Challenge and Opportunity

This week I was blessed with the opportunity to teach in a cross cultural setting while here in the Philippines. Although most of the students were Filipino, I also had a few So Korean students. The Koreans want to learn English as a Second Language (ESL), as well as the Bible. A couple of my Filipino students are from the province (more rural areas), so their English skills are not as well developed as other students.

Once again I was reminded how communicating and teaching in a foreign (cross-cultural) setting is both a challenge and an opportunity. It's a challenge because words carry meanings and ideas, but these meanings and ideas don't travel well across different languages within their own cultures. This is the reality all cross-cultural missionaries face day in and day out. But it's also an opportunity to grow and develop, and hopefully be fruitful.

The question is, how well do we (missionaries) handle this challenge and opportunity? Those who learn the language of those they serve among are better equipped to meet this challenge—always. But what about those of us who travel to many different nations and aren't immersed in language learning and cultural adaptation before we do ministry? What about those who are on short-term mission teams?

I began writing this post while sitting on the porch of our home in Dumaguete City, in the Visayan region of the Philippines. My wife and I lived here with our family for 15 years while establishing two different ongoing ministries. Now we continue overseeing one of those ministries from the States and during extended visits []. We've enjoyed the partnership of many missionaries over the course of 22 years. Those who learned the local dialect, at least at some level, seemed to adapt best to the challenges and opportunities of cross-cultural ministry.

What about those who haven't learned the local language or have a limited grasp of it? Here are some guidelines that can help, which were developed over several years of experience on the field and working with short-term teams and my staff.

  • Speak slowly in simple and plain words
  • Explain common Christian words and terms
  • Explain words that are more conceptual, abstract, and theoretical
  • Use wording from more readable, easier to understand Bible translations
  • When working with an interpreter be gracious and considerate, following all the guidelines above.

These guidelines will help whether you're travelling to another country or just across town. Nowadays, in many urban areas great opportunities exist for cross-cultural interaction and ministry. These are perfect places to try out these guidelines, whether it's an ongoing ministry outreach or as preparation for a short-term mission.

Cross-cultural missions is most fruitful when good relationships are built and nurtured. Good communication along with clear and useful teaching are also essential for fruitful ministry within cross-cultural settings.

The guidelines above are a summary of a more complete version that is available in a PDF document. If you'd like a copy, send me a request at — allow me a few days to respond since my internet connection is a bit limited for now.