Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Body, Mind and Spirit

A unique aspect of the Christian cross-cultural life—especially for someone not looking to merely cope and exist, but adapt to, influence and impact the new culture—is the amount of work that goes into daily living. Things that you normally learn to do gradually over years of your life, are done in completely different ways in the new culture, and you have a lot of catching up to do. Some cross-cultural workers take a few months to “learn the new culture” and then jump into “work” with both feet. They either quickly burn out or else they make sacrifices to their family, health or integrity that undermine everything they have tried to do.

Vocational ministry is never just a job, and if anything the close connection between life and ministry should be emphasized everywhere. However, in cross-cultural ministry this connection is vital to the survival of the work. In other words, every Christian should actively seek to be physically, mentally and spiritually healthy, but people involved in cross-cultural ministry need to see this as part of their life’s work.

I once had a spiritual mentor who made a point of not doing his personal quiet time while he was “on the clock.” He argued that “normal” Christians didn’t have the luxury of reading the Bible at their jobs so neither should he. The problems with this thinking are many. Does ministry only occur during working hours? Are our home life and our ministry separate things? If your effectiveness depends on your health and spiritual vitality, can those things be afterthoughts? If your ability to live in a setting depends on your being healthy enough to walk many hours a day, does maintaining your health not become a part of your job?

When Christians make the choice to plant their lives in another culture in order to share their faith, they are effectively giving up an idea of “vocation” and instead devoting their whole lives being witness. They leave behind the 40 hour week and are on the clock 100% of the time. They need to realize, though, that that 100% includes things like parenting, eating right, continually learning language and culture, dealing with local bureaucracy, and maintaining a healthy spiritual connection to God. If they don’t take care of these “mundane” activities they are presenting a partial and incomplete picture of the Christian life.

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