We consider pre-field missionary training and preparation among the greatest investments a home church and missionary can make. Its why it was an honor to have Brian Gibson from Train International, in the Shepherd's Staff office this week. Train is an excellent ministry offering great pre-field preparation, language acquisition and debriefing courses. We are excited to announce partnership with Train to help further help the missionaries and churches we serve. Below are some thoughts from our time with Brian and hearing all Train offers.
Is Pre-Field Missionary Training Worth the Time and Cost?
Consider a scenario
A few different mosquito borne diseases erupt for the first time upon the residents of a tropical island, who can only speak their own Asian language. There are no medically trained people who live on the island. Word spreads that a doctor is urgently needed to relocate to the island and stay as long as necessary to cure the sick and teach them how to minimize the possibility of further outbreaks.
Two practicing doctors hear of the need and are willing to go and help. Both grew up in the Northern Hemisphere and have only lived and practiced medicine there. Neither of them speaks the Asian language.
One of them has had tropical medicine training and has taken the initiative to learn Spanish in order to better serve a larger portion of the community where his practice is located.
If both of these doctors go, which one is more likely to be successful in understanding and meeting the need of the people that live on the island?
The answer is obvious
What if we apply the same common sense approach to two followers of Jesus that both feel like God has called them to move to a different country and live among people whose language, culture, and religion are radically different their own?
Although both could go with the knowledge and experience they already possess, if one of them chose to attend pre-field cross-cultural training prior to departure and the other one decided not to receive specific training, which would be more likely to succeed?
In most two to three week pre-field cross-cultural training, missionaries on the way to the field are equipped for effective service through:
- Helping them to understand how their own worldview, culture, and language influence their relationship with God and their understanding of His word.
- Giving them the tools they'll need to understand the worldview and culture of the people they are trying to reach, along with practical methods that can be used to contextualize the truths of God's Kingdom for them.
- Empowering them with cultural adaptation and language acquisition skills.
- Immersing them during the training in a relational community with fellow pre-field missionaries that produces real bonds with one another and the challenges that level of connection with others naturally generates--and then imparting to them the skills necessary to manage the tension/conflict in a God-honoring and other-honoring way.
- Examining and enhancing their existing spiritual, emotional, and physical self-care disciplines.
Since God does call families with children to the field, most pre-field training programs include child-specific components.
During my time on the field I interacted with a number of newly arrived missionaries. In almost every case, those that had received pre-field training adjusted quicker, experienced much less culture shock, and began fulfilling their original purpose in coming much quicker than those who hadn't received cross-cultural training.
Does God have the capacity to make an untrained missionary effective? He certainly can and He occasionally does. But the facts show that missionary longevity and effectiveness are much more likely for the person who has expended the relatively minimal amount of money and time to be as prepared as possible for success on the field.
Jeff Jackson is the founder of Shepherd's Staff Mission Facilitators, previously served with his family church planting in the central Philippines. He has planted churches in the United States and continues to serve as a church plating coach for missionaries.