Why is theological education important for preparing to serve cross-culturally?

We asked some new OMF workers to share how their time at Bible college shapes their service today:

Jade’s story

‘I believe it is essential to get Bible college training before serving cross-culturally. One key thing that I learned from Bible college is to be aware of the underlying values and assumptions of a culture. Based on my Masters of Theology educational project, which focused on Thai socio-cultural influences in the Thai church context, I realised that while there are surface-level values and behaviours, underlying these is the culture’s worldview. Understanding this worldview is vital for understanding another culture and sharing the gospel effectively in that culture.

Remarkably, when I first arrived in a new culture, namely the Shan people group in Thailand, I observed that there were various issues that could perhaps cause me to give up, such as transitional stress, culture shock, and unmet expectations. Nevertheless, by giving special attention to aspects of the social and cultural influences of both Thai and Shan cultures, I learned to emphasise similarities rather than differences and not to judge others based solely on my own experiences. God taught me to value others above myself, and not look to my own interests but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4). Hence, I decided to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him by reaching out to the Shan with humility and love (Matthew 16:24).

I’m so thankful for my journey in seminary, which enhanced not just my academic field of theology of mission, but also inspired me to grow in Christlikeness and equipped me with foundational ministry skills as I seek to serve for God’s glory!’

Jade* Sent by OMF Thailand

Kei’s story

Why did you feel it was important to go to Bible college before serving cross-culturally?
‘First, I had to build the foundation for being a life-long theological learner. It is crucial to understand my own theological and cultural background so I can share the gospel cross-culturally in a way people will understand. If I lack self-discernment, I will easily push my own understanding onto people in the mission field. I wanted to know what the core of the gospel is, what is unchangeable in all cultures, and what can be adapted to each culture.

Second, I wanted to learn how to serve together in God’s mission with other disciples of Christ. One of my priorities in choosing a Bible college was learning in a community and living together on site. God’s field is huge and wide, so I wanted to know about his work through the brothers and sisters I studied and prayed with at Bible college. I thought having prayer friends was one of the most important pieces of equipment for serving in mission.’

Could you share something you learnt at Bible college which is helping you now as you serve cross-culturally?
To do theology where God has placed me, which means to know God and to love God here.  I took several classes at Bible college. But I was influenced more by the teacher’s personality than the subjects. I learnt at a small Bible school in Japan, which OMF founded with the local Japanese churches. The lecturers were pastors of local churches and missionaries who tried to overcome the language barrier. They had daily challenges in their ministries but served God day by day. They were good models of people who had responded to God’s call and were serving the people God had put them with.

I continually remind myself of the words that a teacher shared with us. When issues unexpectedly arise that you do not know how to deal with; when the truth of Bible teaching and the reality, circumstances and thinking of the people you are working with collide; then, ‘keep on grappling with these issues’ seeking God’s guidance and inspiration. This grappling in itself is part of my mission. When I serve cross-culturally, there are many things that I have never experienced in my home country and do not know how to deal with. But I know the One who is the Lord of all and with me always. I believe that God works through my whole being even as I am struggling to live together with the people God has placed me with. I anticipate that knowing God together will be sharing the gospel.’

Kei* Sent by OMF Japan

*names changed