By Amy Crofford on May 10, 2011
Did you ever wonder, when a missionary speaks at your church, who is covering his or her job back on the mission field?
If the job can be done solely by e-mails, Skype calls and the like, chances are the missionary is still working full-time while speaking at churches. Some jobs however require a person on the ground. This is often the time for volunteer missionaries through Mission Corps to step in.
Being a volunteer
David and Pamela are not new to Mission Corps. They served in Ecuador (bookkeeping and learning Spanish at Nazarene International Language Institute) for nine weeks and in Saipan (local church work) for six weeks. The five-month stint in Kenya has been a mix of good times and challenges.
On the plus side, they say that the Kenyan people are as wonderful as the nearly perfect climate. They worshiped in a variety of churches, both urban and rural. Since Kenya is an English-speaking country, they didn't have the added strain of language barriers. Sometimes when a worship song in church was sung in KiSwahili they just clapped. They went on safari a few times and once saw 12 lions feasting. They also got to know and appreciate the Nazarene office staff and missionary community through times of Bible study, prayer and fellowship.
On the challenging side, Kenyans drive on the left and that took a bit of getting used to. The first few trips were carefully planned to include only left-hand turns. For the bookkeeping, cursive writing was a no-no and it was difficult to remember to write in print letters all the time. Also, Kenyans seem to have many names and to a newcomer that is confusing. The Kenyan society is heavily cash-based, with few credit cards. This took getting accustomed to because there are no really large bills (1,000/- shillings = approximately $12 U.S).
When asked if they would do it again, they said without hesitation, “Yes, if the opportunity arises.”
Becoming a volunteer
So, how does someone get to be a volunteer missionary with Mission Corps? That depends on how long of a period the person wants to commit to service. Even if someone wants to come short term, David and Pamela recommend the Cross-Cultural orientation offered through the Global Ministries Center at most of the Nazarene colleges and universities in the United States. They thought it was extremely helpful. A similar training is also offered in the Mesoamerica Region.
After attending the training, the candidate(s) are interviewed. One aspect of the conversation is to determine what skills and abilities they could bring to a field. For instance, David and Pam-- a retired federal employee in information technology and a retired bookkeeper, respectively -- have a very useful skill set.
The interview also determines level of commitment and reason for wanting to be a Mission Corps missionary. David says he has always been interested in missions and has served on mission councils in local churches. He felt God was using his employment and training received there for this purpose.
Pamela said she felt a call to missions as a young girl, but did not know how to fulfill that calling. Now she is able to look back and see how God has prepared her and led her to this opportunity. Over the years, she has served in local churches on mission councils and as president of the local Nazarene Missions International council.
David and Pamela have some advice for others who may be headed out as volunteer missionaries:
1) Be slow to judgment about how things are done. There may be a cultural reason for whatever sticks out as just-plain-wrong. Later, once you adjust, you may find that you prefer the new way of doing things. Don’t gripe. If you have to develop a work-around, do it.
2) Ask the missionaries about what to pack. They know best what clothes are appropriate for the country and season. They may also need you to bring something for them if you have weight or space available in your luggage.
3) Take something to relax with. David brought his flute and Pamela brought her soprano saxophone. You may want to take some books or games.
4) As soon as you know where you are going, start learning about the country, people and culture. The better prepared you are, the easier it will be to acclimate once you arrive.
5) Learn any local language possible. At a minimum, learn to greet people and say “Thank you.” On the other hand, since you will be there short term, don’t put too much pressure on yourself -- you won’t have time to really master the language.
6) Be prepared to work hard and BE FLEXIBLE.
7) Some assignments require that you drive. If you are from the United States, an international driver’s license can be obtained from the AAA auto club.
8) Opportunities may come on short notice, so it is important to have an up-to-date passport. More important, keep your home and responsibilities managed so that you can leave them at any time. The support of your friends and family while you are away is essential.
Enjoy your experiences and may you earn plaudits similar to the Claytons’ from Donna Lovett: “They have contributed significantly to our work and earned our respect and appreciation for their efforts and their great spirit of servanthood. We will all miss them.”
Talk about it
- The Claytons have found a way to serve in missions by giving of their vocational experience and skills. What kind of skills do you have that could be useful in service as a volunteer?
- What might motivate someone to raise funds and spend time far from home and family to volunteer?
- What are some of the benefits of being a volunteer?
- What are some of the challenges of cross-cultural volunteering?
- How can volunteers like the Claytons bless full-time missionaries?
- How could missionary volunteers build bridges between the mission field and their local churches?
- What ways could you offer your skills and experiences to missions from where you are right now?