Riley (the editor) here: If you’ve ever been interested in world missions, you’re going to enjoy this!
My friend, Nathan, spent two years in Spain in what is called a “Journeyman” program and recently returned to the States. Now, we get to pick his brain on things like his thoughts on “calling”, his experience being away from home so long, cross-cultural ministry, and more.
Some of these may be questions you’d expect, and some won’t be, but whether you’re interested in global evangelism or not, I think you’ll find plenty of excellent thoughts to chew on and learn from.
Also, feel free to ask any additional questions in the comments below!
Q1: Let’s start at the beginning: A lot of people say they feel “called” to missions. What does this term mean to you? Would you say you felt clearly called? Why or why not?
A1: I think being called is, to an extent, synonymous with being a Christian. Christ called us to Himself, and yet we are also called to share His gospel with others. I believe we are all called to this task, but sometimes individuals are called to share the Gospel in a unique setting or a specific place.
Back in 2011, the President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary came to speak at a pastors conference at my church. During his sermon that Sunday, he preached on the Great Commission and shared a statistic of Journeyman serving in what’s called the 10-40 window, which is a window of latitude and longitude where the Gospel faces extreme opposition.
He then said that in region in the 10-40 window, there were 50 Journeyman, and only two were men.
This broke my heart that so few men were going to share the Gospel, especially in a part of the world where being a woman drastically limits what one can and can’t do. I felt that God called me in that moment to serve Him in a place away from the USA, but I had no clue where at that point.
Q2: So, a little background: Why Spain? Why the Journeyman route? Why 2 years?
A2: This questions requires a two-part explanation:
The Journeyman route was part of my calling from the very start, so there was little question that this was the right option for me going (although I was open to other options). Journeyman is a two-year program with the option to add some time closer to the end of one’s term if you choose.
As for the “why” in choosing Spain, that was solely the provision and working of God.
I had always thought I would want to do missions in South America. My church had ongoing missions relations and projects in both Nicaragua and Ecuador – both of which I had visited during short-term trips – but then came along an unexpected change.
A local legend from my church group returned home from his journeyman term, which he served in Rome, Italy. We quickly became friends, and he regaled me with tales of grandeur from living in Rome as well as the extreme lostness despite being the capital of Catholicism.
Little did I know that, soon after we met, he began praying that God would call me to Western Europe as well.
The summer of that year, 2011, I was preparing to go on a month long mission trip to Nicaragua, when a ministry opportunity arrived to go to Spain and teach English for a month.
I went to Nicaragua and directly to Spain after that to teach in the mountains at a summer camp. Out of the six million people residing in Madrid, the supervisor of the Madrid team went out to the camp to pick up another teacher.
We met, and then met for coffee before I returned home to the States, and he basically offered me a spot on the team if the Lord provided the chance to come back. God absolutely opened that door to go serve in Spain.
Q3: So, why do you consider world missions important enough to spend two years of your life doing it?
A3: Asking myself the same question prior to accepting my term, I realized that there is no service or offering I could give that would even scratch the surface of the sacrifice Christ made for me.
He laid down His life for sinners to be made righteous, and so giving two years of my life to serving God is a meager offering for Christ’s entire life given to save me.
Q4: How do they/you define an effective and “fruitful” missions stay? Would you say yours was fruitful? Why or why not?
A4: That’s a really hard question to answer, because so much of ministry is unquantifiable.
In Matthew, Jesus talks about a time to reap and a time to sow. The kicker is that reaping is definitely a lot more quantifiable than sowing, when it comes to evangelism.
I was pretty discouraged when, after a year of being in Madrid, I still hadn’t seen anyone come to know Christ. However, God is faithful, and was quick to remind me that He will build His church (Matt. 16:18).
Some days that meant laboring with the local church in events, or even serving in the nursery at the local gathering of believers so that parents could study the Bible together. Other days, that meant spending time with non-Christians and trying to share Christ with them.
Those are pretty different ideas of ministry, but to me, my goal was just to be faithful with what I could do.
I would consider my term a success, but only due to God’s faithfulness in softening people’s hearts, and by no meager effort of my own. God used that time to sanctify me, grow me in my walk with Him, and use my willingness through weak efforts to demonstrate His power.
Q5: No doubt this is going to be contextual to specific cultures, but what are some things you learned about reaching out cross-culturally that would be helpful for other young men (or women) to know?
