Posts Tagged ‘preparation’

In the first month of my first semester at Harding, a senior student named Ron McFarland walked up to me in the aisle before chapel and said, “Hey, would you like to go on a mission campaign?”  Completely intimidated and equally ignorant, I replied confidently, “Sure!”

I went to an interview with Owen Olbricht for a spot on the Campaigns Northeast team from Harding for the next summer.  One of the first questions he asked me was why I wanted to go—and I literally had no answer because I had no idea what a missions campaign was!  I was only 17 years old and already felt like I had gone to the moon to leave Texas and go to Arkansas to college.  Clueless!

I was accepted—but was completely unprepared for what I had committed to do—so, of course, I was afraid and tried to drop off the team at least once.   Ignorance, inexperience, fear, and no relationship with anyone else going all were a certain recipe for disaster. The promise of training was my only hope!

 In retrospect, the training I received was minimal. The twelve of us met weekly in a classroom of the Bible building. Sometimes we had mimeographed handouts of information on Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and other exotic religious groups we would certainly meet in Pennsylvania. We did go over the Salvation Sheet, which is the outline of scriptures that we used to present the need for salvation to those who agreed to study with us.  Mostly, we listened to stories from people who had gone before.

Six years later, Sherrylee and I left for full-time mission work in Germany. This was shortly before the introduction in our fellowship of mission majors, mission internships, and psychological testing. In fact, our only training for the mission field was our experiences on Campaigns Northeast.  Four summers of knocking on doors, talking with literally hundreds of people of all sorts about salvation, and working with mission churches in the Northeast United States may have been the best training available at the time.

Here’s what I know about training for missions—or equipping, as we prefer to call it now:

  • Everyone who does short-term or long-term missions needs serious preparation! Don’t put your youth group on the bus, don’t let your retiring Boomers on a plane, and don’t send your preacher overseas without their having been equipped and prepared for the foreseen tasks.  This is so obvious, but most short-term workers go ill-prepared!
  • Preparation and training involves more than just providing information! Reading a book on cultural faux pas in China is helpful, but not enough! Telling the youth group not to wander off is a start, but not complete. Some of the poorest works I know about were instigated by academic-type missionaries who knew everything about their field and about missiology—but did not know people.
  • Nothing can replace experiential training! We learn by doing. In my day, that meant we learned by trial and error on the field. Today, supervised internships and mentoring programs offer great opportunities for long-term workers to receive hands-on training.  Short-term mission workers are the ones who often are short-changed here.  In fact, short-term missions are often used as a training event—which is one of the reasons for the distaste for short-term missions among some missions people.
  •  Short-term missions should not be used as a training exercise when they involve real people!  It’s like sending an army recruit to the battlefront for two weeks to teach him how to be a soldier. Or sending a first-year medical student to operate on people for a couple of weeks to give her a taste of what it is like to be a doctor.
  • There is no single perfect path for mission preparations.  A short-term trip to China and a short-term trip to Africa may have some common moments, but MUCH of the experience will require very different skills, therefore, very different preparation.  In fact, mission preparations for sub-Saharan  Africa would be very different from preparations for North Africa.  So why do we think that one curriculum, one missions philosophy, or even one mentor can adequately prepare missionaries for the diversity of the world we live in??
  • A spiritual and theological preparation is foundational to any mission work, either short or long term!  Needless to say, these areas are most often assumed to be in place, and, therefore, skipped over for lack of time or money or personnel, or whatever!  But do you know what those teenagers believe who are going to Honduras?  You may know what they have been taught, but do you know what they believe?  So you have found someone willing to go to China, but what is their picture of church?  If their only reference is American church, they most likely can only operate within that frame.  But that frame doesn’t really work in China today, so now what??

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes the 10,000 Hour Rule, which he identifies as the 10,000 hours of practice that great success requires.  Abraham Lincoln reportedly said,“ Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

I wonder if all of our mission workers wouldn’t be much happier and much more effective if we recommended—no, insisted—on more and better preparation—somewhere between four and 10,000 hours!

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