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Contextualization
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Book Review: "From Buddha to Jesus" by Steve Cioccolanti

Book Review: "From Buddha to Jesus" by Steve Cioccolanti

From Buddha to Jesus: An Insider’s View of Buddhism & Christianity, by Steve Cioccolanti (Sweet Life International, 2007, 240pp.)

—reviewed by Larry Dinkins You wouldn’t expect a pastor of an International Church in Melbourne, Australia with a name like “Cioccolanti” (Italian for “chocolate”) to claim an inside track to the mind and worldview of Buddhists. However, his claim to an insider’s view of Buddhism is substantiated by his Thai upbringing and exposure to a very religiously diverse extended family. Besides his Thai Buddhist roots, Steve has added to that a broad education in America and Europe which allows him to address Buddhist issues from both an oriental and occidental viewpoint.

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3 Reasons Historic Creeds & Confessions Should Be Translated for the Global Church

3 Reasons Historic Creeds & Confessions Should Be Translated for the Global Church

In the world of missions, anything that is “Western” or “traditional” is bad, while whatever is “contextualized” and “innovative” is good.  So when it comes to old creeds and confessions of the Christian faith, it is a no-brainer for many missionaries.  Don’t translate them. Don’t teach them.  It is a paternalistic waste of time that smacks of cultural and theological imperialism.  How could some antiquated Western document about Christian doctrine be appropriate for reaching Buddhists, Muslims, or animists in today’s world?  The old language and sentence structure in these documents are difficult enough for Westerners, so how could they be understandable and useful for those with little to no background in Christianity, or Western culture and languages?

The rhetorical answer to those questions is obvious but I am convinced that there are positive reasons to translate the best and most enduring documents of the church of the past into the languages of the global church of today.  The packaging may be old, but the content is good.  As a missionary and a church history teacher, I am always thinking about how we can take the good stuff from the past and from other places in the world and make it beneficial for the global church.  In my case, I am particularly thinking about the churches in Thailand, but the following reasons should be relevant for many contexts in the world today.  I want to suggest three ways that translations of the older creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the faith (as well as other writings) can benefit the global church.

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Towards Contextualized Creeds

Towards Contextualized Creeds
The following article has been republished with permission from Larry Dinkins and the International Journal of Frontier Missiology.   DOWNLOAD PDF - "Towards Contextualized Creeds" by Larry Dinkins 

One of the first things our supervisor instructed us to do as church planters in Central Thailand was to glue a card with the Apostles’ Creed into the cover of every hymnal. Every Sunday we would have our small congregation of mainly leprosy believers memorize the creed and recite it in unison. Our congregation had no real appreciation of the historic development and impact of this creed, but as preferred oral learners in a group culture, they enjoyed saying the creed out loud together and in the process gained a major dose of scriptural truth. Ancient statements of faith, like the Apostles’ Creed, have been translated and used for centuries in a variety of cultures. Much ink has been spilt analyzing the contribution and content of the historic creeds, but less has been said about how to contextualize them for non-western contexts. To contextualize a creed, one must be aware of the nature of creeds historically as well as the benefits and potential pitfalls inherent in the development process.

The Value and Dangers of Creeds 

Philip Schaff in his massive three-volume work on Creeds states, “Confessions, in due subordination to the bible, are of great value and use. They are summaries of the doctrines of the Bible, aids to its sound understanding, bonds of union among their professors, public standards and guards against false doctrine and practice.”[i] G. W. Bromiley notes the benefits, but also highlights the dangers of creedal statements:

The dangers of creed making are obvious. Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded.  They can be superimposed on Scripture.  Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis for teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.[ii]

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Resources for Apologetics in the Thai Context

Resources for Apologetics in the Thai Context

A number of people have asked me for apologetics resources in Thai, so I thought I would assemble a list of what is available.  You’ll find that list down below but before you go get the goods, there are few things that need to be understood about apologetics in the Thai context.

