“It depends on the work you’ll do and the context of that work.”
Many variables are involved here. Much will depend on the agency with which you go (if you plan to go with one) and on their requirements. Also, consider the type of work you anticipate doing, whether it’s practical, hands-on work or teaching at a university. In addition, consider the country where you’ll be and its level of development.
I suggest at least two or three years at a Bible school or theological seminary, with a focus on cross-cultural communication. It’s one thing to know principles of your profession. It’s quite another to know how to get those principles across in a context totally foreign to you, because you will undoubtedly encounter people who find it difficult to receive ideas from an “expert” from another country.
If you plan to teach in a recognized institution, you’ll undoubtedly want a higher level of training. But the people in the local situation should advise you on the details. In my own case, I’m glad that I did my post-graduate study after my first term on the field. I had the language, knew the situation, and was aware of what I needed, which guided my choice of both subject and place to study.
Answer from Jack Voelkel, former missionary-in-residence with the Urbana Student Mission Convention; originally published on the Urbana website. Previously, Jack served thirty years with Latin America Mission in Peru and Colombia.
“Get all the training you can get – if it’s practical training.”
Practical training is critical. As a medical doctor, I use everything I have ever learned. But not everyone needs a doctorate. I know of a very devoted man who got a master’s degree in international development. His master’s has proven to be nearly useless. He works here in Honduras with the very poor, helping them adopt better farming methods. He does not come from an agricultural background, and he spent only four months at a training site learning agricultural methods. With little practical training, he’s been here for twelve years with little to show for it.
Answer from David, a physician internist who has served for eight years in Honduras. David coordinates the medical aspects of several community development groups.
“A graduate degree can open doors overseas.”
I encourage you to continue with graduate studies, if that is your current direction. Graduate degrees from certain countries are highly respected and may open doors of opportunity that a bachelor’s degree will not. You’re far more likely to receive visa approval with a graduate degree, especially a degree in a secular field, than with a bachelor’s degree.
I know it can seem as if a waste of precious time. But while you’re in graduate school, you have the time to further develop your plans for where and with what organization you will serve. It also allows you to “friend-raise” as you share with others the ultimate purpose behind your studies. The time spent getting a graduate degree is a perfect opportunity to better prepare for all God has planned for your exciting future.
Answer from Ric, serving with Open Doors in Tulsa.