TRAINING BY THE HEART: Cross-Cultural Missions Training, the African Perspective
Excerpts from the book, TRAINING BY THE HEART: Cross-Cultural Missions Training, the African Perspective
A. Avenues for Effective Missionary Training Programme
Avenues abound for missionary training programs. Few of such are Bible Schools; Theological colleges and Seminaries, Summer Mission schools, Evening Mission schools, and Church-based programs. Missionary organizations with Schools of missions outfit are effective agents for missionary training. They possess the ‘know-how’ and their primary goal is to recruit, train or equip and deploy or send out missionaries to the unreached people groups of the world.
According to some Missiologists, “missionary training centers do provide focused instruction in the formation and skills required for effective cross-cultural life and ministry.” David Harley expressed the need for specialized training in cross-cultural missions. As a graduate of classics and theology, with postgraduate study in education and theology and three years of service as an assistant minister in a church in London, he was surprised when the missionary society of his choice confronted him with the need for a year’s course of cross-cultural or missionary training. His reaction was, “After all these years of training!” Many intended missionary candidates feel the same way, but Harley said, “I could not have been more wrong, and as soon as I began the course, I realized my mistakes. I quickly began to appreciate that I understood very little about cross-cultural mission and I was grateful to my mission leaders for giving me the opportunity to prepare adequately for my future work”
The role of effective prayer ministry and the place of the Holy Spirit in achieving a balanced missionary training are invaluable. The Holy Spirit is the great teacher. The Bible states it this way, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26)
Any form of spiritual training that de-emphasises the importance of the Holy Spirit is not of God, and for the Holy Spirit to come, we must pray to the Father – God. A missionary training programme that is not soaked in prayer is not worth its salt.
B. Consequences of Inadequate Missionary Training
In an article written by P. S. Thomas who went as a missionary to North India, he portrayed the adverse effects of proceeding to the mission fields without adequate missionary training. Theological education is good, but it cannot serve as an alternative to missionary training. According to him, two South Indian single men went as missionaries to North India. Despite the fact that they were well trained and equipped with four years of Bible school training they lacked cross-cultural skills. There was no adequate preparation for marriage and family life and in spite of their zeal and enthusiasm for the mission field they made emotional wreck of their lives. The mental health of one of the wives was adversely affected.
Just like these friends, many missionaries move into the missionary assignment as unmarried adults and when marriage and all its demands come up, they get confused. Remember, when the father or the mother decided to respond to the missionary call, the kids were not there, so the parents have to plan for the future of their children. It was therefore concluded by P. S. Thomas that, “commitment to the Lord and high motivation for missions are essential, but not enough to produce an effective cross-cultural missionary.”
When missionaries are sent out to the mission frontiers without adequate cross-cultural mission preparation, the consequences can be damaging and may even attract eternal disaster. They commit cultural mistakes at times by burning down shrines indiscriminately, thereby closing the doors of eternal life to millions of people and even to generations yet unborn.
Missionaries should always remember the four questions of norm:
1. What are the norms of the people?
2. Are they living within the norms?
3. Does the norm need change?
4. Who is responsible for changing the norm?
Missionaries are not to change the norms of the people. The national Christians or converts have to face such challenges. The missionaries can only be instrumental in providing enlightenment to the converts through God’s word, but the decision for change must come from the people. Only then can such changes have lasting effects.
Another consequence of ill-equipped missionary or lack of adequate preparation for missionary work could manifest itself in the methodologies or strategies being employed by the missionary. For example, all the cultural baggage, evangelistic methods, church orders that are being practiced in his home country are forced down the throat of the national Christians, thereby resulting into culture Christianity.
David Harley described this as being guilty of ecclesiastical imperialism. He states further that ‘it is not only the missionaries who suffer if they are given inadequate preparation for cross-cultural service, the people to whom they are sent also suffer.” Ill-equipped soldiers are likely to become victims of casualties at the war front; so also ill-equipped missionaries. Missions training is rugged and it is rightly so in order to adequately prepare the trainees for the mission frontiers.
We dare not lower the standard. The saints are watching!
C. Cross Cultural Mission Trainers Speak Out!
Some mission trainers have been generous enough to share part of their pleasant experiences, trying moments and challenges of training in cross-cultural missionary training institutes and centres with others who have the heart for cross-cultural mission work.
A principal of one of the schools of missions claims that he enjoys the company of the missionary trainees for the fact that they are already mature, with the exception of a few of them. He also enjoys the fact that he is able to utilize the experiences he has gained in pastoral training to come to bear on the training of missionary candidates. “Having the avenue to test our lives to find out whether we are relevant to people of different cultures or not brings along with it a sense of fulfilment,” he declared.
