How to Make Disciples Where You Are: An Interview with Jeannie Marie
According to Barna research, only 17% of all churchgoers know what the Great Commission is. Jesus said it plainly: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” How is this commission to be lived out in our ordinary lives? With God bringing people from other countries and cultures into new neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools, how should we shift our perspective to align our hearts, minds, and everyday lives with God’s heart for the nations?
Bible Gateway interviewed Jeannie Marie (@jeanniemmarie) about her book, Across the Street and Around the World: Following Jesus to the Nations in Your Neighborhood…and Beyond (Thomas Nelson, 2018).
Why did you write Across the Street and Around the World and what do you hope it accomplishes?
Jeannie Marie: I see young people, families, retirees wanting to make a difference globally, but they don’t often know how to put skin on their passions, how to start, what to do next, or how to do it well. Most believers only know to go to places and peoples that already have Christians and churches, instead of the places and peoples that need Jesus Christ the most.
I hope to inspire ordinary us to follow Jesus into other cultures well—with courage, compassion, and spiritual intentionality—starting across the street and then wrestling with what it might look like to go around the world.
Why don’t you use the word “missionary” in the book?
Jeannie Marie: I grew up overseas with the traditional picture of a missionary as someone who lived in a tribal hut somewhere in Africa. But the landscape of how countries and people relate to each other—and where the 2.3 billion people without access to Jesus live—has changed dramatically since then.
Some unreached people groups are moving into our own neighborhoods, and many now live in urban settings.
Also, people without access to Jesus in this decade mostly live in majority Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and formerly communist countries that don’t give out religious visas.
Followers of Jesus are now moving to these countries as entrepreneurs who create jobs, professionals who work for international companies, students who study abroad, or development workers who alleviate poverty in non-governmental organizations—all while making disciples of Jesus.
What do you mean that “God has a heart for the nations” and we must adopt it?
Jeannie Marie: Reaching out to every culture isn’t just a few people’s “thing.” It’s God’s “thing.” God told Abraham, “I will bless you and…and the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:2-3).
He placed Jerusalem “at the center of the nations” with lands around her, so the people called to stay at home could still affect the surrounding nations (Ezek 5:5).
The apostle Peter reminded everyone that we are all descendants of Abraham too and that “through your descendants all the families (the people groups, the nations) on earth will be blessed” (Acts 3:25).
So, if reconciling the peoples of the world to himself, being a light to the nations is God’s “thing,” it ought to be our “thing” too.
What are ways a person can begin crossing cultural lines in their lives?
Jeannie Marie: Here’s one fun and life-changing suggestion: make a friend from another country right where you live! Putting a face that’s a friend to the big word nations helps us fall in love with all cultures.
It’s easy to do if we intentionally put ourselves in places where people from other countries are. Eat at ethnic restaurants, say hello to a covered woman at the grocery store, and change your normal leisure activities (like your exercise gym or children’s park play dates) to parts of your city where international students or resettled refugees tend to live.
That’s right! International students studying in our country from Saudi Arabia, China, and India would love to come to our homes for a holiday dinner—and resettled refugees arriving from Iraq, Sudan, and Somalia need a welcoming friend to show them how to live in our country.
How should Jesus be our model in interacting with people from other cultures?
Jeannie Marie: Because of our close connection with Jesus, ours should naturally be the life that pours expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet in a humble act of genuine worship (John 12:3-5).
It’s the life that turns over tables, in an act of righteous rage (John 2:13-17). It’s the life that fills jars of oil for starving widows (1 Kings 17:8-16). It’s the life that spends all night praying on a mountain and then chooses 12 disciples to follow him (Luke 6:12-16).
Lavish worship, zeal for justice, extreme faith, intense communication with God—all four of these stories illustrate how Jesus modeled the life we’re called to live.
In practical terms, what does it mean to “lay down one’s preferences” and why is that important?
Jeannie Marie: We like to do things the way we prefer to do them, don’t we? We like to wear what we want to wear and eat what we feel like eating. It doesn’t generally occur to us to try to match someone else’s cultural preferences.
But when we lay down the way we do things, giving up what we like to eat or wear, to try to identify with someone else, it serves, values, and honors the other person. It paves the way for our message to be heard and received well.
Jesus did this when he entered our world. He became human so he could identify with us in every way. We could experience his message firsthand, because he became one of us (Philippians 2).
What are critical habits for entering other cultures well?
Jeannie Marie: Be intentional about where you invest your time and energy. Plan “unplanned time” into your schedule to make room for unhurried, relational time. Eat together in your homes to foster a more intimate level of friendship.
Cultivate extreme hospitality, matching the lavish generosity and hospitality to strangers in Eastern cultures. Go with the flow, to learn a brand of flexible time that’s based on people rather than projects.
Lastly, honor everyone, especially the family structure, being wise to not bring public shame on a family name.
You make it seem simple to start reading the Bible with someone from another culture or faith. What’s the secret?
Jeannie Marie: I find that if we shed any expectations—such as coming to church, joining a religion, or making someone “be good”—we can just ask our new friends, “Have you ever read the Bible? Would you like to read it with me sometime?”
Most people from Eastern cultures discuss religion and politics with the same affability as Westerners discuss sports and the weather. So it’s not uncomfortable or unusual for them. Just explain that the goal is to find peace with God and others by reading God’s words and doing them.
What is the Bible reading list you provide at the end of your book?
Jeannie Marie: Across the Street and Around the World is set up for a small group to read and do the book together, practicing going across the street one step at a time, and then wrestling with what it would take to go around the world. The Bible Reading List offers Scripture to read and apply each week alongside the chapter topic, using a Small Group Plan also in the back of the book. Multiple free resources are available online.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Jeannie Marie: I sign my books, Be good news, with my life verse: “And this is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8).
I want to be a disciple of Jesus that bears much fruit. And for those who read and do Across the Street and Around the World, I pray that ordinary people start to live a life of spiritual adventure crossing cultures with Jesus, bearing much fruit in places where the kingdom of God isn’t.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway?
Jeannie Marie: I use Bible Gateway every single day. When I write, I’m often referencing Scripture. Bible Gateway is where I go to search for that passage, compare translations, and copy it into my manuscript.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Jeannie Marie: I coined a new term for a decades-long quest by other wise people, called Missional Intelligence (MQ). It’s about strategy. I hope in reading and doing this book, your MQ will skyrocket. You’ll know what it’s going to take to win, based on Matthew 24:14 — “And the good news about the Kingdom of God will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all the nations will hear it; and then the end will come.” Who are “all the nations”? Where do they live? How can we reach them in a winsome way? What’s it going to take? What’s your role, starting across the street, and maybe even going around the world?
Across the Street and Around the World is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Jeannie Marie is a strategist for an international agency that recruits, trains, and sends long-term field workers to more than 50 countries. She’s also the author of Across the Street and Around the World (website). Jeannie worked with refugees and internationals students before moving with her husband and four children to India. They now live in the sunny suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, having spiritual adventures across the street and occasionally around the world.
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