Cross-cultural ministry class offers students chance to leave comfort zone

By Meghan Hendrickson

In January, Baylor launched its first course dedicated to cross-cultural ministry under the leadership of Dr. Dennis Horton, associate director of the Ministry Guidance Program and professor of religion.

Horton said the aim of the course is to give students an understanding of issues related to cross-cultural ministry, including contemporary strategies employed by Christian missionaries to effectively cross cultural boundaries both locally and globally.

Horton said of the 30 students enrolled in the new course, on average, each student has participated in two short-term international mission trips and five mission trips within the U.S.

Horton has served alongside his wife and son as a long-term missionary in Hong Kong, Thailand and the Philippines. Over the years, Horton has also participated in and led several short-term mission trips to Spain and other countries.

North Richland Hills senior Marissa Hostin, a student enrolled in the course, said cross-cultural ministry is not defined by distance alone.

“Cross-cultural ministry is sharing Christ’s love to a culture other than your own,” Hostin said. “That could be ministering to someone of a different age group, to someone from the inner-city or to someone in Thailand.”

This semester, each student will interview a minimum of three long-term missionaries serving overseas as a project for the class.

Horton said he hopes students will discover the importance of creating a team strategy with long-term benefits for both the community the missionaries serving and the other missionaries they are working with.

Saginaw senior Jaime Orth said the course has helped her realize the importance of adapting to cultural differences both on mission trips and in her daily life.

“Mission trips, studying abroad or foreign vacations are not the only times that we interact cross-culturally,” Orth said. “Baylor students interact across cultures every day.”

Orth said the course has challenged her to think about how her cultural lens affects her view of other people and cultures.

The course has also strengthened her belief that short-term mission trips must lead to long-term mission work, she said.

“Jesus called his disciples to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ in Matthew 28,” Orth said. “There must be a connection to a local church, missionary or continued work in the same place to accomplish discipleship.”

Too many short-term mission trips [teams] miss this and end up hurting the situation more than they know,” Orth said.

Horton said during the course, students will also each design a short-term mission trip to a foreign country with a large “cultural distance” from Baylor, meaning some place where the cultural differences between the mission team and the community being reached is extremely significant.

To do this, students must take an in-depth look into the foreign community, researching members’ history, values, etiquette, world view, cultural traditions and even some of their language that would be helpful for team members to know, Horton said.

Over the course of the semester, Pearland junior Chris Gerac said he found the course curriculum stems directly from the life of Jesus.

“Jesus Christ unarguably demonstrated the ultimate example of cross-cultural ministry when he exchanged a crown of jewels for a crown of thorns,” Gerac said. “Because he was willing to transcend cultures in order to reach out to me, it is my responsibility and privilege to be able to minister to the oppressed, enslaved, blind and brokenhearted that live within the realms of my own culture and the cultures that are found all over this earth.”

Toward the end of the semester, students will present research about different areas of cross-cultural ministry, including: education, microfinance, agriculture, construction, disaster relief, urban ministry, sports ministry, medical missions, orphanage ministry and human trafficking prevention.

Oklahoma City junior Aaron Ogburn said he looks forward to living the lessons he is learning in the classroom in the field of mission work.

“I want to be involved in cross-cultural missions to be a part of what God is doing around the world,” Ogburn said. “I find other cultures and people groups fascinating, and am excited by the idea of working through my culture and through theirs to meet in a place that they can hear about God in a whole new way.”

Horton said he is thrilled about the new course and hopes students will consider enrolling in future spring semesters, as the class is not offered in the fall.

“I think because our students are so willing and eager to get out and serve others in different cultures and nationalities, it just ties in well with what Baylor’s about and what we should be about as Christians anyway,” Horton said.