. After living overseas for sometime your home church wants you to come back for a year. You say goodbye to your friends and head “home” to reconnect with family, friends and supporters. However, when you get back you have a hard time functioning. You are a stranger in your homeland.

Conversational topics to you are meaningless. Your friends seem more shallow then you remember them. The wealth and affluence really bother you, especially when you go back to your church. You wonder how anyone could not support your work with everything they have. Why does everyone need two cars? Why does anyone need to water their lawn? On and on go your questions, which leads to being angry. You watch your kids struggle along. They don’t know how to play with kids their own age and they don’t know English as well as others. They also begin to desire a lot of the “things” their new friends have, things that were not options to own where you lived. All of a sudden you long to go back to your new home where the church sent you so you can fit back in.You have become angry and judgmental.

--

With no desire to end on a sour note, this list is helpful for sending churches, especially in their preparation of missionaries and their care of them when they return. These individuals and families have been through a lot to take the gospel around the world. By knowing these stages, the church can bear the burden with them.

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Advice Given to J. Hudson Taylor From His Parents

Nov. 16, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

From The Call to Service as he considered leaving for China:

My beloved parents neither discouraged nor encouraged my desire to engage in missionary work. They advised me, with such convictions, to use all the means in my power to develop the resources of body, mind, heart and soul, and to await prayerfully upon God, quite willing should He show me that I was mistaken, to follow His guidance, or to go forward if in due time He should hope the way to missionary service. The importance of his advice I have often since had occasion to prove. I began to take more exercise in the open air in strengthen my physique. My father bed I had taken away, and sought to dispense with as many other home comforts as I could in order to prepare myself for rougher lines of life. I began also to do what Christian work was in my power, in the way of tract distribution, Sunday-school teaching, and visiting the poor and sick, as opportunity afforded.

 
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Short-Term Missions or Glorified Tourism?

Sep. 30, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

George Houssney, the President of Horizons, has written a helpful article on the strengths and weaknesses of short-term missions. Below are what he sees as negatives and positives. You can read the entire article here.

The Positives

1. A good percentage of short-termers end up going long-term. Some statistics claim 50%. Many would never go to the mission field were it not for these short- term opportunities.

2. Many gain a heart for missions, and they return often and/or become supporters, prayer partners, and mobilizers.

3. Short-Term mission trips are eye openers for many. It is one thing to read missions newsletters and reports, it is another to actually be on the mission field and see the poverty, the hardships, and the spiritual depravity of people of other cultures.

4. Some who have never witnessed back home become bold in witnessing when they are with a like minded team witnessing in a cross cultural context. This can even help them begin to witness when they return home.

5. Those who are hesitant because they are not sure about their calling use short-term trips to test the waters and see if career missions might be what God is calling them to?

6. Some cannot be career missionaries because of job and family considerations. However, they do want to make a difference, so they use their vacation time or a break from school to do something for the Lord, rather than spending it on themselves.

7. Many who go on mission trips come from affluent families. They are not used to doing dirty work. Manual labor gives them an opportunity to serve others and to experience hard work like they never have before.

After looking at some of the pros and cons of short-term missions, let us see what the Bible says about this.

Missions is a word that came out of the Greek Apostolos, a messenger who is sent to accomplish a certain mission. To better understand the meaning of Apostolos, we must look at the life of Jesus and the apostles, and what they did as missionaries.

Negatives and Drawbacks

1. Many who go on mission trips have no cross cultural experience and due to the shortness of the trip, they are sent with little or no preparation or training. As a result they are likely to behave in ways that are not culturally appropriate or sensitive. I have seen young men dress in shorts and women in tank tops in conservative countries where men and women cover the majority of their bodies. Young people also tend to behave immaturely, with coarse joking, flirting, and inappropriately touching others of the opposite sex. On the other hand, some come with their expensive clothes, expensive gadgets, computers, phones, ipods, Cd players, BlackBerries, and flash money around while people in the target culture cannot afford such luxuries. This results in either disgust or adoration of the missionaries. In either case, it is not healthy.

