Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Discovering the Right Opportunity

First Things First
One of the first steps for a teacher or speaker who is looking at serving as a theologian without borders is to write an ‘Expression of Interest’ (adapting the questions I have identified on this template) and sending it to me.

This confidential statement gives me a better idea of the person and it provides useful information for a needy seminary wanting to ensure that the person coming will be a good match.

Further
I usually write back with a few questions to help me be aware of what a person wants to do with their time and opportunity.

I received a response recently that focused some helpful hopes. I share these in the hope that it might help others to reflect on their motives and desires.

I’d Like to Make a Contribution
The person writes:
“I'd love to be able to make some contribution where a visit could be an encouragement to hard pressed and under resourced local believers.”

This is well put. Wanting to make a contribution where people are not flush with resources and teachers. The gift of encouragement to the ‘hard-pressed’ is just as important as the truths and insights shared in the classroom.

I Want to Learn
“I also want to learn about faith, discipleship and mission in contexts other than my own.”

This desire to receive resonates well with the apostle Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome. At first he is thinking of his contribution to them: “I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—.” Then he catches himself and gives this corrective: “or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Rom. 1: 11-12)

It is good to be thinking about some lessons we would like to learn in another context. It is also important to be open to the surprising lessons that often come to us on these assignments.

I Want to Build Relationships
“…to build relationships especially where some ongoing connection and partnership might become possible.”

A FAQ I get asked concerns the value of a short teaching assignment of a week or two. Relationships build in the planning for the visit, the gathering of resources and information about the country and culture and the many letters sent and received in good Pauline tradition. But there are also opportunities for the relationships to develop afterwards and I have given an example or two in this recent post about Tim who continues to build friendships with people that he met on two separate visits earlier this year.

I Want to Become More Useful
“…and to gain knowledge and insights that would make me more useful as a teacher in my own country (including mission settings that would make me better able to help prepare people for mission, cross-cultural and intercultural ministry).”

This attitude of a teacher wanting to become better in craft and knowledge is vital for developing the right mental stance in the cross-cultural context. This desire to learn from the new students, culture, conversations and worship will be beamed strongly to all those who are encountered and they will sense it.

The power of a cross-cultural teaching assignment to make better teachers cannot be overestimated. Read this story from Keith Dyer that is entitled with his words: “I Have Never Enjoyed Teaching and Learning So Much.”

I’m Happy with an Interpreter
Working through an interpreter is usually par for the course in these ‘hard-pressed’ situations. Better get use to it and pray for a good understanding and partnership.

I Speak another Language
“I speak [a European language in addition to English]. This can be helpful. The seminary in Venezuela that is looking for a teacher has its classes in Spanish. If a teacher is available to go but can’t speak Spanish, they can provide an interpreter. But what a gift—to have a teacher like Stan Slade who is currently teaching a course, “en castellano.”

Sometimes a language gift can suggest a match with a seminary in a particular culture just as much as expertise in a certain discipline or area of training.

I Don’t Mind Roughing It
“I don't mind roughing it, and I was on the back of motorbikes a couple of times when I did some teaching in India.”

Where someone places themselves on the Comfort Spectrum is an important factor in the matching process. Sometimes requests come from places in hilly, remote areas where the climate is harsh. This is not the place for someone whose frame is delicate and whose health is iffy.

Requests have come in the last year from places where the beds are hard for westerners, where toilets are unlit and different from home, and where sitting on the back of a motorbike is the only form of travel. Other requests have come from places where the comfort levels are higher.

I Could Go Back for a Return Visit
“There's an open door to return to [XYX] and I'm maintaining contact with folk like the Principal there. I think it's likely that I will be back there at some point.”


There can be great value in building on an existing relationship.


I Could Do Something New
“…but the sabbatical may give the opportunity to build relationships with another group of believers… and expand my awareness.”

There can be great value in developing new relationships.

I’m Drawn To
“I'm drawn to the situation you describe.”

Despite the lack of information it is good to be attentive to the sense of being drawn to a particular country or culture and to ask what it is that you are being attracted toward.

I Have Got to Be…
“Looks like I'll have to be in [ABC] early October for a conference and in [DEF] in late November, so one option is to try to work in a trip around one or both of these.”

This is the factor of circumstances, open and closed doors, the practical matter of dates, the stewardship of associating events, developing an itinerary that makes for good travel and gains the best bang for the buck.


Divine Discernment
I’m grateful for this Facebook conversation with a person contemplating a new international assignment. I hope you find it helpful in creatively brooding over your future plans. So many factors to consider but ultimately we are assured that with divine help and our interaction “we may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12: 2)


Further Factors
Are there other factors that you have found to be important in discovering the right opportunity?

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “This is the factor of… closed doors.” These doors I admired in Bratislava last Summer.