Traveling in ministry

By Sven Soderlund

My life has been greatly enriched by short-term and extended ministry assignments overseas. It all began with a two-and-a-half-year ministry engagement with my sister and brother-in-law’s church planting ministry in Chile, South America in the 1960s, followed by several return visits to Latin America over the years, especially a six month sabbatical ministry stay in Monterrey, Mexico with my wife and three daughters in 1991, preceded and followed by various personal ministry visits in Mexico. I also taught on different occasions in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile again, Cuba and Guatemala. On the other side of the Atlantic I have taught short term courses in Sweden, Estonia and Turkey.

I initially went to Chile on my own following completion of my BA and my first theological degree. The idea was to stay ten months while deciding on further theological study afterwards. But ten months became twenty months and then thirty months before returning to North America for a four-year theological school teaching assignment. I thoroughly enjoyed my Latin American experience and, now looking back, would not have been without it. It helped form my understanding of ministry, both pastoral and theological, not to speak of the richness of the cross-cultural experience. All of that was profoundly influential in my understanding of the core values of church life and the nature of theological education.

It needs to be said, however, that engaging in this kind of overseas ministry was very different as a bachelor setting out in life compared with doing it as a married person and father of three daughters. As a single person, I was able to move about freely and without hindrance, not to speak of living on a limited budget. Returning to Latin America in 1991, now with a wife and three children, definitely limited by freedom of movement. One unanticipated complication was returning to Latin America in a setting in which I was the one competent in the language and awareness of the Latin culture, whereas neither my wife nor my daughters found it easy to relate quickly to language or culture. My failure to understand and sympathize with their predicament made for some difficult adjustments. Hence, here is a word to the wise: When ministering overseas with family or friends, be very sensitive to the needs of others who may not have the same understanding of nor commitment to the ministry at hand. Such sensitivity will make for a much happier and all-around positive experience.

Sven Soderlund first started teaching at Regent College in 1978 and became Associate Professor of Biblical Studies in 1986. During his time at Regent, he taught courses in both Greek and Hebrew, Old Testament Prophets, Luke-Acts, Pauline Letters, and Hebrews. Since his retirement in 2006, Dr. Soderlund has continued teaching at Regent, offering courses in Exegesis and Interpretation, Acts, and Pauline Letters. His current research interests lie in exploring the church-planting and church-nurturing mission of the apostle Paul, together with implications for ministry and church life in our neo-pagan, post-Christian twenty-first century. Many our Artizo apprentices have appreciated Dr. Soderlund’s teaching and pastoral care for them over the years.