Reflections on teaching overseas

Last week, Pastor Dan Kirk and I taught a course on Marriage and Family Counseling for the Gulf Theological Seminary in Dubai, UAE.  The president of the seminary is Eric Zeller, a longtime friend and ministry co-laborer who we began supporting nearly a decade ago.  The course was part of an emphasis GTS is making on biblical counseling.  What follows are a few thoughts on the trip as I emerge from my jet lag brain fog.

The simplicity of biblical counseling is the power of biblical counseling.  It is not “easy” to do biblical counseling; it takes good questions to determine the heart condition of the counselee (Prov. 20:5); it takes careful listening and discernment (Prov. 18:13, 15, 17); it takes careful use and application of the Scriptures to the particular problems of the counselee (2 Tim. 2:15).  But the work is not complicated:  the task of the biblical counselor is simply to repeatedly, persistently, and graciously unfold the Scriptures on the problems and heart needs of the counselee so that he is transformed by this powerful word (Jn. 17:17). 

As we taught last week, it was clear that many of the students had not heard the Scriptures unfolded on the basics of family life and heart needs.  And while they understood the need to know the Scriptures, they also saw the possibility that God might use them to help others.  And that is the power of biblical counseling — mature believers, equipped with the unerring Word of God are able to help others with their problems (Rom. 15:14). 

Ministry to and care of people who are suffering in this world is sometimes painful and the problems are often complex.  But the ministry itself is simple — unfold the Word of God and let that inerrant, eternal, and infinitely powerful Word transform and strengthen the hearts and lives of the counselees.

Scripture’s sufficiency is sufficient for every person in every culture. Yes, there are cultural differences between Americans, Middle Easterners, and East Asians.  The way families work on those cultures are different and expectations within families are different.  But even as we taught the class to people from India, the Philippines, Singapore, and more countries, we saw them brighten as they realized the power of the Scriptures to transform their lives in their cultural contexts. 

One of the personal highlight of the week of teaching was on the last night when many of the students related the significance of what they had gleaned from the week.  While they related a number of topics we taught that were helpful, they repeatedly spoke of going home after the sessions, talking to their spouses, and confessing their sins and unbiblical heart attitudes that had created problems in their marriage.  So not only did we get the privilege of training counselors to use the Word of God effectively in the counseling room, but we saw the Word of God being used in training the hearts of the counselors as well. 

After the class was over, one of the students wrote of her gratitude for the course saying, “One of the most important things that I like is in counseling, it talks to myself first and calls to change myself before I talk to the person who is sitting across the table from me.” Amen.  And that transformed counselor is then more able to help others in need of the Scriptures.

Christ and His Word really are powerful and adequate to train and equip all people in every culture for everything that is related to life and godliness (Col. 3:11; 2 Pt. 1:3).

Gratitude for God’s worldwide gospel work.  Another highlight of the week was teaching a class that was so ethnically diverse, and then worshipping on Sunday morning at Redeemer Church, where we were told people from 60 different language groups worship together.   To watch the congregation lovingly care for one another on Sunday morning (and in the classes during the week) was a reminder of the sweet diversity of the people of God that are being saved from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Gratitude for the Zellers.  We have supported Eric Zeller for many years; we have known him as a man of integrity and biblical wisdom.  But working alongside him and staying in his home and watching him and his wife, Heather, interact with the students and care for and disciple their children with wisdom and patience was a special delight.  I was thankful for our partnership before; I am even more thankful for that partnership today. 

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