Apologetic Issues in Thailand are Different than in the WestApologetics resources in the English language are intended to meet the challenges to the Christian faith in the English speaking world.  For various cultural, historical, and religious reasons, not all of those issues are applicable to a Thai-speaking audience and thus do not need much attention (if any) when teaching on apologetics in Thailand.  Issues that the vast majority of Thai Christians are not dealing with include higher criticism, secular humanism, the historicity of Adam, the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, atheism, and postmodernism.  Those are Western issues that grew out of historical and cultural forces in the West stemming from the Enlightenment, Rationalism, and the Fundamentalist / Modernist controversy.  For the most part, Thailand did not experience those movements in Western thought.  To the degree to which Thailand has experienced those movements, it has only been peripheral and mostly confined to the more educated upper-classes who have lived abroad or received a Western education.Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying that the issues I’ve listed above don’t matter or are not important.  They are important.  They do matter.  But the the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible are not being called into question in Thai churches, so why mount an apologetic defense against an enemy that your listeners haven’t met (and probably won’t meet) in their context?

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Why Rob Bell on Hell, in Thailand Won’t Sell

Why Rob Bell on Hell, in Thailand Won’t Sell

I don’t know of any plans to translate Rob Bell’s new book on hell into Thai.  But if it was translated, I doubt it would sell very well.  I haven’t read his book so this is not a commentary on what Bell does or does not espouse.  But this IS a commentary on how culture shapes our perception of what’s important. The burning issues facing the American church are not necessarily so important in other parts of the world.

While the American church faces the challenges of postmodernity, secularism, and doubt, the church in Thailand does not.  The vast majority of Thai Christians and churches affirm the reality of heaven and hell, and the reality of God’s supernatural intervention in the affairs of life.  Even Thai Buddhists, who make up 95% of the population of Thailand, believe in heaven and hell.  Granted, they have a different understanding of these terms, but most would acknowledge their reality because Buddhism affirms them as well.  So, a book addressed to a culture which views heaven and hell with skepticism would likely sit on the shelf in Thailand, gathering dust.

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American or American't? A critical analysis of western training to the world

American or American't? A critical analysis of western training to the world

A lot of ink (and pixels) have been spilled talking about the incredible impact that short term missions are making.  However, that conclusion is based almost entirely on the perceptions of those who went on the trip. And the impact in question is often the effect that the trip had on those who went, not those on the receiving end.  It is fantastic that so many people are blessed by going on short-term missions but are the people whom they went to serve getting blessed as well?

In a disturbing, yet eye opening article, David Livermore ("American or American't? A critical analysis of western training to the world", EMQ, Oct. 2004; Vol 40. No. 4. [pp. 458-456]) writes about a study that he did, “comparing North American pastors descriptions of their experiences training cross-culturally with the way national pastors and leaders described those same experiences.”

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Theological Education in Thailand: An Interview with Daniel Kim

Theological Education in Thailand: An Interview with Daniel Kim

Many times it is assumed that theological education around the globe can be done basically the same way everywhere, namely the way it is done in the West.  But in many cases, a cut-and-paste approach to theological education and pastoral training isn’t nearly as effective as some would like to think that it is.  

 

To get some more insight into the nature and challenges of theological education in Asia (and Thailand in particular), I recently interviewed Daniel Kim, director of Chiang Mai Theological Seminary and a missionary church planter in Thailand with OMF International.KD: Could you share briefly about your background, and how you came to be involved in theological education in Thailand?



 

DK: Korea is my physical birth place. U.S.A. is my spiritual birth place. And Thailand is my missional place. My life has been an exciting journey like the life of Daniel in the OT. I am a trilingual and multicultural person.

