Jesus calls us to step outside of ourselves—our own ways of viewing and doing things—if we are to follow him, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself” Matthew 16:24. The same is true when ministering cross-culturally. Ministering to those in a culture different from your own is not easy. It means leaving behind all your preconceived notions of how people should act and think. It also means entering the new culture like a child, ready to learn from those you intend to serve.
1. Learn the Language (Or at least some of it)
Language is the key that opens the door to cross-cultural ministry. Put some work in before your short-term mission trip to learn some of the language of the people you will be serving. Even if your sentences are broken, you have an accent, and you have to use hand gestures to fill in the gaps, you’ll be amazed at the connections you make with people when you put in this extra effort. You’ll also be surprised at how much grace you receive from native speakers as you fumble over words and phrases. By speaking a person’s language, you turn the tables and give that person the ability to help you with something for a change. This can give someone a sense of empowerment and dignity and only serve to build your relationship and open doors for better sharing the Gospel.
2. Learn the Culture
It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to minister cross-culturally without learning about the culture you’ll be ministering in. Before you leave on your short-term mission trip, find a way to immerse yourself into the culture. For example, if you are going to Mexico, spend some time at a local Spanish church, if you are going to Africa, find an organization that works with African refugees. Be creative and be bold, stepping outside of your comfort zone like this will not be easy. Before and during your mission trip try to listen more than you talk. You will be surprised at how much of a person’s culture you can learn by just listening and observing.
3. Be Present
When you’re on a short-term mission trip, don’t let anything—personal worries, being uncomfortable, to-dos, etc—stand in the way of you and the people you’re serving. Get on your knees and hug the little children, play with them, show a genuine interest in people’s live’s when you speak with them, don’t rush your time together. Focus on building relationships above all else.
4. Use Your Gifts
In 1 Peter 4:10 God calls us to “Use whatever gift you have received to serve others”. Did you know you that God gave you unique spiritual gifts to help you minister to others? If you haven’t already discovered your spiritual gifts you can take a test online or have a discussion with your pastor or other church leader or mentor. Spiritual gifts can include things that are practical, like teaching and leading (Romans 12:6-8), or they can be things like healing and prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:8–10). Once you have an idea of what your gifts may be, find a way to use them before your short-term mission trip. The more you use your gifts the more proficient you will be in them and the better you can use your unique spiritual gifts to minister to others.