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Marketplace Ministry from Experience, Pt. II

Make the Most of Your Foreign Assignment


Click here for part one of this article series.


Engage in Marketplace Ministry

If God has led you to accept a foreign expat assignment, then he has given you an incredible opportunity for ministry. Take time to educate yourself on the local culture and worldview, your own spiritual maturity, and most importantly, where you can minister.


Evaluate Your Worldview

When was the last time you evaluated your worldview through a biblical lens? Living abroad will challenge your worldview, so be ready. You will find that other parts of the world view life through very different eyes, and cultural biases you didn't even know you had will be exposed as you are confronted with them at work and in everyday life. You must have a solid biblical worldview to interpret life in another country correctly.

I witnessed many expats remain cloistered, failing to engage with the global church community because they were too uncomfortable with cultural differences.

For instance, when we first interacted with the international Christian church community, we became aware that our view of church was distinctly American. The global church community was much more diverse and open-handed on many issues like the role of women in the church, baptism, order of service, etc., and there was a noteworthy lack of political rhetoric. We also lived in two honor/shame, tribal cultures quite different from our home country's guilt/innocence, individualistic culture. The focus was less on self and more on sharing resources with the whole family, village, or community.

There were many other differences as well. The discomfort that comes with those differences can keep you from engaging with the culture. I witnessed many expats remain cloistered, failing to engage with the global church community because they were too uncomfortable with cultural differences.

An examination of our worldview revealed that the differences weren't necessarily wrong or unscriptural; in fact, some of their practices were more biblical. The things common to the fallen state of all humanity, like the treatment of women, poverty, crime, and corruption, helped us see the deep need for the gospel.


Integrate into Local Life

The expat community is an excellent resource for learning about local life, and it’s also a place of ministry. Still, it is important to venture outside the expat bubble and engage with the local community. Expat employees have access to numerous company resources, but the primary focus is always on the job or the project—it’s the reason why they are in the country. The cultural training and language integration that a traditional missionary sending organization provides are typically not available to expat families. This is why being a part of the local church and knowing the missionary community is invaluable. They are the best resource for learning about the culture and the spiritual needs of the people.

Expat employees have access to numerous company resources, but the primary focus is always on the job or the project—it’s the reason why they are in the country.

Important to Know

  • Is the culture honor/shame, guilt/innocence?

  • Is there a language barrier?

  • What is the local dress expectation? If it is a Muslim country, are women expected to cover?

  • What is the dominant religion—Muslim, Christian, animistic, polytheistic?

  • What is the law of the land—Sharia, a dictatorship, or a democracy?

  • Is your host country considered restricted or closed to the gospel?

Your understanding of these issues will ease your adjustment to local life and reveal the spiritual needs and potential places for ministry.


During our time in Papua New Guinea, we joined a local church, and in doing so, we stepped right into the local culture. We worshiped every week in an environment devoid of American norms like air conditioning, reliable electricity, and high-quality production value. We sang praise and worship songs in another language; our skin color was different, and wearing shoes was optional. The teaching was solid, and, to this day, it is still one of the most uplifting worship experiences we’ve ever experienced. The church was where we got to know the local people and, most importantly, the missionaries serving in the area. They invited us to join their weekly home group, which resulted in life-enriching relationships for all of us. It was during our time with them we found our calling to missionary care.


Attend to Your Health

This world is engaged in a spiritual battle, and when you are doing the Lord’s work in a foreign country, you are especially vulnerable. Your mind, body, and spirit need careful attention, and you must focus on all three areas before, during, and after any foreign assignment. Be proactive about preparing for the warfare that will inevitably come your way.

Important to Do

  • Make sure your home church knows you are taking a foreign assignment and that you desire to stay in close contact with them. Ask if there are ministries or missionaries the church supports in the area where you will be living.

  • Develop a support community of advocates (at home and abroad) who will commit to regularly praying for you, encouraging you, and communicating with you. There should be no lone-ranger Christians living anywhere, especially in a foreign land.

  • Seek pre-field training before you leave and de-briefing or professional counseling during your assignment and anytime you return to your home country.