 

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Dress Like a Teacher

Dress Like a Teacher

“Mr. Eddy, tuck in your shirt, please.”  The tall twenty two year old Scotsman turned to see who had called to him. He didn’t look so happy with our older Thai colleague. “I’m all done teaching.  I’m just going home.”  Our colleague was not persuaded. “You are a teacher and you are still at school.”  Mr. Eddy begrudgingly tucked in his dress shirt and continued down the hallway.For foreigners coming to Thailand to teach English, the expectations of the institutions that they teach at can seem overbearing.  This is particularly true for younger teachers who are more accustomed to the informal individualism of Western youth culture.  But whether one is at home or abroad, there are certain expectations for how one should dress on the job.  In Asia, this is particularly important as there is often a high cultural value on appearance and maintaining an image appropriate to one’s role in society.  Being a teacher is not just a job but an identity.  It is a role in society that is accorded much respect because teachers are role models for the students they teach.  In Thailand, teachers are even called the student’s “second parent” because of the big role that they play in student’s life, dispensing not only academic but personal advice and guidance.

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Unbiblical Preaching - Part 6: Sources

Unbiblical Preaching - Part 6: Sources

Why is there so much bad preaching in evangelical churches?  Is the Bible really so hard to understand?  Do the majority of preachers intentionally and knowingly play fast and loose with the Holy Scriptures to promote their own agendas?  The answer to both of those questions would seem to be “NO”.  In this post, I would like to suggest the most probable sources of unbiblical preaching, and then some solutions to address the problem.SOURCE 1: Human Tendency to Self-RelianceThere is a tendency in our fallen human nature to find a standard of moral goodness that we can meet.  We want to feel like our own personal success and happiness is in our control.  This tendency comes out in people’s demands for “practical” sermons.  “Give us something we can do”, say the people.  “My sermon needs to be practical”, says the preacher.  And moralism rears it’s ugly head.  Listeners eat up sermons on “Five Ways to be a Better Parent” or “Three Ways to Have More Joy”, so preachers keep giving it to them.  It is a vicious cycle because listeners become accustomed to such a diet of moralistic preaching and preachers feel like they need to keep giving it to them.  Listeners develop a distaste for anything that doesn’t readily give them something to DO, and protest that the few Biblical sermons that they do hear are too “doctrinal” or “academic”.  Hearing about what Christ has already DONE for us is not enough. In our fallen human nature, grace and the deep things of God are difficult to understand.  “Do better” is easy to understand and plays into our desire to control our lives.

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Photocopies and the De-Personification of God

Photocopies and the De-Personification of God

The barriers to communicating the Gospel in Thailand are tremendous even though Thai people are some of the nicest you’ll ever meet.  The guy who owns the photocopy shop where I regularly go is a great example of this.  When I was starting up an evangelistic kids club, I took some cartoon pictures of the sun, moon, stars, animals, numbers, and so forth down to the copy shop to be laminated.  As the photocopy guy was putting them in the plastic sleeves to stick in the laminating machine, he asked, “What are these for?”  So I explained that I was teaching children about God creating the world.  That got us off on discussion about spiritual matters and comparative religion.  I regularly had pictures to laminate for the kids club so the photocopy guy and I had several conversations along these lines on many occasions.  I’ve never detected any hostility from him but it has become clear that what I am trying to explain is simply not “clicking” in his mind.  

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"My Hope Thailand" Evangelistic Project

"My Hope Thailand" Evangelistic Project

In December 2009, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), together with major Thai church denominations, sponsored and promoted the "My Hope Thailand” evangelistic project.  They produced an evangelistic TV program that aired several times on Thai national TV just before Christmas. The program featured testimonies and music videos from Thai pop stars who became Christians, as well as preaching from Billy Graham and Franklin Graham, dubbed in Thai.

