Mission: context is everything

How fast can you stuff a tiger? Each session of the short term volunteer training comes up fast on the last. From 8:30 am to 8pm at night, with little time between the sessions, in the last 24 hours we’ve considered questions ranging from “what is the gospel” – which got people really animated – to “what is culture shock and how do people respond to it?” as we considered incarnational living and how it affects us, to “what glasses do we use to read the Bible?” and “what does healthy / unhealthy spirituality look like?”

IMG_20160726_065222Creating a course which is ‘one size fits all’ but which covers all the basic themes isn’t easy, I’ve not had a chance to chat with anyone about the thinking behind the course curriculum but there’s clearly a desire to weave three elements together. 1) A brief exposure to some key theological questions: these sessions focus mostly on the question rather than giving a solution which isn’t a surprise since you could do a University module on each one and still only scratch the surface.  2) Helping students think about their own culture, worldview and assumptions as well as being attentive to other peoples. These sessions tend to include more teaching and discussion of examples. Personally it has been good to think about my experiences of both Peru and New Zealand in this. 3) Consideration of issues to help volunteers survive on the mission field. Issues such as maintaining health (physical, emotional, spiritual), working in teams, health and safety, communications and ethical behaviour. The speed of the course means that you are only getting little tasters but the notes and follow up material is enough to help people learn more and at least know where to look for further help if needed in the years ahead.

I’m also learning a bit about the other folk on the course. Half of them are much younger than me: friendly, enthusiastic and looking forward to getting stuck in to their mission situation, most are post University and a couple are professionals (teacher / doctor). The other half are equally positive but are older (like me) who are weaving global mission work with other UK responsibilities (two of us are Baptist Ministers). But overall we are a classic example of a how there is a short term mission space for anyone, whatever your skills. Some approached BMS with a clear aim to serve, some simply contacted them and said something like, “this is who I am, this is the time I can give, do you have something I can usefully do”. And not everyone doing the course either comes from a Baptist church or is going to serve with BMS either!

We’ve also had a reminder that mission isn’t easy and you don’t always get to ‘stay safe’. A short reflective session led by someone who has recently returned from serving in an area of global instability, where in recent years a number of team members (not BMS folk) were killed, underlines that mission is about service it is not a walk in the park.

And the tiger? Well this evening’s session included a Myers-Briggs test and discussion of the different work, communication and team preferences we have – and according to the picture chart of the different personality types, I am a tiger.

More tomorrow….. but here’s a clip they used to introduce the idea of culture shock. It’s of some boys from Sudan who go to the US.

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