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Training Missionaries in a Multicultural World


Cheryl Doss, director of the Institute of World Mission at the General Conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, talks to Spectrum about the need for training missionaries, the explosion in numbers of short-term volunteers, and why the word “missionary” is still relevant.

Question: The Institute of World Mission at the General Conference, which you direct, is focused on training Adventist missionaries. Why is this important? 

Answer: Because living and working in another culture is difficult, requiring attitudes and skills beyond what one normally acquires in ones homeland. 

Do you have a greater focus on training career missionaries, or short-term missionaries and volunteers? 

Our primary responsibility is the training of career missionaries for the General Conference, although in actual number we train more AVS (Adventist Volunteer Service

volunteers through our online class than any other type of missionary.

Where are most of your trainees from? Where are they going? Do you train missionaries going the reverse of the historical direction, i.e. heading to the US and Europe to work as missionaries there, instead of leaving those places to work in Africa, Asia, etc?  

About one-third of the career missionaries and approximately half of the AVS volunteers are from North America.  Our missionaries truly are from everywhere and go everywhere.  This year they came from every continent and went to serve in more than 40 countries on every continent.  A substantial number this year were coming from all over the world to the US, elected to serve the world church at the General Conference.   

How many people do you train every year?  

We train between 100-150 career missionary adults and 40-50 missionary children every year at our Mission Institutes.  200-300 volunteers take our online classes yearly.  Leadership and other types of training varies greatly from a few dozen to several hundred participants each year.   We hold re-entry debriefing seminars for 50-70 missionaries each summer.

Can you tell us more about the specific training courses you offer, online vs in-person, and so on?  

In-person teaching includes three-week Mission Institutes (held in different places around the world), one week re-entry seminars, leadership workshops for pastors and administrators, tentmaker training, and occasional seminary classes in mission.  Mission Institutes include age-appropriate training for missionary children concurrent with their parents’ classes.  

Online Preparation for Mission classes for volunteers are offered in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  Korean will be available next year.  Our textbook Passport to Mission is also available in those four languages, plus Russian. This year we began offering open online classes on various mission topics available to everyone through our website.

How are your training programs developed, and who develops and teaches them?  

Missionary training for career missionaries began in 1966.  Over the years the curriculum has evolved to meet the changing needs of missionaries. 

The current curriculum has five objectives: To empower missionaries to Grow Spiritually, Think Biblically, Reason Missiologically, Live Holistically, and Serve Incarnationally.  Through research and study, Institute faculty identified these objectives and then developed a curriculum to support them.  

Participants list their learning expectations at the beginning and complete extensive evaluations at the end of each Mission Institute to provide ongoing feedback and suggestions to improve the program.   Thus the curriculum is continually being upgraded and refined in a dialogue between Institute faculty and missionary participants.

When was the Institute formed? Was there a specific incident or specific reason that pushed it into existence? How has the training of Adventist missionaries changed over the years?  

Mission Institutes were begun in 1966 as one of the functions of the Department of World Mission at Andrews University.  The post-war boom in numbers of missionaries going out had highlighted the need for better preparation.  

The Institute of World Mission was formed as a entity separate from the Department of World Mission in the early 1980s although the two were still closely connected.  In 2011 the Institute of World Mission was moved to the General Conference building.  

Academic credit for Mission Institutes is still provided through Andrews University.

How would you describe the relationship between the Institute of World Mission and the GC's Office of Global Mission? 

The Institute is a separate entity under the GC Secretariat.  Global Mission is part the the Office of Adventist Mission, another entity under the GC Secretariat.  We are organized and funded in completely different ways, although we have a collegial and collaborative relationship.

There has been a trend toward training people to work as missionaries in their own local communities and countries, rather than "sending" missionaries to "foreign lands." How has this change affected the work of the Institute? 

We are receiving more and more requests from individuals and church entities for training in how to work in an increasingly diverse world and multicultural church.  

But we also see a growing awareness that mission requires multi-focal vision; that is, we have a responsibility both for mission at home and mission abroad.  

The Institute's work remains the same: to empower (home and foreign) missionaries to cross every cultural, religious, and social barrier for Christ wherever that takes them.

What other changes/trends have you seen in the way that missionaries are recruited and work in recent decades?  

Missionaries are being sent out by a much greater diversity of senders. Supporting ministry, division, union, and self-sponsored missionaries are increasing in number and variety.  Recruitment varies greatly between types of senders.  

The single greatest change is the growth in numbers of short-term mission trips, with upwards of 50,000 people going each year from North America alone.  Many of these newer types of missionaries go without any training in cross-cultural issues.

Is the term "missionaries" becoming outdated?  

I personally believe the term missionary still serves an important function.  It merely means someone who is sent on a mission.  No one has yet thought of a better term for what we do.  Interestingly, the term “mission” is quite acceptable in other uses, such as diplomatic mission, mission statement, mission control, military mission, etc.  Why not keep it attached to its original purpose: God’s mission?

Did any of the decisions or outcomes from the General Conference session in San Antonio have any kind of serious impact on the work of the Institute? 

Not that we know of.

How long have you served as director of the Institute of World Mission? 

For five years. I was associate director for ten years before that.  

What do you like most about your job? What do you find the hardest?

It is a great privilege to get to know many of the missionaries of our church, wonderful people who have accepted God’s call to go and serve wherever He sends them. The hardest thing is all the travel.

Where does your work travel take you?

We hold three or four Mission Institutes a year, mainly outside the US, and we do shorter training and speaking appointments in between.  

The location of Mission Institutes vary by year.  This year they were held in Brazil, Thailand, US, and Mexico.  Other trips by the team have been to Brazil, Korea, Turkey, Ethiopia, Kenya, and several places in the US. When we go for a Mission Institute we are gone about four weeks.  Other events are shorter.  

We serve the world church and there is more of the world church outside of the US than inside.  

Do you visit missionaries?  

We do when we are in their proximity.  Our missionary psychologist also makes personal visits as needed.

What is your background, and what qualifies you for this position?   

I have a PhD in Christian Education with a minor in Intercultural Studies and am a faculty member of the Department of World Mission at the Seminary at Andrews University.  I am a missionary kid, married to a missionary kid.  As adults, my husband and I served as missionaries in Africa for 16 years where our children were born and raised.  Our daughter and her family just recently returned to North America after eight years of mission service.  Our son and his family are missionaries in Egypt.  Mission and missionaries are my life.

I’d love to hear a little more about your missionary background.

I was born in Niles, Michigan while my dad was a student at Andrews University.  I grew up as a preacher’s kid in Illinois and Michigan until we went to Helderberg College in South Africa when I was an earliteen.  

I loved being a missionary kid and have found the experience helped me raise my own MK children and minister to families raising their children in the mission field.  

My husband and I met as high school students at Helderberg College.  He grew up as a missionary kid in the country of Malawi.  

Where in Africa did you work, and where were your children born? 

In Malawi. For the first two years we lived in the north of the country where Gorden was field secretary and then associate ministerial secretary and I was in charge of six rural clinics.

For the rest of our 16 years in Malawi, we were at Lakeview Seminary where Gorden was business manager and principal of the ministerial training course and I taught classes in the seminary and homeschooled my children.


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