“Get a secular degree from a Christian or a public university.”
Should have a secular degree in order to work in a closed country? That depends on what you want to do.
If you are only trained in a secular university, agencies may require you to get a year of Bible training somewhere. Many of the options would not jeopardize entry into a “closed” country.
Answer from David Smith, director of mobilization with WEC International. David has been a missionary for twenty-five years, as a field worker in West Africa and at WEC USA headquarters.
“Yes! Get a highly valued secular degree from a secular university.”
Many closed countries will tolerate your Christianity if you bring secular skills to their country that they value. Skills that are of great value in the West, are even more needed and valued in the East (closed countries). We need more engineers, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, pilots, etc. Highly educated and highly-valued training from the Western World.
And your degree focus matters. Hard sciences, physics, chemistry, math, IT, medicine, nursing, and law are great degrees to work towards. Social sciences like art history, sociology, political science are all fine degrees, but generally won’t get you jobs in the East. If you have a hard time getting a job in the USA as a Sociology major, imagine how hard it will be to find a job in Turkey or Afghanistan!
And while it does depend on the “closed” country, as a general rule of thumb, Bible colleges, seminary, and ministry type degrees, will hurt your chances of getting a visa. In my context, a seminary degree on your resume will get you blocked for a visa 100% of the time. Many closed countries are essentially closed to “Biblical Studies” majors, “Religion Study” majors, etc. conferred from overtly Christian universities.
You do, however, 100% need biblical knowledge and biblical training to be effective in a cross-cultural context in a closed country. But you need to be creative. Rather than a traditional Bible college or seminary, try seminars, courses, and weekend/evening trainings that you can do without putting on your resume.
The key to this question hinges on two principles: value and creativity.
1) What value can you bring to a closed country, such that they will give you a visa?
2) How can you be creative in learning to be a effective, biblically based cross-cultural missionary but still making your resume look secular?
“The times they are a changing,” and many of the old models of getting into closed countries no longer work. We must adapt to be effective in most of the world’s “closed” countries.
Answer from Joseph who has served with Christar in a closed country for two years.
“Don’t be afraid of having a Bible-based education.”
I went to a Christian university and now live in a Muslim-majority country. I’m thankful for the Bible-based, general education classes that help me integrate my training in social work into my ministry now.
If you will work in a sensitive country, many universities will work with you to creatively rename your major. Some Christian universities will issue a transcript or diploma giving a more generic version of the name which avoids problems in restricted-access nations.
Answer from Bethany, who is serving in the Middle East with the Assemblies of God.
Editor’s note: Check with the school you attend or are considering to see how they have handled such issues in the past. It may not be as much of a problem as you think.