As a result of the program and associated church based events, nearly 12,000 people made "decisions for Christ".  Many in the Christian community (both in Thailand and abroad) were overjoyed by the number of “new Christians” produced by My Hope (such as here and here) but I have a more mixed review of the project.  But before I get to the negatives, I want to say up front that there were some really good aspects about the My Hope project:

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Learning to Type in Thai

Learning to Type in Thai

Learning to read and write a language with a non-Roman script (such as Thai, Arabic, or Hindi) is challenging enough already so the thought of learning to touch type in that language can be daunting.  For myself, the time investment involved was considerable but typing in Thai is a ministry skill that I am really glad to have picked up along the way.Being able to touch type in Thai opens up all sorts of possibilities that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  When I need to write up a handout or a Bible study, I am able to do it.  When I am preparing my sermon and want to write my notes, or at least key words and phrases in Thai, it is quick and simple.  When I type up a lesson plan for our kids club that I want to go over with some Thai helpers, I can do it up neatly and quickly in Thai so that we can all be looking at the same piece of paper.  When I want to send an email, leave a comment on Facebook, or chat online with a Thai friend, I can do it.  It is really freeing to not be consigned to cutting and pasting from the dictionary on my computer.  Cut and paste is so slow and tedious that if that’s the only way I had to do it, I would do very little on the computer in Thai and thus miss out on online opportunities for communicating with Thai friends and co-workers.

I also see typing in Thai as one part of considering the needs of those I am working with ahead of my own needs.  Although I can type stuff up in Thai at a somewhat decent speed,  it is still not as quick or easy as English.  Typing in Thai and checking my spelling takes more time but I think it makes life easier for the Thai Christians that I am doing ministry with.  Sure, some of them can understand enough English to make out what I want to say if I send them an email in English but it is much quicker and easier for them to read and process an email in Thai.  I was driving to a meeting with some Thai ministry interns and two of them were talking about how hard and time-consuming it was for them to read email in English from their missionary team leader.  I can sympathize with that.  Doing lots of reading and processing of information in a second language written in a foreign script can be slow to the point of being so overwhelming that you want to give up.  However, I can certainly appreciate the missionary side of things as well.  Learning to type in a second language that doesn’t use a Roman A-B-C alphabet is a time consuming task in the midst of many other pressing ministry demands.

I am grateful for Thai friends who can communicate with me in English, yet I think that the fundamental nature of the missionary as a cross-cultural worker demands that it is the missionary who needs to go the extra mile to make communication easier for the locals, not the other way around.  I don’t say this to criticize long-term missionaries who can’t type in the local language as I appreciate the pressing demands of ministry and the fact that most Bible teaching and Gospel communication is done orally. 

Learning to touch type probably doesn’t need to be a top priority for most missionaries.  But if ministry is too busy on the field, it’s something that can go on the “to-do” list for later, maybe during home assignment. In the long run learning how to type in the local language is a ministry skill worth investing in.  The up front time required is significant but the benefits are considerable.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Thai Typing Drills Online (ฝึกพิมพ์ไทย-องกฤษ กับโยงใยไทยศึกษา) - A missionary friend recently pointed me to this site and it is a phenomenal resource for practicing Thai typing.  It simulates old style typing drills and is easy to use.

thai-language.com - This is a great resource for learning Thai language.  The dictionary is surprisingly comprehensive and helpful.  The forums are particularly good.  All the questions that I have posted there have been promptly and helpfully replied to by foreigners and/or Thais who have a good knowledge of the Thai language. They also have a Thai typing game here.

BCC Typing Tutor - a freeware program to increase your typing speed in Thai or English.  I have not used it but a missionary friend recommended this as a pretty basic program that works. From their website: "ดาวน์โหลด BCC Typing Tutor (โปรแกรมฝึกพิมพ์ดีด ฝึกพิมพ์ไทย ฝึกพิมพ์อังกฤษ) โปรแกรมฝึกพิมพ์ดีด BCC Typing Tutor เป็น โปรแกรม ฝึกพิมพ์ไทย และ ฝึกพิมพ์อังกฤษ พัฒนาโดยคนไทย แจกฟรี ไม่มีค่าใช้จ่ายใดๆ"

LearnThaiPing - Online Thai typing tutor that you might want to check out. I played with it a little bit. Looks like it could be useful. From their website: "LearnThaiPing.com teaches Thai online with a unique technique, combining typing exercises with visual and audio prompts." https://www.learnthaiping.com

Book Review: "From Buddha to Jesus" by Steve Cioccolanti

Book Review: "From Buddha to Jesus" by Steve Cioccolanti

From Buddha to Jesus: An Insider’s View of Buddhism & Christianity, by Steve Cioccolanti (Sweet Life International, 2007, 240pp.)

