Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Pre-field Training Page 1 of 3

organizational involvement
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Resilience: What part does the organization play?

We have been discussing the need for resilience among cross-cultural workers. In the last post, we talked about how God develops resilience through suffering. But what is the mission organization’s responsibility in supporting their workers in these times of crisis and stress? How does the organization determine its level of involvement in caring for its missionaries?

These questions are not easily answered. Cross-cultural workers vary widely in their desire for and expectations of organizational involvement. Some only want their organization to provide receipts to their donors and make sure the missionary receives the support on a regular basis. Others want a full range of services, including health insurance, training, pastoral care, leadership, and supervision, conferences and retreats, risk assessments and security training, and IT support.

SEND International is one mission that has sought to better determine what level of organizational involvement it should provide for its members’ well-being. Here is the story of what one region in SEND has done to find answers to these questions.

A survey of field missionaries

In 2019 SEND International established a workgroup to study the feasibility of designing and implementing a regional “hub” structure for the Eurasia region. SEND had already worked in this part of the world for a couple of decades, but we wanted to strengthen the services we provided to our missionaries serving there. One of the mandates of the workgroup was to protect what works well in Eurasia (strengths) while improving what is not working well (gaps). To learn more about the strengths and gaps of our organization in this region, the workgroup created a questionnaire and a list of possible interviewees.

resilience and grace
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The source of resilience – grace

What is missional resilience? In a nutshell, it’s grace not grit. We must receive Jesus’ resilience to join him in his mission as we turn toward the triune God, others, and ourselves for loving support.

Geoff Whiteman, Resilient Global Worker Study: Persevering with Joy, March 2021.

In my previous blog post, I talked about the need for resilience in cross-cultural work and particularly now in the pandemic. I mentioned Geoff Whiteman’s research. He surveyed more than 1000 missionaries to find out what contributes to making global workers more resilient. What was his overall conclusion? It can be found in the quote above – resilience in mission work is rooted in God’s grace.

In a workshop at the 2021 Missio Nexus Mission Leaders Conference, Whiteman presented various recommendations for mission organizations to support missional resilience. Based on his research, he talked about the type of training, leadership, and caring that would help global workers become and stay resilient. Whiteman’s research demonstrated that mission organizations have much to learn and many ways in which they can improve. Nevertheless, Whiteman still concludes that resilience is first and foremost a gift of God’s grace.

The witness of Scripture

This echoes the witness of the Scriptures. Repeatedly we find that the Word of God promises the grace of resilience to those who cannot endure in their own strength. Here are a couple of examples.

online training skills
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Online training: sharpening your skills

Online education and training have been around for a long time. But over this past year, many of us have had the opportunity and necessity to experience online training like never before. This is also true for the training of missionaries getting ready to head to the field. Facilitating an online training session is inherently different from facilitating a training module face-to-face. Since online instruction is likely here to stay, those of us involved in training missionaries should continue to sharpen our skills for facilitating online. Here are some things we have learned in the past year that help promote an effective online learning environment.

Use a variety of methods

A good principle of education is to use a variety of different teaching methods. Doing so connects with the various learning styles of your learners. This principle also holds true online. Asynchronous courses with forum discussions have existed in online learning for over 10 years. Some learners will thrive in this kind of setting, particularly if they like to carefully think through their answers before responding. In an asynchronous environment, they can read books, blog posts, and watch videos, reflect on them, and then respond when they are ready in writing through forum posts.

More recently, video conference platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, and Teams have become popular ways to facilitate. In this setting, other types of learners will thrive. They have a set time to connect and a more immediate response in the discussion.

So, when you design an online curriculum, seek to cater to as many personalities and learning styles as possible. Maybe your training course can include both asynchronous forum discussions and some live video conference sessions as well.

Break the ice

It may feel natural to introduce yourself to a fellow learner or a facilitator in a physical classroom setting when you first walk into the room or during a class break. But this can feel much more awkward in a virtual setting when you enter a virtual “room” that is already “full” of people, and no one is in closer physical proximity to you than anyone else.

Book Review: Relational Missionary Training

In 2006 Enoch Wan introduced his paradigm of “Relational Realism” in an article in the Occasional Bulletin of the Evangelical Missiological Society. This paradigm sees reality as defined by the vertical relationship with the Triune God and the horizontal relationships between created beings. In 2017, together with Mark Hedinger, he published the book, Relational Missionary Training: Theology, Theory, and Practice. Essentially, the book applies the relational realism model to the task of training missionaries.

The book aims to provide a foundation for this paradigm. Therefore, the authors look at theological, educational and practical aspects of the model. Their purpose is to describe the paradigm and show how a training program could be developed along these lines.

Relational Missionary Training

The authors also note that the book is written with missionary trainers in mind.1p.15 So, that makes me part of the target audience.

The book contains four parts:

  1. Theology (Chapters 1-3)
  2. Theory (Chapters 4-5)
  3. Practice (Chapters 6-8)
  4. Summary and Conclusions (Chapters 9-10).
missions in midst of crisis
Photo by Denniz Futalan from Pexels

Book Review: Practicing Hope: Missions and Global Crises

Every year the Evangelical Missiological Society publishes a monograph containing papers from the previous year’s annual meeting. This year’s title is Practicing Hope: Missions and Global Crises, edited by Jerry Ireland and Michelle Raven. Yet before we assume the book is talking about COVID-19, we need to remember that when these papers were presented, no one knew a pandemic was coming. Jerry Ireland notes:

Practicing Hope

In September 2019 almost 300 missionaries, missiologists, sociologists, theologians, anthropologists, and students gathered near Dallas for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society. The theme was “Missions Amid Global Crises.” I do not think that any of us would have dreamed that eight months later the world would be engulfed in a global pandemic because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).1Jerry Ireland and Michelle Raven, eds. Practicing Hope: Missions and Global Crises. Evangelical Missiological Society, 2020, xiii.

Overview of book

Though none of the twelve chapters address the current pandemic crisis, these papers give us much to learn and apply. The chapter titles are:

follow-up and reinforcement of training

I don’t really know if the training went well

How can we know if it is effective?

I have spent the last 10 years of my life in training missionaries. Training events have taken me to more than a dozen countries. Through online courses, workers from at least twice that number have participated in training that I have led. Furthermore, I head up our organization’s training department and so have the privilege of leading a great team of trainers and facilitators. But despite my experience and travels, the question does not go away. How can we know if our training is effective?

Recently I saw that the parable of the sower sheds some light on this question.

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. – Matthew 13:20–21

Biblical understanding

Jesus’s explanation of the seed falling on the stony ground shows us that a joyful response to the hearing of truth is no indication that people have understood the Word. As is clear from Matt. 13:15, a biblical sense of understanding is to understand with the heart, resulting in a change of behavior. We can only say that there is true understanding when the person repents and turns from their previous behavior to adopt new behaviors or habits.

Book Review: Well Sent

51xanlIajuL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_I have frequently been asked about resources for local church missions programs. In 2015, Steve Beirn, Global Ministries Pastor at Calvary Church in Lancaster, PA, published Well Sent: Reimaging the Church’s Missionary-Sending Process. Steve served at our sending church in Holland, Michigan before going to Calvary so I know him well. He writes with passion and experience. In the introduction he writes:

This book seeks to elevate the role of the local church in the sending effort. The trend in missions today is to place the individual at the center of the sending process. Sometimes the agency is placed at the center. This book places the local church at the center of the sending process. – Well Sent, p. 17.

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