A5: That’s a super important thing to understand.
The main thing to consider, when ministering in a foreign context, whether that be another country, another state, or even another city, is to adopt the mindset and posture of a learner.
Nobody likes it when someone comes in telling them what to do and acting like they know everything. I found it immensely helpful to go into the Spanish context as a total learner, asking every question I could.
This served a two-fold purpose as it helped me understand certain mentalities and cultural proclivities, as well as got locals talking to me.
I found that everyone loves to talk about their stomping grounds. It doesn’t matter if they’re singing praises or shouting curses, everyone loves to give their two cents about a place where so much of their life has transpired.
Not only that, but some cultures are more adept in social aspects than we are in Oklahoma, where I live, or even in the USA.
For example, Spaniards have a firm grasp over what community means. They love to spend time together, and value relationships much more than nearly every American I have ever met. That was something I tried to understand, and assimilate into my own understanding and behavior.
Q6: A very contextually specific question, but what did you learn about the way Spain’s culture receives love? How was it different from here in the United States?
A6: Spaniards love to do things in groups. They hold fast to community, and seldom act on an individual basis. Because of that, they express themselves very openly to their group.
As an American, I noticed they were much more open with physical touch than I was at first. Men and women greet each other with a kiss, and it would not be uncommon to hold someone by the hand or arm while talking to them.
They are joyful people, communal people, and very willing to share their culture with outsiders, and when doing so, express affection.
Q7: How well did you feel connected to “the church” while over there? How did you stay connected to fellow believers and how did you do church?
A7: Staying connected is hard due to time zones, time limitations, and wanting to be as all in in a new place as possible.
I found it paramount to seriously maintain a few relationships from back home as a sort of fuel for the work in Madrid. There is nothing like encouragement that comes from people with whom you have relational history.
As for being in Madrid, I was part of a local Spanish church. They had a fairly solid understanding of what a church should be, and how that relates to the global Church.
We had someone to preach the Bible to us weekly, and observed baptism and the Lord’s Supper regularly. I know that isn’t the case for everyone who goes overseas, but my experience was with a very clearly defined church.
Q8: Is this something everyone should do? Why or why not? Are some people more gifted or suited for it than others? Why or why not?
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul says that he will boast gladly in his weaknesses so that the power of God will rest on him.
I think that there is nothing innately in a person to qualify or disqualify them from serving Christ overseas. I think, however, there are things one can do to better prepare themselves, such as learning a new language, studying city mapping, or taking things like Business or ESL and applying them to work overseas.
I also think that choices we make have the ability to disqualify us from such service. For example, I would not recommend anyone who struggles with certain sexual sins to go to the field. There is always forgiveness for sins through repentance in Christ, but certain sins can disqualify any of us from the ministry.
It also comes down to calling. Someone once said to me, “make sure you hold tight to your calling; there will be days when that calling is all you have.” That person was right.
A calling from God is the only thing that can truly sustain through anything.
Some may say that their love for a people group or for a city can overcome any personal trial, but there will always be a circumstances that arises where the will of man fails. Only God can truly sustain us to accomplish His will for our lives.
Q9: Many people say it’s easier to share your faith in a different culture or country than at home. Do you agree with this? How has this experience affected your view on evangelism at home, now that you’re back?
A9: I agree with that notion, as long as you are on a trip shorter than two weeks. There is some weird thing that happens when a group of people go on a short-term trip. They have the support of their group, and feel few to no barriers in terms of sharing the Gospel.
It is different when going by yourself, or going for a longer period of time. When you see the person you are trying to share the Gospel with every day, all of a sudden those same barriers that would exist in the USA appear.
The enemy uses doubt to hinder our desire to share Christ with nonbelievers. That is true no matter where you are.
My stance on sharing the Gospel is the same now as it was before I left. Jesus commanded us to make disciples, and to tell the nations about the freedom we have in Him. My neighbors here in the USA need to hear about Jesus just as much as my neighbors in Spain needed to hear it.
Q10: Do you think you’ll do “missions” like this again? Why or why not?
A10: I have no idea where the Lord will lead at this point.
I’m getting married in a few weeks, and while my future wife and I feel the desire to go back to the mission field, we’re not sure of where or when.
We hope that God opens doors for us to go back to Western Europe to share the Gospel with the myriads of people residing there who don’t believe in Christ. We’ll see though!