Keeping mission vision alive and growing A quarterly publication of Mission Data International

Mentoring for Missions: Andy’s Story

Asia

Coaching helped Andy prepare for ministry in East Asia – and wherever God may take him next.

Andy is a few years out of college. He’s spent six months in East Asia, though now he’s back home. Recently Propel interviewed Andy about influential people in his life who mentored him for missions. “I had two great coaches on the way to the field,” he explained. “They did life with me. They made me do ministry with them before I went, not top down but side by side.”

“Also, they didn’t remove the obstacles, they helped me overcome them. If they had removed barriers I wouldn’t have been ready for the field.”

To discover some ways you can profit from mission coaching or be effective coaching people like Andy, read on.

Getting Started

Propel: How would you describe your journey into missions?

Andy: I started taking my faith seriously when I was in high school and was growing like crazy. My youth pastor had just emerged as a mission leader. That was a new passion for him. Since he was discipling me, it carried over. This was right in the middle of that season when “take your youth group to Mexico” was the thing. As I observed the missionaries we were working with there, I felt as if God was saying to me, “What you see them doing, I want you to do that.”

But that really wasn’t the first time. When I was nine years old my best friend and I heard a visiting missionary shared his testimony at VBS. He talked about the work he was doing in Africa. It seemed very exciting to me as kid! As we were playing that afternoon we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. We both said we wanted to be missionaries. We will go to Africa as missionaries and also get to hunt elephants! It will be cool.

So, when I was in Mexico on the roof of the missionary’s house having my quiet time, God said, “Hey, remember when you were playing on the front porch with your friend and talking about being a missionary? I want you do that.” All of the sudden the memories of that day, playing with my best friend on my front porch came flooding back through my mind.

I mention that because you hear people talk about being called to missions through a short-term experience. If you dig deeper, the call often came earlier than that. The mission trip? It was a catalyst to enhance their calling. But God was at work in them before that.

Preparing to Go

Propel: So, what happened next?

Andy: I knew I was supposed to do missions so the natural thing for me was to get training. I started looking at mission programs for college and when I found a good Intercultural Studies program at a Christian university, for me there was no other choice. I checked it out and loved it, decided to go.

Propel: How did that choice influence you?

Two men in particular played that role of coach, and both of them were teachers, professors in that intercultural studies program. What was most powerful for me was that not only did I have these outstanding faithful men of God in the classroom every day – learning from them all these awesome concepts that change the way you see the world and your role in God’s purpose – but they also invested in me outside the class. They were part of student Bible studies, not just teaching them but inviting the students to step up and lead. I was allowed to serve beside these guys, not just under them, and able to observe them in real-world contexts applying what we learned in class.

On the Field

Propel: What about time overseas?

Andy: The program requires a six-month semester abroad. I spent a semester in East Asia doing ethnographic research and producing a strategy for reaching a people group, and my two teachers continued to coach me on the field. I had to email back and forth weekly with both of them, and that gave me a platform to discuss what I was learning.  It helped that one of these men had served 14 years in a similar part of Asia. The other teacher visited my teammate and me halfway through the semester and spent a few days with us, encouraging us. We also had on-field supervisors, and they played a huge role as well. So even though I was only there for six months, it was so intentional that it allowed me to experience things beyond the usual short-term context.

Propel: Tell me more about your experience overseas.

Andy: Perspectives on the World Christian Movement is big on saying you don’t experience real culture shock on a short-term trip; you can only experience culture shock when you know your not going home in a couple weeks. But after four months, things had stopped being fun. The food, the culture were not a novelty anymore. Sometimes when you hit culture shock you feel like your world has collapsed. These people do things so differently than I do!  It’s like doing math, you know the numbers to put in to get the equation to work, but when you cross cultures, the equation does not work anymore. That’s when you really have to wrestle with culture shock and learn how to adapt to the culture you are in. You realize other cultures think and live very differently than you do and that’s not a bad thing. Their cultural identity is just as valuable to God as yours. My supervisors on the field intentionally guided me in that process.

Propel: How did they help you?

Andy: The biggest thing is identification. They identified with what I was going through. You feel crazy, like you are the only one who has experienced this. But just to know that they’ve experienced it too, you know that, one, you’re not crazy, and two, it’s something you can get through.

And it’s not a bad thing to experience culture shock. It’s healthier to experience it, than to not experience culture shock and never learn to give up your own culture and adapt to the host culture.

Coming Home

Propel: What was it like to come home after that experience?

Andy: My last day in Asia I was in debriefing when I got news that my mother had passed away unexpectedly. I was already headed home! But I had one more semester of school. So I was finishing college, learning how to be American again, and grieving the loss of my mother.

I was also wrestling with being a different person. I had given up aspects of American culture. And I was trying to communicate my experience overseas with people who hadn’t been there, who had never experienced something like that. I think it’s important to continue to include others in that process, even if they don’t understand. God works with people different ways and different times, and they can still encourage us, even though it was very hard not to feel understood by my peers.

Propel: How did other people help you in that re-entry process?

Andy: My two mission coaches were part of that experience. I could go into their office and give voice to the grief process of losing my mother and the frustration of re-entry and reverse culture shock. It was a dark time of life, a battle with depression. One of them, he just listened.

After I graduated I started working for a short-term-mission organization. While I was doing that, I was contacted about promoting a Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class to the people we were working with. I got some of my students into the course and ended up retaking it for graduate credit. Even though I’d spent four years in a mission program, I was different now. Now it was, “Oh my gosh, that’s why we talked about that in class.” I wrestled with all those experiences again. And that raised other questions. I needed some outlet to process my experiences overseas. So taking the Perspectives class again helped me continue to sort things out.

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Giving Back

Propel:  What have you learned about mission coaching? How do you see yourself serving others in that way in the future?

Andy: I look at my two mission coaches and the quality of education and training I got in that ICS program and I want to provide that for the next generation. Before that, I hope to spend several years on the field somewhere.

For now, I know God has me mobilizing. My brother and father need me at home on the farm. I grew up in a rural farming community and being home where I live, nobody really knows the intricacies of cross-cultural missions. We’re kind of pioneering here when it comes to exposing people to other cultures.

Before I moved back home, part of the way I mobilized was to get students plugged into Perspectives. But really it was about day-to-day discipleship. I think that’s key.

Propel: Can you tell me more about that?

Andy: If our coaching doesn’t happen in the context of everyday life it’s not really discipleship. We need to be able to experience their life with them and help them connect the dots. … Such as spiritual maturity and the need for developing cross-cultural skills. Connecting dots is not something people do naturally!

In mission training and academics as a whole, people tend to see education as something you go and get, then finish and put it aside as you get on with your real life. So education doesn’t do a whole lot to produce effective missionaries. Not without someone to help them connect the dots. Maybe the person is learning a lot through something like Perspectives on the World Christian Movement and they also have an international friend at college. The coach helps them see how those two things can inform and enhance each other. That’s what I was able to do with students as a mobilizer. To help them process what they were experiencing in life from a biblical and strategic perspective.

Propel: What else do you think people need to know about mission coaching?

Andy: All that I do as a coach should lead to the other person’s worshiping and glorifying God; and then coaching others in their context. If discipleship ends with the one I’m coaching, what’s the use? Disciples are disciples who make disciples. We’ve got to grasp that in our training.

Propel: Good advice. Thanks for sharing your story, Andy!

Readers might also be interested in this Interview with John McVay: Mentoring for Missions.

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