As with any other journey, mine is full of plans, changes in plans, and detours. I intended to graduate from Biola University with my BA in biblical studies, go to seminary, and then become a pastor. I followed a different path. During my junior year at Biola, I felt increasingly interested in a more academic study of the Bible. Meanwhile, the annual missions conference at Biola caught my attention and pulled on my heart. I had never heard that there were people who had never heard the gospel. Over time, I felt burdened by the need to be an active part of the Great Commission, but I was not sure what my part would be. By my own assessment, I lacked the skills, personality, and desire to be a church planter, which made it seem like I was unable to impact the unreached. At that time, a professor, who was a mentor, began traveling overseas during his summer breaks to train prospective missionaries in biblical studies. From his example and the opportunity to accompany him on some of his trips, I came to realize that I could combine my passion for teaching and my burden for the unreached.

As I spoke with different missions organizations and investigated further, I discovered the tremendous need for trained, qualified teachers to equip Christians overseas in biblical studies. While working on my PhD, I saw how flooded the teaching market in the United States was. I applied for a New Testament position in the US (with the idea of working prior to going overseas), but I discovered that over 150 people applied for the same position. Was there really a need for me to take a job that over one hundred people were qualified to do? Or would it be better for me to go overseas where people with PhDs in my field were fewer in number—and where even fewer from the US were willing to go? The Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that only 5 percent of pastors and priests in all Christian traditions worldwide have formal theological training (i.e., undergraduate Bible degrees or master’s degrees).[1] New Testament professor Keith Campbell makes a compelling case for evangelicals to seriously consider going overseas to further the Great Commission. He notes that there is one Protestant Christian worker in the US per 304 people, while in Muslim and Hindu countries there is one Protestant American Christian worker per 4.8 million and 5.4 million people, respectively.[2] When confronted with the stark reality of the need for qualified professors to go overseas, I saw where the passions God had given me fit with the needs of the Great Commission. As a result, I spent the next several years both getting the requisite academic training and exploring places I could teach overseas.

Jesus once told a crowd that they must count the cost of being his disciple before they follow him (Luke 14:28–33). Going overseas is no different. We must make careful consideration of the sacrifices—and joys—entailed before making a hasty decision to go. The sacrifices of teaching overseas are contingent upon the country and the situation of the school where you serve, but I think the personal trials and joys I experience are generally applicable to most parts of the Majority World (i.e., South America, Africa, and Asia). Here are a few such joys and trials to reflect on.

Less time to write. If you are interested in researching and writing, it is possible to engage in those activities, but there are hurdles. Schools overseas are structured in a different manner than US schools, where you can teach, write, do a little mentoring, and possibly serve on a committee. Schools overseas are often understaffed and lack faculty and staff solely devoted to administrative tasks, so those tasks are shared. Mentoring often takes on a more significant role and time commitment than in the US. Combine teaching, administration, and mentoring (not to mention the fact that many things take longer to accomplish overseas in general), and that equates to less time to research. There are also fewer resources. My school has an above-average library as far as schools overseas are concerned, yet it still contains fewer journals, monographs, and commentaries than similar libraries in the US.

More tasks, less focus. We all do things we do not want to do; that’s just part of life. Teaching overseas means that I serve in ways that I do not always prefer. While I don’t enjoy the administrative part of my job as much as teaching, I recognize that it is necessary for the school to operate and extend educational opportunities to those I want to train. No budget for teaching assistants means I grade more than my counterparts in the US. Like every other professor in the world, I do not relish the idea of grading, but it does permit me to monitor the progress of my students more closely, and it does provide further opportunities for connection with them.

Missing family. I have three children, and they see their grandparents and other family much less than children in the US typically do. The cost of traveling overseas for family to visit can be prohibitive. Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom are great, but as everyone knows, they are not the same as in-person interactions.

Cross-cultural living. Having lived now in Asia and Europe, I can readily attest that no matter how developed a country is, cross-cultural living can be exhausting. Short-term missions trips are great, but they can give people the wrong impressions of living overseas. Often, there is excitement over how exotic a place is with new things to see and experience. This novelty quickly dissipates as you try to figure out how to set up a bank account, get a driver’s license, find someone who understands you, and identify where to buy everyday items.

The Great Commission in action. I teach at a school that trains students from twenty different countries in any given year. Because we offer master’s degrees, I teach students who have already been active in ministry in some of the most unreached parts of the world. I am constantly challenged by their testimonies—many from Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist backgrounds. They have sacrificed for their faith in Jesus in ways that I have not. They are a constant reminder of Jesus’s words about the cost of discipleship. Best of all, our students want to be here. They did not enroll in our school because it was the next thing to do or it was required of them for the job they wanted to do; rather, they earnestly want to be equipped for ministry, to learn about God’s Word, how to interpret it, and how to apply it in their ministries. Teaching is much easier when students are excited to be in class and want to learn. My family has made sacrifices, but I have been inspired and challenged by my students, who have also sacrificed to be here.


This article is an excerpt What Can You Do with Your Bible Training?




[1] See “Frequently Asked Questions,” under “What Percentage of Pastors Worldwide Have Theological Training?”

[2] McCarthy, “Christian Scholars”; cited in Campbell, “American Evangelical Academy and the World,” 347n39.