Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry: What is Thriving?

By David Harakal

Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry

Installment 2: What is Thriving?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

– John 10:10

The future is as bright as the promises of God.

– William Carey

Thriving. We’re all supposed to have it, or strive towards it, but what is it?

From Merriam-Webster: Thrive (thrīv), intransitive verb

  • to grow vigorously
  • to gain in wealth or possessions
  • to progress toward or realize a goal despite or because of circumstances

Synonyms: flourish, succeed, prosper

I define “thriving” as being happy, healthy, and holy, or moving in that direction. (I did not create that list, but love it as a holistic measure of health.) It is impossible to be always happy, healthy, and holy—sanctification is moving us in that direction, often using the absence of those elements go get us there, to reveal our need for our savior.

There are wonderful books, podcasts, and websites that delve (sometimes deeply) into various elements of thriving on the field. See the resources link below for suggestions.

My purpose is to give you short, actionable advice, often in the form of tables or bullet points, generally devoid of stories and anecdotes, for all stages from considering life in another country to returning to one’s passport country. I believe that part of thriving is removing or minimizing those items that unnecessarily complicate living in a context unfamiliar to you. Notice I say “unnecessarily”—not all of your challenges will be unnecessary, but even for those I have seen people make things harder than they need to.

Tips to help you thrive.

  • Choose joy. We often do not get to pick what happens to us, but we have complete control over how we respond.
  • A few are truly victims of crimes or abuse, but for the rest of us, do not develop a victim mentality. That is a choice.
  • Keep an open mind regarding your job, your plans, and your expectations, during every step of the process. An old Jewish proverb says, in effect, “Man plans, God laughs.” I do not think he actually laughs, but his ways are not our ways, even if they are harder sometimes. Rigid plans and time lines are a recipe for discontent.
  • If you are working in ministry, to some extent it is “just” a job. You have a boss. You may have targets or quotas. You have required tasks. You probably have to claim expenses. It helps not to view every aspect of your work that you do not like as some sort of spiritual attack. Every job has elements that are not ideal and some are unpleasant.
  • Those from the West do not generally have good models for contentment, so taking what does not work at home and expecting it to work in a new culture is completely unrealistic.
  • Life in an unfamiliar country is challenging—language, culture, food, customs, norms to try to figure out. Acknowledge that as the first step towards adapting.
  • In many countries, just going grocery shopping or paying a utility bill may be all that is accomplished in a day. Talk to others in your context and adjust your expectations accordingly.

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.

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