February 18, 2013

Cross-cultural Considerations

Sue has ministered worldwide to women at just about every age, stage and season of life. She uses what God taught her in years of cross-cultural ministry to help other women learn to serve in similar situations. We talked recently about some cross-cultural ministry topics. Because Sue was speaking to me as a friend, and not as a representative of her Christian organization, she asked me to use only her first name here to protect her privacy.

Seeing all of life as a ministry. The church Sue grew up in stressed that, wherever you go and whatever you do, you are Christ's ambassadors. Sue found herself "thinking of people all the time" in high school, college and beyond. Once she met her future husband, she agreed with her pastor's assessment that she would not be happy unless she was married to a man in full-time ministry.

Acknowledging a learning curve. Sue urges those who want to minister cross-culturally to "go as a learner" and "live in a way that communicates your interest." For Americans moving to a non-English speaking country, "the ability to grasp the language" can be the major factor in adjusting. She also said it is important to get to know how men and women relate to each other, within marriage and as friends, and the local customs of caring for children. In addition, a woman must realize that performing daily tasks like shopping, cooking and cleaning can be time-consuming. Trying to do things as you did them in your native country doesn't always work in a new place.

Being blessed by God. Ministering cross-culturally results in excitement. According to Sue, you experience God's faithfulness in getting you to the field, have people who come alongside you in prayer and support, see your faith built and are exposed to a different part of God's creation with unfamiliar animals and geography. She said, "You have a bigger picture of God."

Receiving and giving encouragement. God gave Sue two friends, whom she has known well for about 40 years. One is caring for a large family, and the other has a very responsible job, but they both take time to love Sue, keep in touch and point her to Christ. Likewise, Sue encourages those she ministers to by emphasizing the truth of the Gospel as she listens carefully to other women's concerns. She advises people to "run to and rest in Jesus often" because some cross-cultural workers neglect that.

Managing expectations. "Expectations are a huge issue for women in ministry," according to Sue. They expect so much of themselves, God, their children and life. A book, Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission (ISBN: 978-0878085231), considers what the Gospel has to say with a combination of research and personal experience. Sue said the publisher, William Carey Library, offers this helpful book at a fair price.

Participating as a church. Churches can promote awareness of what it takes to minister in a cross-cultural way and connect with those who are engaged in it. When Sue lived outside the United States, being distant from friends and relatives was difficult. She said, "Things are different now" with faster and less expensive ways of communicating with someone far away. Now, churches can send expressions of concern, encouragement and assurance of prayer by several means.  In addition, they can personalize their care by asking individuals in cross-cultural ministry what they need from their supporters.

Sue, wife of an "awesome" husband and mother to two "fun and lovely" adult daughters, admits to trying witchity grubs, an aboriginal delicacy, sauteed in garlic butter. If she was alone and had the rare opportunity of eight free hours, Sue would listen to "her" music and read a novel. She feels that God is especially at work in her when she can encourage women in cross-cultural ministry by prayer and reminding them of the promises that are theirs in Christ. I think she is a good and faithful servant in all of it.


  1. Sue's experience of blessing from her two (state-side, I assume) friends reminds me to be more faithful in checking in with my friends who are in cross-cultural situations. Facebook and Skype have made it so easy to stay connected, I am really without excuse when I don't!

  2. And, the proverbial nail was just hit on the head! It's amazing to me how God has gifted people to say things so accurately and well. Thanks for sharing your conversation with Sue.


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