Crystal Gosnell
Crystal Gosnell reads her assignment for her online Cross-cultural Discipleship course as she takes care of children in a Nigerian orphanage.

Online Seminary Course Strengthens Mission Workers

HARRISONBURG, Va. – When Crystal Gosnell saw an email from Eastern Mennonite Seminary advertising an online course called “Cross-cultural Discipleship,” she knew she needed to take it.

Gosnell cares for newborn infants and runs the education program in an orphanage in Nigeria. She is also a seminary student. Gosnell is part of the BLESS (Biblical Lands Educational Seminars and Service) program at EMS. BLESS provides online, hybrid and on-location seminary courses for mission workers and others living abroad.

“I thought the course was going teach us how to make disciples in our mission,” said Gosnell. “Delightfully, I was totally wrong – it was about being cross-cultural disciples, and it was exactly what I needed.”

Course gives opportunity to process

“This course has offered helpful ways to process my experiences,” she added.

Gosnell is the only non-Nigerian for miles and often works with infants and children who are small, sick or have other health issues need special care.

“Right now I am caring for brothers, age 9 and 11, who have congenital birth defects that make it difficult for them to walk, a 1-year-old baby girl who has been with me since she was a week old because of respiratory problems and mild cerebral palsy, and a set of premature twins who weighed about 3 pounds at birth,” said Gosnell.

She is also in charge of running the nursery and primary school at the orphanage and making boarding school arrangements for the high school and university-age children at the orphanage. She also cares for her own adopted son, who weighed 2.5 lbs at birth, but is now a happy, healthy two-year-old.

“We move from one crisis to the next without much time to process.”
Gosnell said. “Many times I’ve typed up my assignments with tears streaming down my face. There are many things that I’ve never had a chance to grieve or unburden.”

Processing helps mission worker minister

“Having a chance to process these experiences is making me more effective in my ministry,” Gosnell stated.

“The course also encourages me to see how God has called and used His people cross-culturally from the beginning,” she continued. “It has helped me think about creative ways to connect the gospel to the lives of the people to whom I minister.”

This is part of the learning process, according to Linford L. Stutzman, associate professor of culture and mission and professor of Cross-cultural Discipleship at EMS.

Course adds experiential element to gospel message

“For the 12 disciples, following Jesus was a cross-cultural learning experience,” Dr. Stutzman noted. “They left their home-based faith and met Samaritans, Roman soldiers, prostitutes and powerful Jerusalemites.

“’Cross-cultural Discipleship’ brings this original cross-cultural, experiential dimension of learning to life,” said “Students scattered around the world study together as they live and share the good news to modern Samaritans, Romans, the poor and the powerful.”

Gosnell’s online classmates are serving in Thailand, Colombia, Ecuador and Israel/Palestine.

The course “Cross-Cultural Discipleship” is offered in cooperation with Virginia Mennonite Missions and other mission and service organizations.

For more information on the BLESS program, contact Eastern Mennonite Seminary at or call 540-432-4257.