Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry: Preparing

By David Harakal

Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry

Installment 3: Preparing

Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.

– Psalms 37:5

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

– Jim Elliot

From this article forward, as we get into the brass tacks, your fellowship or sending organization or team may not align with my advice. You ultimately have to follow the authority you have in your situation, but you can still respectfully seek to understand the difference.


Your sending fellowship must be involved in your team selection, as they are generally your final authority.

  • The theology of the team must align with yours and your sending fellowship’s. Teams often disintegrate unpleasantly where theology is not common.
    • Caveat: If you will join an onboarding team temporarily to provide you supervision and care during your language-learning and culture-acquisition phase only, this is less of a concern unless the differences are extreme. Discuss differences with your sending fellowship
  • DO NOT decide on a team because of a leader. They come and go with unfortunate regularity. If there is not distributed leadership with some degree of autonomy and ownership, even leadership, in the team, you should be concerned.
  • CAREFULLY review your team’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or your contract.  If you are told something that is not written, assume it will not happen. See what to look for in an MOU in the tools section.
  • Understand the authority structure. While you will have a team leader, and maybe a sending organization, who has the final say? In most cases, this is the leadership in your sending fellowship. Does your future team leader agree with that? Is it in the MOU?

Once you have settled on a team, if at all possible, take a vision trip. Spend time with the team you plan to join. Experience on the ground is much different than a video call.

Vision trip

  • Talk to each team member, not just leaders. Ask detailed questions. You are looking to see if they fit with you, as they look to see if you fit with them.
    • For those with children, how do they school? What are the options? Who babysits and how often?
    • For couples, do they support regular date nights and take them themselves?
    • For singles, what is the dating policy? For single women, are there older men or couples who will help them if the region is male dominant? Though it may sound ideal, if you are the only single on a team of married couples and families, you may find it particularly lonely. I have seen this often, such that the single does not remain on the team as long as expected, leaving for a team with more singles, which is disruptive.
  • Spend social time with their friends. If they have been there for a while and have no friends outside of the team, this should concern you in most cases.
  • Spend a “day in the life” – attend a sample language lesson, visit the stores or shops or fields where you will buy food, help prepare it and clean up.
  • Teams will typically tell you they value time with the Lord, sharing, language, then admin, in that order. Do their hours during the week reflect that? (Note that language may take up an “unfair” share in the first several months, which you need for your day-to-day life.)


  • Support Raising tips
  • Starting your care network
  • Legal documents you will need

Books to read during this phase

  • Foreign to Familiar by Sarah Lanier
  • Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor
  • The God Ask by Steve Shadrach and Scott Morton
  • Spiritual Multiplication in the Real World by Dr. Bob McNabb
  • The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken
  • Firefall 2.0 by Alvin L. Reid , Malcolm McDow, et al.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Reliant or any other entity with which he is affiliated.

This article is the third in this series.

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