We live in days of tremendous technological advances. We carry phones that take pictures, tell time, serve as alarm clocks and stop watches, and keep track of our daily schedules. Our computers are smaller, more powerful, and have more storage than anyone imagined just thirty years ago. I carry a library of more than seven thousand volumes when I travel—all without breaking a sweat! We can travel farther, faster, and more conveniently than at any previous time in human history. From my home in Minneapolis, I can be anywhere in the world in 48 hours. These advancements present new opportunities to proclaim the gospel globally. Missions has embraced this technology with vigor and so can the average pastor. One great way to help the spread of the gospel is through overseas ministry, particularly teaching. Just because you are not called to be a deputating missionary does not mean there is nothing you can do overseas.
My first overseas trip came in the late 1990s when a friend from college invited me to come to Romania to do some teaching. It was a grand experience. I prepared a set of notes on the Gospel of John which he translated into Romanian and off I went to teach. I had a translator that spoke good English and better Romanian. He knew theological terms and ideas, so the work of translating went smoothly, though he did have to tell me to slow down sometimes.
In the past twenty years, I have made more than thirty trips to countries like India, Russia, Romania, Kenya, Zambia, and most recently, the Ukraine, to assist the brethren in these places with training national workers.
“Well,” you say, “you are a professor.” True indeed, but my friend Don has made numerous trips doing the same thing while serving as a pastor. He has been to Jamaica, Romania, Asia, and (I think) Brazil, just to name a few places. The opportunities are nearly endless.
In this series of essays, I want to offer counsel for those considering this kind of ministry. Who should go? What should a pastor expect? Is it hard to teach through an interpreter? What about the food? Where will I stay? The questions are abundant.
Visiting a mission field can be a thrilling and life-altering experience for any pastor. Every minister who desires to have a greater heart for world missions ought to visit some mission field at least once in his ministry, and if you have missionaries sent out from your church, you ought to visit their field periodically, even once per term, to see the work for yourself.
If you want to assist the work by teaching, where do you start? It is helpful if you have an invitation to come. Not every missionary wants or even needs this kind of help. Be sensitive to the missionaries. Ask if they need help. If not, look for another opportunity. Some missionaries get a lot of foreign visitors. You might end up being a burden. But other missionaries are seeking qualified men who can assist them with their ministry. I have made several recruitment trips with a brother seeking qualified pastors for a large teaching ministry on the other side of the world. The opportunities are there if you look for them. But be sensitive and selective.
Once you have a place to go, determine what you will teach and for how long. I have taught twenty-hour classes through an interpreter, which translates into ten hours of instruction. I have also had thirty-hour classes without a translator—three times the instructional material. Both formats have their challenges. A thirty-hour class in five days is a lot of talking, while a ten-hour class over the same time requires a different kind of concentration, trying to keep your thoughts together while the translator communicates your ideas.
Yes, the person standing next to you as you teach will more than likely interrupt your train of thought and your sentence structure. It takes practice working with an interpreter. Because of the ways various languages work, preaching through an interpreter takes some practice. For example, in the Ukraine, I had to be reminded to speak in complete thoughts which could then be rendered into Ukrainian. In other contexts, you might get away with speaking in phrases.
Having a translator who knows theological terms makes translation easier. I recently preached through an interpreter in the Ukraine. Her English was good but she was not familiar with theological terms. Before the sermon, I explained a few things to her to facilitate the translation. Things went smoothly and a man professed faith after the sermon, mostly through the evangelistic efforts of the church in the weeks leading up to the meeting.
Determine at what level you will teach and to whom. For instance, you may be teaching at a Bible institute level to church workers or you may be teaching men who are already in pastoral ministry. Pastors in many parts of the world enter ministry with no formal training. They learn on the job. In places with few books in their language, their ministry may suffer and their people may be undernourished, biblically speaking. Working with such a group of pastors can provide a rich blessing as you teach them how to rightly handle the Scriptures. Watching their eyes open to the truth is exhilarating.
The missionary may suggest a topic he wishes you to address or he may leave the topic open to you. Several considerations affect topic selection: the audience, the time allotted (James is easier to teach than John in a one-week class), and the theology involved. Your own strengths and weaknesses are also relevant. I am not an Old Testament scholar, so I might not be the best choice to teach Old Testament Theology or the book of Isaiah. I am also not a New Testament man, but as a pastor, I worked my way through several books that later became the basis for overseas classes. Of course, history is my forte, so I look for topics in this vein. Sometimes, you might be asked to teach a class you took in seminary. Preparing to teach will be a good refresher for you as well as a blessing to those you teach.
Over the next several weeks, I want to share some tips to facilitate a potential overseas ministry of teaching that many pastors might consider. There are some great global needs that you might be able to help with.
This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
O’er Those Gloomy Hills of Darkness
William Williams (1717–1791)
O’er those gloomy hills of darkness
Look, my soul, be still, and gaze,
All the promises do travail
With a glorious day of grace;
Let thy glorious morning dawn.
Kingdoms wide that sit in darkness,
Grant them, Lord, the glorious light,
And from eastern coast to western,
May the morning chase the night;
Freely purchas’d, win the day.
May the glorious day approaching,
Thine eternal love proclaim,
And the everlasting gospel,
Spread abroad thy holy name,
O’er the borders
Of the great Immanuel’s land.
Mighty Saviour, spread thy gospel,
Win and conquer, never cease,
May thy lasting wide dominions
Multiply and still increase;
Sway thy sceptre,
Saviour, all the world around.