The roots of Christian cross cultural ministry in the biblical sense go all the way back to the patriarch Abraham. It was to Abraham and his descendants that God gave the promise: "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:2-3). Abraham responded to God's call on his life (Genesis 12:1), and proceeded to dwell in a land which was occupied by people with a different culture and unfamiliar customs. Although Abraham made some cross cultural blunders (Genesis 12:11-20), his life style of worshipping and calling on the name of the Lord attracted at least 318 trained men who remained loyal in their service of Abraham and his God (Genesis 14:14).
Part of Christian cross cultural ministry is focused outward from the context of one's own family, and part of it is focused on the maintenance and blessing of one's own family so that it can be a healthy context from which the ministry is to be based. Abraham's life is inseparable from his family. Indeed, part of God's call on Abraham's life involved him being careful to lead his family and his extended household to keep the way of the Lord, and inherit what God promised by faith.
For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him." Genesis 18:19 (NIV)
When God calls us to minister cross culturally, we generally gain much more than all we can give to those to whom we are sent, especially as it relates to God's magnificent promises and living the life of faith. So it was also with Abraham. Abraham trusted God with all his heart. In the process he received much more - the "righteousness that comes by faith" (Genesis 15:6; Romans ch. 4).
Genuine Christian cross cultural ministry involves sacrifice. For Abraham the supreme sacrifice was the requirement that he offer his own beloved son at the altar of his God. This darkest of hours in Abraham's life becomes the brightest as Abraham comes close to the heart of God and in the process "sees" 2,000 years ahead to the "day of Christ" when God DID NOT SPARE HIS OWN SON (Genesis 22:1-18 cf. John 8:56; Romans 8:32).
Jesus viewed the scope of his ministry and that of his followers as the same as the ministry which was entrusted to Abraham and his descendants (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-48; John 17:18,20; Acts 1:8). The early church also viewed it as the same (Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8-9). Christian cross cultural ministry today is still committed to the same vision and passion that moved Abraham and Christ's early followers.
The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:8-9 (NIV)
What the Bible calls "nations" and "gentiles" are what we would today refer to as ethnic groups (Greek: ta ethné). There are over 6,000 such ethnic groups in the world today. Many of the larger groups have had the gospel preached to them and God is in the process of calling out of them a people for his name. However, there are over 400 million people today speaking over 3,000 languages which do not yet have access to the gospel or any other part of the Bible in their own language. Many of these groups are small and isolated by their differences in language and culture. To reach them requires a cross cultural ministry.
I believe that God's promise to bless the nations cannot be fulfilled until those ethnic groups have a chance to hear and respond to the gospel in their own language. The gospel message must be incarnated into their language and culture in order to truly disciple them. The primary tool in this process is the Word of God translated into their language. Bible translation is at its heart cross cultural ministry.