Book Review: Thriving in Cross Cultural Ministry by Carissa Alma

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Cultural barriers, language acquisition, and geographical differences all converge upon those entering and engaged in cross-cultural ministry. Whether a veteran or a novice, the challenges of cross-cultural ministry can be daunting and in some cases debilitating, leading many to be content with simply ‘surviving’ in the context of this calling. Yet ‘Cross Cultural Ministry Survivor’ is not the t-shirt slogan most desire to ultimately wear. As the founding director of Joy’s Children’s Home in Asia, 14 year leader in cross-cultural ministry Carissa Alma passionately shares that it is possible to not only survive in this context but to thrive.

THE BIG IDEA

“True ministry comes from being with Jesus: everything else will flow out of that. The more we spend time in His presence, receiving His love, the more we will be able to go and share that love with the world” (p. 101).

While the context of each believer’s ‘calling’ may differ, the content is the same—to be a disciple of Jesus. Carissa Alma illustrates in her own life how her love for children, Asia, and the Lord Jesus Christ all simply connect in the context of Joy’s Children’s Home located in Asia. Found interwoven within Thriving in Cross Cultural Ministry (Pavilion Books, 2011) is Carissa’s personal journey of cross-cultural ministry.

Truly thriving in cross-cultural ministry is grounded in ‘being’ with Jesus. Throughout this profoundly simple book, Carissa shares concrete insights from her own experiences that speak straight to the heart and address definitive ways to engage in fruitful cross-cultural ministry regardless of the geographical location. “Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry” is not an exhaustive handbook on cross-cultural ministry, rather it is a heart-changing exploration into thriving in the specific context in which God has called you to share His love.

CHAPTER BREAKDOWN

Ch1. Preparing for cross-cultural ministry mentally, spiritually, and emotionally
Ch2. Developing Spirit filled life of prayer
Ch3. Understanding the reality of spiritual warfare through the lens of discernment
Ch.4 Living in radical simplicity and provision
Ch.5 Connecting with life giving community from home and abroad
Ch.6 Embracing incarnational living in another culture
Ch.7 Knowing your identity in Christ
Ch.8 Discerning the call of God in your life
Ch.9 Resting in the Presence of God
Ch.10 & Appendix Transforming the traditional model for ‘short-term mission trips’

INTENTIONAL TRAINING

“God often gives us a sense of urgency, but God is never in a hurry… The first secret to lasting the long haul in cross-cultural ministry is to patiently set yourself before God for a season of training” (17). 

One the many causes of attrition found in cross-cultural ministry is inadequate training, as discussed in the first three chapters of this book by Carissa Alma. In order to thrive in cross-cultural ministry, she encourages that this training should include instruction not only in the language of the culture you are entering into, but also time to seek to understand the heart and mission of God in the world, His character, and allow Him to lead you on a journey of emotional healing. She also inspires one to pursue a lifestyle of prayer and fasting to cultivate a life of supernatural discernment and empowerment though the strength of the Holy Spirit. She proposes that thriving in cross-cultural ministry is found ultimately in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, enabling one to stay grounded in Christ in the midst of the reality of spiritual warfare.

INCARNATIONAL LIVING

“If you see your entire life in ministry as a gift from God, then your perspective and outlook will show it” (81).

In the following seven chapters of this book, Carissa suggests several different aspects of how to live incarnationally within your community. God’s supernatural provision in the midst of a commitment to intentionally pursue a life characterized by simplicity, the strength found in life-giving community, rooting yourself in Christ, avoiding the trap of finding your identity in what you ‘do’, and making Sabbath rest a refreshing rhythm in your life, are just a few of the many nuggets of wisdom provided by Carissa for those in cross-cultural ministry.

THE TAKEAWAY

Carissa Alma testifies to the power of God at work in each of our lives to know Him more fully and to make Him known. Regardless of what kind of ministry you are involved in or what cultural context you find yourself in, this book will challenge and equip you to explore the abundance of life that can be found through walking in obedience to the calling of God. I would highly recommend it to anyone engaging in ministry within the Kingdom of God.

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Melissa D. Lowe is a M.Div student at Asbury Theological Seminary and has a desire to spread the fragrance of Christ and celebrate the beauty of our Creator everywhere He takes her along her life journey. Follow her on Twitter @fragrantaroma or on her blog lifecreativeartgallery.wordpress.com

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