by William C. Pencille
With proper planning, even shirt assignments can be fruitful and young people can be recruited as career missionaries.
More and more young people are serving overseas in summer missionary work. This article describes one such ministry in detail. The author believes that with proper planning, even shirt assignments can be fruitful and young people can be recruited as career missionaries.
"He wasn’t a missionary! He couldn’t even speak Spanish and I had to baby-sit him all summer," wrote a missionary after one experience with a summer missionary.
"All I did was paint buildings and baby-sit the missionary’s children," reported a young summer missionary.
"The missionary was a very busy person and I had no one to whom to go with my spiritual problems," lamented another.
Not all of the experiences were negative. Some had positive, learning experiences. A few even balked about returning as missionaries some day. But too many were responding like the ones above. There must be a better way, we felt, if we really wanted to continue the summer missionary experiment.
Some experienced missionaries were opposed to the whole idea. "When I went to the field," they said, "I made a life commitment and didn’t need to look over the place I expected to live out that commitment." They felt that young people today ought to be at least as "spiritual" as they had been, and be able to make a life commitment "sight unseen." Perhaps so. However, the very fabric of our social life makes tae idea of a summer involvement not only attractive and possible but, perhaps, advantageous.
When a large industrial firm goes shopping for engineers ova college campuses, recruiters don’t simply approach a promising bright young prospect with contract in hand and erect him to sign on the dotted line. The recruiter would be far mere likely to give him an airline ticket to the city where he would be working and a reservation at the Holiday Inn. "Visit the plant," he would be told. "Look at churches and schools in the area. Investigate recreational and cultural opportunities. Look at the housing situation. If you like what you see, let’s talk business."
Admittedly, missions are not industrial corporations. Yet, it is in this find of climate that today’s young people feed comfortable; just possibly a positive, profitable summer experience on, the mission field can be the final step in God’s leading toward, a missionary career. At any rate, the summer program in its aims and expectations should be toward the young person himself rather than toward useful work he might accomplish. The name of the game, we felt, should be recruitment.
By the fall of 1972 sore ideas had begun to crystalize in our search fir that "better way." We would live and work together as a group. We would find ways to witness and evangelize an spate of limited linguistic ability. We would live and work in bath aural and urban situations. One competent leader would. spend the entire period ( two months) Living and working with. the group. We would word in Colombia to keep travel costs low.
That summer (1973) there were 17 on the team. In 1974 there were 35. Much that we learned the first year was incorporated into the second year. I’ll describe the 1974 program:
The team had 10 men and 25 women, between the ages of 16 and 26. They came from 16 states, 12 schools, and 10 denominations. After a four-day orientation program in Miami (with Sam Rowen of Missionary Internship and Oscar Cloninger of Men in Action) on cross-cultural adjustments, we flew to Barranquilla, Colombia. We stayed 50 days, from mid-June to mid-August. Half of the time was spent in the city of Barranquilla (pop. 700,000) and half in the rural and village areas along the Venezuelan border in northeast Colombia. The total cost, exclusive of personal spending money, was $500 round trip from Miami. Each team member paid his own way.
We had three broad objectives:
1. Learn to handle interpersonal adjustments and problems by living together as a group under difficult conditions.
2. Seek spiritual growth and maturity through Bible study, sharing and prayer.
3. Attempt tasks for God that were so big we were sure to fail without God’s help.
Early in our time together in Miami, during orientation, I proposed a list of five goals for the summer. Since the experiences that lay ahead were unknown to most of the young people (five were repeats from 1973) they were willing to accept the goals in faith without actually being able to evaluate whether or not they were attainable goals. We planned to
1. Distribute 100,000 Spanish tracts.
2. Sell $2,000 worth of Bibles and Christian books in Spanish.
3. Share our faith personally with 1,000 people.
4. Expect 100 decisions for Christ.
5. Ask God for 10 life commitments to missions from the group members.
Now let me comment on the summer in two areas. First, what took place in the lives of the young people themselves. Second, the results of our ministry in Colombia. Obviously, in 50 action-packed days, so much happened that only the highlights can be described here.
Throughout the summer the entire group participated in rather unstructured Bible study, song, and sharing times. The Bible studies were kept very sample and informal and were designed to meet the needs of the young people in the areas of security of the believer, our position in Christ, and the necessity and possibility of living a Spirit-controlled life. There were three guitar players in the group and we did a lot of singing and spontaneous praying. At tie group’s suggestion, two all-night prayer chains were held.
We had not been together long before little tensions and personality conflicts began to develop. At this point it was easy to point out the fact of our total dependence on the ministry of the Holy Spirit if we hoped to achieve our goals for the summer. One root of bitterness would effectively quench the Spirit and we would be quite powerless. They rose to the occasion and the spirit of love and concern and helpfulness was beautiful to behold.
Another result of this love among the group members was a trust and an honesty that gave us courage to be vulnerable to each other. By "taking off the mask" most had been used to wearing, tensions and emotional problems largely disappeared and there was very little sickness or lost work time during the summer.
Although little time was spent trying to become fluent in Spanish, almost all of the young people were able to use it to some extent before the summer was over. The first thing they learned was, "Aqui un mensaje de Dios pare Ud." "Here is a message from God for you." They said it with a smile 100,000 times as they handed a tract to someone. When they saw almost no tracts thrown away, they were greatly encouraged in their efforts. Literature (Bibles and books) was sold in markets, on street corners and from house to house. Every tract and Bible and book contained a local address for follow-up.
Sharing their faith personally was more difficult since so few knew Spanish. However, we used the "Four Spiritual Laws" booklet and let the Colombian read his own gospel message under the guiding finger of the youthful evangelist. In this way and through meetings in churches and schools with the guitars, gospel films, and testimonies by interpretation, over 300 decisions for Christ were recorded.
Every effort was made to get these people enrolled in a Bible correspondence course or arrange a contact by a local pastor. In the city of Barranquilla a great part of the work was done through local churches, working hand in hand with the pastors or local youth groups.
As to the effect on the group members themselves, it has been quite remarkable. One of the group, a school teacher, did not return to Miami but went on to Pucallpa, Peru to teach for a year in the SAM Academy for missionaries’ children. She has been largely supported by her fellow team members who consider her their own "missionary." Several have entered Bible colleges or changed from secular schools to seminaries. At least ten plan to repeat this year’s program. And one couple who met last summer were recently married!
The recruiting process is quite simple and the requirements for acceptance in the group are not many. As far as possible, the young people must be assured of their salvation. They turn in a basic information sheet with elementary biographical facts, two references, a medical history and a notarized responsibility release form for the protection of the mission. Rather than prepare one general information brochure, I write monthly letters beginning in February giving progressive instructions on securing passports and inoculations, on clothing, insurance, fund raising, etc., until the final word just prior to our meeting in Miami in mid-June.
Of course, there have been problems and we’re learning each year from the mistakes of the past, but it is certainly a better way to utilize the summer missionary than we had a few years ago. If the name of the game is recruitment, this seems to offer real hope that many of these young people will choose missions as a career.
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