"Explore Missions" - Will Advent Christians Answer the Call?
Where are all our missionaries? As we come to the end of the second decade of the 2000s, we have zero full-time missionaries from North America serving through Advent Christian General Conference’s Department of International Missions. Zero! This is remarkable considering we have about 265 Advent Christian churches in the United States and Canada. Surely we have the resources to support missionaries. It’s not a matter of resources, though – I know of another similar-sized denomination that sends and supports hundreds of missionaries!
Instead of getting bogged down in analyzing the reasons for this appalling fact, we at ACGC began asking, “What can we do about this? What can we start doing to change this?” After becoming the Director of International Missions, I quickly realized I did not have a line of missionary candidates waiting outside my office. Potential missionaries weren’t ready to be picked like ripe apples off a tree. Like pastors and other Christian workers, missionaries usually don’t just appear - they must be developed. And the development of those who would serve as Advent Christian missionaries just hasn’t been happening. My evidence for this is only anecdotal, but I would say many (if not most) people in our AC churches do not know they could serve as AC missionaries if they wanted to. They don’t even know there is such a thing.
In light of this, ACGC’s Coordinator for Leadership Development Matt Larkin and I began discussing a way to create space for people to explore the idea of missionary service in the Advent Christian context. The fruit of that discussion was the Explore Missions program. We wanted to create an environment that would foster discussion and reflection on the calling to missionary work, and to do it in a way that would lead participants forward in practical steps. The purpose of Explore Missions is for participants to leave with more clarity concerning their personal call to missions. Therefore, our goal during Explore Missions is to prayerfully work toward formulating one or two specific next steps for each participant.
We launched the first Explore Missions program at the beginning of this year. After months of promotion, planning and preparation, three Explore Missions Mentors arrived at our office in Charlotte on Monday morning, January 7. The Mentors needed to have experience as full-time missionaries and also be connected to the Advent Christian Church. Bryce Whiting, my wife Rhonda and I served as the Mentors. We met that morning to discuss our role in the program and to pray. None of us knew exactly what we were getting into, but we were excited at the opportunity God had given to engage people who are interested in missions. In brief, the Mentors’ role in Explore Missions is to walk with their assigned participants through the entire program. Together as a Mentor Team, we would meet each evening to discuss what we were learning about the participants and to pray for the Lord’s guidance.
Later that day, seven participants arrived from different parts of the country. After the welcome and orientation, each participant met one-on-one with their assigned Mentor for an introductory interview. Each participant then completed the DISC personality test. DISC is a common assessment tool that measures personality in four dimensions: dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance. Participants thus learned a little something about themselves, and they got a taste of more in-depth assessments that are part of the missionary preparation process.
Monday evening was the first major stretching experience. A guest (who was a former missionary in North Africa) led us through a Muslim dinner experience. It was like we had been airlifted into the home of a typical North African family as their guests for dinner. No English was spoken by our hostess. We were made to remove our shoes before entering the room. The ladies were given a head scarf, or hijab, to wear. Arabic music played softly in the background as the men sat in one circle on the floor and the women took their place in their own circle. We were then instructed (not in English, remember!) to eat with our hands from bread and lentil stew that was placed in the middle of each circle. Those that tried to eat with their left hand were surprised when they were rebuked. After our hostess shifted into English and we had discussed the experience, we all enjoyed a full dinner featuring North African foods.
The next day started with a time of worship, prayer and a message from God’s Word. Then we prepared for the primary activity of the morning: a trip to Project 658, a local Charlotte ministry that provides livelihood and other services for immigrants, refugees and other at-risk people. Another guest, who is a missionary to international students at the University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNCC), helped orient our group to issues of cross-cultural awareness and respect and helped prepare us for conversations with people from other cultures.
After arriving at Project 658, we were given a tour and description of their ministry, which includes English-as-a-second-language courses, childcare, sewing classes, culinary classes and Bible studies. The culinary class was not meeting at the time, so our job was to prepare lunch for all the participants and staff. As Mentors, we helped with the food preparation – but mainly we observed the group dynamics of our team. During lunch, we talked with the staff and with people from many different countries. I talked with people from Myanmar and later chatted with two ladies from Honduras.
That afternoon, we made the 25-minute drive to the UNCC campus to begin our third major stretching experience: the cross-cultural scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt required participants to have conversations with international students and then take public transportation (a bus and a train) to other local destinations. Other scavenger hunt requirements included finding certain foods at international grocery stores (and trying them). After dinner at a restaurant with some international dishes, we met our non-resident medical missionary Dr. Cynthia Lee at the ACGC office. Cynthia shared her journey into medical missions and encouraged everyone with the many possibilities and varieties of missionary service there are today.
Wednesday was our final day of Explore Missions – it began again with worship, prayer and a message from God’s Word. We then talked about opportunities for further development and service. Matt Larkin shared how the participants could connect with the new opportunities that will soon be available through our Leadership Development field offices. Before we concluded with lunch, each participant had an exit interview with their Mentor. During this time, the Mentors were able to hear from the participants some of what they had experienced and learned. Mentors then gave the specific next steps the Mentor Team had prayerfully recommended for them individually.
Part of the registration process for Explore Missions is a pastor’s recommendation. The purpose for this is twofold. First, it provides us with the pastor’s perspective on the registrant. Second, it requires a conversation between the registrant and the pastor. This involves the local church (especially the pastor) in the progress toward missionary service from the beginning.
Of course, we are hoping that Explore Missions will move people toward serving as Advent Christian missionaries. But we also recognize that for some, another missionary sending organization might be a better fit. Our focus on establishing and strengthening churches among unreached people groups may not be wholly compatible with the missionary calling of some. Organizational culture, doctrinal compatibility and opportunities for service are other factors that must be considered. Even if an Explore Missions participant ends up serving with another organization, we count that a success. We want to be known for cooperation with the larger body of Christ – not for competition.
So, be on the lookout for another Explore Missions program in the future!