  • Immerse yourself in the Word (alone and with others), worship regularly, practice the spiritual disciplines, and find an area in which you can serve others.

  • Live healthy and take care of your body. Don’t discount the importance of your physical health. It is a crucial factor when living abroad, and neglecting it is a foothold for spiritual warfare.

Stay strong. Attention to your mental, physical, and spiritual health helps ward off depression, loneliness, anxiety, and many other maladies that accompany living amid intense spiritual warfare.

Make sure your home church knows you are taking a foreign assignment and that you desire to stay in close contact with them. Ask if there are ministries or missionaries the church supports in the area where you will be living.

Before we left for our assignment, a good friend and mentor advised me, “Take care of your mental, physical, and spiritual health.” It was the best advice I could have received. The spiritual warfare we encountered affected every area of our lives at different times. Because we engaged in kingdom work in places where the evil one was especially active, we took hits in our most vulnerable areas. Over time we developed a strong support network that included a church community, deep relationships in our home group, professional counselors, Bible study, and an active physical fitness regimen. I can’t emphasize enough how important this was in helping us endure and thrive during our time abroad. Maintaining overall health is essential for any foreign assignment.


Engage in Ministry

Explore how God is working in the area where you live. When you’re on the ground, look around. Where are you, and who has God placed in your life?

Important for Engagement

  • Who do you work with, and who are your neighbors—other expat employees, local employees, or those who live near you?

  • Where do you live—neighborhood, company compound, city, rural area, or bush?

  • Who is within your sphere of influence—employees, expat families, local citizens, refugee community?

  • What is the need—your local church, encouragement, accountability, mentoring, or discipleship, teaching or leading Bible study?

  • How are you gifted—writing, teaching, leading, mentoring, evangelism, serving?

  • Do you have resources to offer—a place to gather, transportation, supplies?

Rest assured that God has ministry for you within this environment. He has given you a place to gather, people to know, and resources to share. Your opportunities will be unique to your assignment, and they may reveal a calling that you will carry throughout your life.

As we engaged in the many ministry opportunities that came our way, one emerged that held sway above all others. When we joined the local church in PNG, we were invited by two missionaries to join a home group that was meeting in their mission compound. That home group and the people in it quickly became our lifeline. Every week we were refreshed and encouraged through worship, study, and fellowship with one another. As we taught, discipled, and counseled each other, the Lord revealed the realities of missionary life and the need for care and support, both their need and ours. When we returned to the States, we engaged in the ministry of missionary care at our local church. Today we help to minister to over one hundred missionaries serving around the world.

I used to struggle when someone would ask me what it was like living in the Middle East or Papua New Guinea. My reaction was akin to a deer in the headlights. There was so much to say: it was easy, it was hard; it was beautiful, it was ugly; it was filled with light, it was dark. Life abroad is a paradox. "I loved it" came just as easily as "I hated it." 1 Peter 4:12 and James 1:2 confirm that we can celebrate the wondrous, and we can persevere when life isn't pretty. As I recently heard in a sermon, “Some of the greatest breakthroughs come on the other side of persevering through tough times.” The one constant in our time overseas was the faithfulness of the Lord as he matured us and equipped us for ministry.

There was so much to say about life overseas: it was easy, it was hard; it was beautiful, it was ugly; it was filled with light, it was dark. Life abroad is a paradox.

Our foreign assignments were a time of transformation for us as we lived immersed in two different cultures, and we came away from it with a defined ministry calling to attend to the needs of global workers. I encourage you to take the calculated risk and engage with what God is doing in the world as his redemptive plan marches forward. Rest assured that wherever he has placed you, he has kingdom work for you, and he will show you the work and grow you through it in ways you never thought possible.


Click here for part three of this article series.

 

Shirley Ralston (MA in Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a founding member of the Missionary Care Team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She also serves on the pastor’s research team and teaches Life Bible Study to single young adults. Shirley and her husband, Jeff, now reside in Houston after living overseas for several years. You can find her on Twitter and texpatfaith.org.


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