Beat the Learning Curve :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Beat the Learning Curve

Jon Crocker
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How much thought did you put into tying your shoes this morning? Do you remember tying your shoes this morning? Shortly after I learned to tie my own shoes as a small boy, we visited my grandparents. I don't remember this, but my parents tell me that I occupied myself for the several hours between the North Carolina towns of Monroe and Smithfield by repeatedly tying and untying my shoes, because I did not want to forget before I could show my grandmother. If you had told me then that 40 years later I'd be able to handle that daily ritual with my eyes closed, I might not have believed you.

Living and serving Christ cross-culturally are skills that require learning. Ask any first-term missionary about adjustments to the field, and you will likely find that he or she is armed with stories of struggles and mistakes related to the differences between the home country and the host country. Think of public transportation, traffic regulations, greetings (is it ok to make eye contact with a man who is older than me?), shopping, cooking, eating, relating to people older than you or younger than you or richer than you or poorer than you, government permissions, ordering and receiving household water, gas, and electricity, obtaining (or preparing) suitable drinking water, posture, gestures, and the list could continue. How about language? We've all heard the stories about the hilarious things missionaries have unintentionally said (my most memorable ended up sounding something like "turn to Paul's handgun to the Romans"). Then, add to all of this the burden to meet and know people for the Gospel's sake and the difficulty of really getting inside of them and their way of thinking, while longing to tell them of Christ.

Some now say that it takes a full term on the field to get to the point where a missionary is comfortable living, moving, and speaking in his host culture and language. This lengthy process is simply unavoidable.

Or is it?

After I finished my seminary degree, I was working full-time as a bank teller and enjoying a multiyear internship at our home church. My wife and I both had significant exposure to the Spanish language and Hispanic cultures. We also had a burden for urban ministry. Though we had willing hearts, there was no obvious next step. Until one day, I had a conversation with Dr. Alan Patterson at GFA about a potential short-term opportunity with a missionary in Mexico City, Mexico. Since we had no other definite plans, we decided to pursue the opportunity to help this missionary family. Over the 18 months of our short-term assignment, we learned many of the skills required to live and minister in Mexico City. We grew in our love for and ability to minister to the people. Our language capability increased dramatically. We learned about many of the cultural adjustments necessary (and made our share of mistakes!) in the context of an existing ministry and under the leadership of veteran missionaries.

Then, we went back to the United States on deputation. Churches appreciated that we had already lived and ministered in our field of service. We were able to speak from experience about life and missions there. Before long, we were landing in Mexico City again, ready to begin on day one.

There is a learning curve. But in God's good providence, a short-term missionary assignment helped us be ahead of the learning curve. If you are burdened for missions, perhaps God would use short-term service to direct you and prepare you ahead of time for cross-cultural ministry.