Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Pre-field Training

The other 76% of the training value

These days, we are preparing for another Member Orientation Program, SEND’s pre-field training for those who are within a few months of leaving for the mission field.   This summer’s group is one of the most diverse ones I have ever seen with 18 people coming from 7 different countries and going to 10 different SEND areas of ministry.   As we are preparing for this major training event, the temptation is to focus entirely on what we are going to do during the 2 weeks that we are together on the SEND Farmington campus.   We are arranging and re-arranging the schedule, contacting all the facilitators, updating our PowerPoint presentations, thinking through the logistics of our various “cultural experiences”, notifying those who will be leading chapel times, planning for shopping trips for the cook, and the list goes on and on.   I am very thankful for a superb administrative assistant who works out of our International Office in Michigan, and is taking care of most of these details while I am writing blog posts here in Ukraine.

How do we measure the impact of training?

How do you evaluate the effectiveness of our training?  This has been a question that we are still seeking to answer in SEND U.

One realization that I have come to in the past few years is that asking the participants how well they liked the training is not enough of a measure. We regularly receive positive comments about the various training initiatives we do for our mission members, either on evaluation sheets hurriedly filled out in the last 5 minutes of the training event, or in conversations with people walking out the door. But while it is gratifying to hear that they enjoyed the workshop, what we want to see happen is for the participants to change their behaviors as result of what they have learned.

Spiritual Formation highlights training for new missionaries

Bertha and I are on a short home service, and so I am not quite as involved in SEND U activities for the next month or two.  But in July, I was back in Farmington to help lead our 2011 Member Orientation Program.   Twelve participants came from Poland, Austria and the USA.  We were trying a few new things in MOP this year, including visits to Angel House (a Middle Eastern center in the heart of Dearborn), an Iraqi mosque, and an ethnic church.   We will definitely want to repeat these hands-on opportunities for cross-cultural exposure and learning.

Again we noticed how the spiritual formation parts of this pre-field training stand out as highlights for the MOP participants.   This year, Carl Kresge led most of the morning sessions on spiritual formation, building up to the “Day Alone With God” which happens the day before MOP ends. Carl emphasized that busyness and demands of ministry can so easily distract us from the priority of developing an intimate relationship with God, and pointed the MOPers to the example of Mary (in contrast to her sister, Martha) in Luke 10. Several of the MOP participants resolved to repeat a Day Alone with God on a regular basis, and I would wholeheartedly endorse this practice.  A Guide for the Day Alone With God can be found on the SEND U wiki.

Online training for team leaders in Week Three

We are now in our third week of the online course for SEND team leaders.   This week we are working on our job descriptions, after having discussed the essential tasks of a leader and the SEND Team Leader Profile in the previous two weeks.  I have been delighted to see 16 team leaders from many different SEND areas interact with one another in the class forums, encouraging one another, asking questions, and sharing principles they have learned about leadership.   We have participants from 8 different areas of SEND, and a wide range of leadership experiences in many different countries and contexts, so we have a lot of stories to tell.   There is never a time when everyone is online (or awake) at the same time, but as long as participants regularly login several times during the week, the discussions can flow as each participant posts his comments in an open forum that all the class members can read and reply to.

For me as facilitator, it has been a very positive experience thus far, and convinces me that online training across multiple time zones is not only possible and inexpensive, but can provide a quality learning experience as well. Of course, this is not my first experience with online training.  Over the past year or so, I have had the opportunity to take two training modules from EFCA EQUIP on this very topic of first developing and then facilitating online modules. Since these courses trained us by word and example how to make online courses highly interactive and focused on self-discovery, the learning experience was very enjoyable, and so much better than other distance education courses I have taken in the past.   Since my first course with EQUIP, I have wanted to try training within our mission using the same format, and now I am in the middle of realizing that dream.

Pre-field training is too good to be restricted to new missionaries

The SEND summer 2010 Candidate Orientation Program (COP) and Member Orientation Program (MOP) are now history, and after 7 weeks in North America, we are now back in Kiev, Ukraine.   While in Michigan at our international office where the training programs were hosted, I enjoyed getting to know two great groups of new SEND missionaries in these 2 pre-field programs. My primary purpose in attending COP and MOP was to better understand what we are teaching to new missionaries, and to look for ways that the two programs might be overlapping or missing some significant areas of necessary training. 

Although I had a few recommendations for both programs, my impressions were overwhelmingly positive.  The content of the training is significantly different from what I received 25 years ago, and understandably so because the context of the North American churches has also changed, and so has the options available for communication.   But I think the quality of the training has also significantly improved since I went through COP in 1985 (no MOP back then).  I realized that some of this pre-field training is just too good to be restricted to new appointees.   For example, I think many of us missionaries would really benefit by sitting down with someone from the SEND media department and discussing how we can improve our newsletters. In fact, if you struggle to communicate effectively and regularly with your donors and prayer partners, why don’t you make spending some time with the media department as one of your home service objectives? Take along some recent issues of your newsletter and ask them to give you some suggestions for how you can communicate more effectively. I know they will be kind – and helpful.

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?

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