Preparing Students for a Life of Following Jesus Across Cultures
Posted May 11th, 2017
How do you follow Jesus in a world that is culturally diverse?
That’s an important question to ask, whether you are considering a life of vocational ministry or are living your witness in another field. Fortunately, the recently developed International Studies major at Crown College is designed to prepare students who want to be more effective across cultures, especially if they plan to serve overseas…or just in everyday life.
The program is a success because it focuses on four distinct areas of a student’s development, as explained by Professor Stephen Jones, the main catalyst for the major at Crown.
The first distinctive of the major is self-understanding. Prof. Jones explained that this is related to answering questions about who the student is in their own life with Christ. At least initially, it’s not about what you know; it’s about knowing Christ and yourself and building your spiritual confidence. Though it can be an overlooked element of preparation, that’s where it all starts for anyone who wants to serve in ministry overseas.
“An international context can end up being really challenging when you’re separated from people who affirm your faith and you yourself are going through hard times,” says Jones. “If you haven’t wrestled with doubt before, it can be really unsettling.”
Jones says it’s important for students to know themselves – their own strengths and weaknesses. If it’s the first time a student engages in this kind of “self-discovery” and they are already living in a foreign context, it can create tension and conflict.
The second distinctive is related to working with others. Interestingly, the major does not jump right into cultural awareness. Instead, self-awareness leads to understanding the team dynamics because, as Jones explained, interpersonal conflict can be unsettling as well.
“We began to realize a number of years back that one of the main reasons missionaries would leave the field prematurely was because they had trouble getting along with teammates, so that was not necessarily due to cross-cultural interaction, it was a team reaction,” says Jones.
Encountering difficulties like this prompts students to ask deep questions.
“This major challenges students to ask difficult questions and to recognize the complexity of the world,” says Ashley Haukos, an International Studies major at Crown. “There is so much good that comes out of wrestling with difficult issues. This program encourages students to see the pain that is present in the world, but to also be absolutely sure that God is good and he is faithful.”
Jones says this is one reason an internship is so important to the International Studies major students, because it reveals how many people are constantly coming and going as part of a team and how conflict resolution is so paramount to ministry success.
A third distinctive has to do with intercultural competence, which is an ability to understand and relate to cultural differences and similarities, especially in a different area of the world.
“One of the big questions that comes up is – how do I understand the world in a way that approximates how somebody else understands the world without losing the sense of who I am and who I am in Christ?” Jones says.
Each student also completes a concentration in an area of vocational specialty such as cross-cultural ministry, cross-cultural psychology, community development, international business, or humanities. An interdisciplinarity pushes the academic and practical learning to another level.
“We are learning about the cutting-edge findings in the field,” says Caleb Kugel, an International Studies major at Crown. “I like that the program is designed to develop people. We are not being molded to be just good students or just good test takers or just good paper-writers; each individual is uniquely developed to be the best that they can be in whatever specific field they are heading into by first seeking to be the best person they can be.”
In the end, this approach – understanding yourself, your team, your vocation, and the world – is what creates such a healthy outlook on vocational or lay ministry. Equipped for service in this way, students are better prepared for the intense complexities they encounter as they graduate, whether they start working locally or in a different country.