2. Many go on short-term mission trips in response to short-term guilt trips laid on them by preachers or missions speakers, who rightly challenge them to do something about the unreached people. For many, going on a short-term mission relieves them of their guilty feeling. Rather than consider a longer term commitment, they settle for a trip or two here and there. Some feel that they now have missions checked off on their "To-do in my lifetime" list.

3. Due to the excitement associated with going to a foreign country, some fall in love with the new culture and do not see beyond the facade of its external expressions. Rather, they become enamored by the culture’s music, folklore, dress, and lifestyle. In fact, some expect to see a much darker side of other cultures than they discover. As a result, they fail to see the lostness and spiritual depravity of people from the target cultures.

4. Recruiters who are anxious to sign up people for these trips tend to exaggerate how great these trips are. They raise the expectations too high. The result of unrealistic expectations is usually disappointment. Some expect to love the people in those counties but find out they are not as kind or attractive as they were promised. Some expect to see many people saved. They end up painting walls and laying bricks and hardly seeing any natives. Some return from a short- term mission disappointed because they did not lead anyone to Christ and they feel that they have failed and that they are not made for missions.

5. A percentage of those who have a positive experience on short-term mission trips end up returning for a longer term. They often discover that living in that country long-term is not as exciting or intense, so they get disappointed. They reason that if they had so much fun for two weeks, living there would be even better. By some estimates, half of those who go on long-term trips return home disillusioned. Long-Termers cannot maintain that level of intensity and excitement over a long period of time. It is like going on a honeymoon or vacation; you do not have to go to work, and you enjoy every moment. Then reality hits and you are back to real life, where there is work, tiredness, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and countless other things that keep you busy. Many missionaries expect that when they return full time and for a long time, they would have the same experience as they did when they went short-term. They end up disillusioned and frustrated. Some missionaries do not realize that just figuring out how to live in a foreign country takes up a huge chunk of their day. I know missionaries who have taken a year or more to settle down, spending time looking for a house to live in, furnishing the house, dealing with shopping, transportation and doing many more things.

6. Short-term trips are expensive. Once I was on a prayer walk trip in Morocco. Four hundred came from many parts of the world for the five day journey. I estimated that no less than one million dollars were spent on travel alone (400 X $2500). Some have argued that it would be better that we send this money to the mission field where it can make a much greater impact.

7. The impact on the national church is not always positive. Some churches are inundated by short-term teams that demand a lot of attention. This takes national pastors away from their regular routine and disrupts the ministry

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The Training of Immigrant Christian Leaders

Aug. 30, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Last year I spoke at a TGC-Twin Cities event at a Presbyterian church plant that also hosted an Ethiopian congregation. A few weeks later I ran into a friend who was trying to help a Hmong speaking congregation in the Twin Cities. These two situations caused me to pause because we have been working on translating our curriculum to Amharic and Hmong to teach abroad while at the same time we have immigrant church leaders in the US, who for a variety of reasons can not access theological education that is available to them.oc-pastors-conference

On top of this I have been researching migrant church movements as part of PhD research.  

These two things made wonder whether TLI could help immigrant and migrant pastors in the US and Europe by providing training for them in their own language. The statistics are staggering and have led some to call it the "Great Commission in Reverse." Just in Minneapolis, MN we have 90,000 Hmong, 77,000 Somali, 37,500 Liberian and 25,000 Oromo. Or take London, where there are more non-English speaking churches than English speaking church. Or Athens, where up to 20% of the city are non-Greeks.

We now have 29 US Staff. We have the teachers and church partnerships to be able to do this.

We want to appoint someone whose focus would be to direct this specific kind of training and get like-minded churches involved in cities in the US and Europe that would continue training. This could also be a wonderful way to foster partnerships between English and non-English speaking churches that worship in the same city.

If you know someone who might be interested in leading this, you can read the job description here.

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