 

—reviewed by Larry Dinkins You wouldn’t expect a pastor of an International Church in Melbourne, Australia with a name like “Cioccolanti” (Italian for “chocolate”) to claim an inside track to the mind and worldview of Buddhists. However, his claim to an insider’s view of Buddhism is substantiated by his Thai upbringing and exposure to a very religiously diverse extended family. Besides his Thai Buddhist roots, Steve has added to that a broad education in America and Europe which allows him to address Buddhist issues from both an oriental and occidental viewpoint.

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Thai Christian Books (or the lack thereof)

Thai Christian Books (or the lack thereof)

For English speakers, there is a massive amount of Christian books and resources available but for many other languages in the world, it is simply not the case.  Two recent experiences really drove this truth home, as it relates to Thailand.  I had the chance to visit Bangkok Bible Seminary (BBS), take a tour, and talk to some teachers and students.  When we went up to their small library to look around, I was surprised to see that only about one-fourth of the library was Thai Christian books and the rest were in English.  The students all know some English but the majority really don’t know enough to make use of these English books at any significant level.  So, about 75% of their seminary library is functionally unusable for the majority of the BBS student body.  If the English level of the majority of students is insufficient to make good use of the resources in the library, why not add more Thai books?  Because they just don’t exist.

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Are Translated Gospel Tracts a Bad Idea?

Are Translated Gospel Tracts a Bad Idea?
Imagine this. You’re a new missionary, freshly arrived to the field.   After years of preparation, you’re finally here and you can’t wait to start telling people the Gospel.  There is just one slight problem though. The language  You can barely tell people your name.  Even after a six months or a year of language study, it still feels a bit beyond you to give a really good explanation of the Gospel to your neighbor or the lady selling fruit at the market.  But, behold!  What do I see on the literature table at the church camp?  It’s the Four Spiritual Laws - translated in the local language!  That’s the ticket.  You buy a whole stack.  Your neighbor gets one.  The fruit lady gets one.  The guy at the gas station gets one.  Even the Buddhist monk gets one.   Even though you can’t give a good verbal explanation in the local language yet, at least these folks have gotten the Gospel message in a form that they can understand.  Or have they?

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If I Had It To Do All Over Again – Dr. Larry Dinkins

If I Had It To Do All Over Again – Dr. Larry Dinkins

As a young missionary, I (Karl) like talking to veteran missionaries to get their perspective on things.  At our recent OMF Thailand annual conference, our guest speaker Larry Dinkins spoke on cross cultural evangelism and overcoming barriers in communicating the Gospel to Buddhists.   Larry & his wife Paula came to Thailand as new missionaries in 1981 where they did church planting and theological education until 2002 when they needed to go back to the U.S. for Paula to receive treatment for cancer in her bone marrow. The treatment for Paula’s cancer has been successful and she is in remission.  As a result Larry and Paula have been acting as mobilizers and recruiters for OMF in Southern California as well as the Midwest.  They are involved in Thai churches in the U.S. and have made numerous trips back to Thailand as well.  

(UPDATE, Feb 2012:  Since this article was written in 2009, Paula has gone to be with the Lord, and Larry has subsequently returned to Thailand to continue to minister among the Thai people).

