Every year, between 15 and 30 extraordinary young adults from all walks of life sign up with AFM for various short-term assignments on the frontiers of mission work. These short-term volunteers and student missionaries descend on the AFM Training Center for an intense four-week, life-transforming training experience.
AFM’s core business is investing in people. It has to be, if starting disciple-making movements is our mission. God’s kingdom grows when people choose to join his family and when the people in the family grow in spiritual maturity. The purpose of the training department at AFM is to facilitate this second kind of growth and investment so that the first kind of growth can happen with integrity.
Of course, a significant part of preparing for mission service focuses on preaching the Gospel. At AFM, we have learned by experience that interpersonal relationships are the anvils against which grace forges this Gospel. Salvation looks like relational healing. Missionaries must come to see relational brokenness—their own and that of others—as preparation for Gospel preaching.
A significant portion of AFM’s SM training focuses on bringing this principle home. The end of the first week of training culminates in an outdoor adventure survival weekend designed to push the trainees to their mental, physical, spiritual and social limits. Young adults learn to come to terms with themselves and their community. They come to the delightful realization that they can do much more when they take on tasks as one body. In addition to physical and mental challenges, students spend hours practicing difficult conversations, learning to listen deeply and learning resolve the many bumps and scrapes to hearts and egos.
At the end of the first weekend together, it is not uncommon for participants to tell us that they feel closer to the other trainees than to anyone else on earth. It is not that they know very much about each other. They have hardly spent a week together. But what they have achieved is a level of transparency and vulnerability with their peers that is difficult to rival. Being known for who you are and loved anyway—that is the Gospel! This realization is the backbone of mission.
The final three weeks of training are a blur of activity. Lectures by veteran missionaries, missiological thought leaders and practitioners are complemented by informal lessons learned while planning and preparing meals together. There is also time for R&R and some good old-fashioned fun at Lake Michigan. Returning SMs meet with outgoing SMs to pass the baton. After graduation and launch to the field, the learning really begins!
Our investment in our SMs does not end with training. When SMs arrive in the field, career missionaries begin the next phase of their orientation with formal training sessions and informal conversations with missionaries and nationals alike. I have had the privilege of visiting SMs in the field, and it is gratifying to see how these young people are striving to apply what they have learned and serve in honor of the King! Perhaps the most satisfying is seeing noble characters unfold in acts of selflessness, confidence and courage. Their faith grows, and their life trajectories change. A number of student missionaries return to serve as career missionaries!
Have you felt a tug on your heart to serve as a student missionary? Don’t put it off. Call AFM today or visit www.afmonline.org. Your life will never be the same again!