What does a new missionary need to learn before they leave for the field?

One of the projects we are working on these days is determining the objectives for MOP (SEND’s Member Orientation Program).   The facilitators for the various sessions at MOP have submitted their objectives for their individual sessions, but it seems to us that just as important, if not more important, are SEND’s overall objectives for this entire pre-field orientation program.   So we are asking the following questions:

  1. What does a new missionary appointee need to know as they prepare to engage a new culture,  language and missionary team in their chosen country of service? 
  2. Of all the things that an missionary appointee needs to know, what do we in the International Office want new missionary appointees to learn in the 2 weeks that they are with us in MOP?  
  3. Is it realistic to expect that an appointee will learn these things in the two weeks that they are on the Farmington campus?  Are our objectives attainable?
  4. Are these objectives going to be accomplished by the orientation sessions and learning activities that we currently  include in the program?  Or do we need to either add to or revise what we are already doing?  For example, if learning to prepare for cross-cultural is important, should we be designing learning experiences that take our new missionary appointees into ethnic neighbourhoods in Detroit?
  5. How will we know whether the appointee has actually learned these things?
  6. How can we find out if the things that were learned during MOP are truly the most helpful and relevant things the new missionary appointees could have learned?   Is there a way that we can get feedback on the relevance of what was learned – and how much was actually retained?

We quickly realized that we did not want to state our objectives in terms of what topics we wanted to cover.   Saying that we want to explain the history of SEND does not help us answer the questions above. Instead we need to express our educational objectives in terms of the learner’s observable behaviour so that we could measure whether our Member Orientation Program had actually accomplish what we had set out to do.

Too often our temptation as teachers has been to dump a lot of content on the people in our classes in an attempt to cover all our bases and justify the time they are spending listening to us, rather than putting in the hard work of really clarifying what we are trying to accomplish through our teaching.  Or at least I know I have been guilty of this.   It is a shotgun approach; if we get close enough and fire often enough, we are bound to hit something.   But although that may work for duck hunting, it is not an effective way of learning.   Content overload results in our brains no longer being able to fully process or remember anything, even those things that would be truly valuable and applicable to our new culture and ministry.

So we are trying to figure out what the objectives of the Member Orientation Program should be.  Eventually we will look at the objectives for all that SEND does in pre-field training.   I invite your input.   What do you think a new missionary family preparing to go overseas needs to learn before they leave?   Give us your opinion by clicking on “comments” below.

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4 thoughts on “What does a new missionary need to learn before they leave for the field?

  1. Flexibility. If a missionary can't “roll with it”, they're in for a rough ride. But if a missionary is not flexible “pre-MOP', it's not likely they will be “post-MOP”.

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  2. Perhaps learning that the missionary team they will be joining will become their family. Maybe this doesn't apply to missionary families but for single young missionaries this is very helpful to learn before you go.

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  3. One of the greatest characteristic missionaries need is flexibility. My racewalking coach told me that to be a good racewalker, I need to have a flexible body. There are exercises that I can to to maintain and improve flexibility. Probably the same is true for missionaries. The more chances we have to be flexible, the easier it gets. So build in some opportunities to improve flexibility into MOP. It could be interesting…

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