After listening to Larry speak at the conference, and later in a recorded lecture, I became curious and sent him an email, asking, “If you could go back to your first term on the mission field, knowing then what you know now, what would you do differently?  How would you go about planting a church in Central Thailand if you had to do it all over again?”   Larry was kind enough to email me back and here’s a bit of what he had to say:

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Paul's Principles for Cross Cultural Ministry

I love reading articles about missions that both point me back to Scripture and demonstrate intimate acquaintance with the realities of life and ministry on the mission field.  "Putting Contextualization in its Place" in the recent 9Marks eJournal is one of those article.  The author presents an excellent explanation of how contextualization is found in the pages of Scripture, and is not an idea hoisted onto it.  He then goes on to explain how and his team put this principles into practice in their setting in a Central Asian country. The article covers a lot of ground and is worth reading in its entirety but I wanted to share with you one particular section that I found to be a good reminder of what my attitude and approach should be in living with and trying to serve the Thai people. 

 

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PAUL'S PRINCIPLES FOR CROSS-CULTURAL MINISTRY

 

Perhaps the most widely-quoted passage of Scripture that teaches about contextualization is 1 Corinthians 9:1-23:

 

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?  2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 

 

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How does John 3:16 sound to a Thai Buddhist?

How does John 3:16 sound to a Thai Buddhist?

Among evangelical Christians, John 3:16 is widely regarded as a straight forward summary of the Gospel. However, to assume that someone can hear and sufficiently understand the Gospel from John 3:16 in order to be saved is to assume a lot about their background knowledge of Christianity and basic worldview assumptions.  In the West, there is still quite a bit of residual knowledge about Christianity even if people don't believe it (i.e. there is only one God, love is a good thing, history is linear, etc.).  This is a great help in presenting the Gospel to those from a culturally Christian background. But how does John 3:16 sound to someone who knows nothing about Christianity and comes from a totally different religious background and upbringing?

 

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Using Personal Testimonies in Evangelism

This morning my wife Sun had a good chat with one of the neighbor ladies and as they talked about this, that, and the other thing, somehow my wife ended up lending her a Christian book.  Like my wife, this neighbor is also a young mom with a little boy.  One of the things that this mom likes to do at home during the day is read.  The book that my wife lent her is called “Songs from the Heart”, the life story of a Thai traditional drama performer and musician who became a Christian, and eventually a well-respected pastor in Central Thailand.  Also significantly, Pastor Song San used his excellent musical abilities to compose many original Thai Christian hymns, using traditional Thai, Chinese, and Cambodian tunes.  Unfortunately, these traditional hymns are not used much anymore in Thai churches but they are a wonderful example of the Christian message being expressed using indigenous music and lyrics, rather than merely being translated from English.Personal testimonies are not the Gospel but many Thai Christians say that hearing testimonies of people whose lives God changed were significant in their coming to faith.  God can and does use all sorts of means to pique people’s interest enough that they want to hear the Gospel.  Things like personal testimonies, Biblical principles for parenting, practical helps, or the love of the Christian community are distinct from the Gospel message itself, but they are wonderful results of the Gospel that adorn

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Are Long Term Missionaries Obsolete?

Are Long Term Missionaries Obsolete?

I was recently talking with a pastor whose church does not send any long-term missionaries.It is a vibrant church with many members and a vision for missions, and they could probably send and support their own long-term missionaries if they wanted to.But it seems that they don’t want to.Why not?This pastor told me about what he believes to be more strategic, more effective, and most cost-efficient way to do missions outreach than sending long-term missionaries.

This pastor and his church conduct many short-term training events and seminars throughout the world, gathering together a large group of local leaders and teaching them in an intensive course.When the course is done, the pastor and his team go back to the USA and the local leaders go back to their homes and churches, presumably to put into practice what they have learned.Besides live teaching from short-term missionaries, this pastor is also committed to getting a video training course called ISOM into the hands of groups of leaders in various countries, to be used in place of live teachers but administered by a local coordinator/facilitator who leads discussions about the video course material.It is his belief that Western churches can have a much bigger global impact for the Gospel by doing missions through this type of short-term leadership training rather than paying for long-term foreign missionaries (I am defining “missionary” as one who intentionally crosses barriers of language and culture to share the Gospel with those who would normally not have the opportunity to hear the Gospel within their cultural and/or linguistic context).

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