A female trainer shares her own experience. She actively participates in outreach trips and field visits with her students in training, and seeing students wake up to the needs of the unreached was a constant source of joy to this veteran missionary.
Another female trainer recounts how a female student walked up to her and declared “Ma, Satan told me that you are my enemy.” The trainer responded with a smile, “And do you believe that?” She asked further, “Since when have you and Satan started engaging in a dialogue?” The trainer spent some time with this distressed trainee and took pains to explain to her that she loves her, but it is just that she does not approve of her stubborn behavior. She tried to help this lady understand the love of God being shed in the trainer’s heart for her and the fact that she was only trying to help her become the best for her master, Jesus Christ.
In retrospect, the trainer expresses a heart of thanksgiving unto the Lord for positive changes that became visible in the life of the trainee in question. She became a good friend to the trainer before and after her graduation. The God of mission is a healer! He heals wounded hearts.
A male trainer expresses his own experience. One dear moment was when God used me to deliver a trainee from death. Due to my relationship with her, as a shepherd, I went and brought her out from her room where she locked herself up after taking an overdose of a malaria drug. I insisted that she should open her door and I took her to my house. She collapsed as she got to the house. She was almost gone! I prayed and God restored her to life.
Another missionary trainer puts it this way “Sometimes during lecture hours some of the candidates literarily shed tears unstopped. As the training is life impartation, the Holy Spirit brings conviction to the people.
D. Trying Moments
A trainer expressed the pain in the heart of a trainer thus:
“Seeing would-be missionaries abandon their callings after training or having gone very far in the training, such occasions have made me to appreciate the grace of God in the lives of those who are still committed to their calling despite many odds they may be facing.”
“Trying to reconcile two female students who were roommates and were bitter against each other,” was a trying moment. Generally, ‘dealing with problems in student interpersonal relationship poses trying moments to mission trainers.
Accommodation problems could cause some pains as well. Another trainer claims that it is a difficult experience sharing the same hostel with missionary candidates. As a trainer there are times when you desire to have some time alone with the Lord, and while you are meditating on the word of God or while praying, the students might come into the room. And not taking cognizance of the presence of the trainer, they may be engaged in discussions or singing of songs. It is not always easy to ask them to keep quiet, the reason being that one may create unnecessary tension in their relationship with the trainer. At such moments, one needs to exercise long-suffering. According to him, “a mission trainer must learn to tolerate and accommodate others. We are called to work with others and we must be ready to adjust in order to maintain good interpersonal relationship.”
Another trainer in relating his own experience said, “In training men, one thing we sometimes assume or really forget is that they are men, fallen men. Our limited insight, vision and even understanding of the human nature complicate that human status. The result is that sometimes we are woefully disappointed particularly by some trainees in whom we have put a premium. It can be more painful when the deceit and wickedness of the heart is hidden, with the blames for their misdemeanor laid fully at your feet, and you are made to bear responsibility for something you don’t even know about. This can be devastating for the trainer.
Thanks be to God, even in those trying moments, the Holy Spirit still has some lessons to teach those who are willing to listen to Him. “At such times, faith becomes a real shield and the word of God a real comfort. Else, personal fall is inevitable. Patience and prayer become reliable weapons.”
In her graphic representation of the same subject, a female trainer puts it thus:
The fact that some of these students came in raw as it were, processing them brings tears on many occasions. I experienced my love and concern for a student being rebuffed. I felt insulted and sad. I was scared because I felt that the state of his heart may lead to something terrible. I asked him questions for about thirty minutes and he refused to answer! I later left him and started praying for him. He came a few days after to apologise and to state that the problem was that, “the foundation of his love relationship with a sister is shaking.” It is helpful to be patient with people.
Missionary candidates are not superhuman beings. They are real human beings made up of flesh and blood. They have emotional needs and they experience pains and sorrows as well. Trainers should recognise this fact and as such make provision for some ‘surprises’ that may come from them. This may lessen our pains of training them… Whenever mission trainers are faced with such experiences, it is usually a painful and trying moment. You want to be sure that you are not ‘unconsciously supporting the devil’ to terminate God’s vision upon somebody’s life. Such decisions are usually handled by prayers, seeking to know God’s mind concerning such issues.
E. Trainer – Trainee relationship
Just like any normal human relationship, one expects both good and bad. That is to say that in the context of missionary training there are times when the relationship between the trainers and their trainees is cordial and at other times “bitter” especially at such times that can be rightly referred to as the moment of truth………….
N.B. To enjoy the complete messages in the book, please purchase an E-copy of the book titled, “Training by the heart: Cross-Cultural Missions Training, the African Perspective,” by Dr. Esther Adenike Luogon, by visiting: