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24 days in a tent helps prepare missionaries for life in Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya (BP)–In much the same way biblical prophets were led into the wilderness for a time of preparation, two dozen new International Mission Board missionaries recently completed a new “Forty Days, Forty Nights” training program.

True to its name, the program includes nearly six weeks of hands-on training, including 24 days living in a tent in East Africa’s bush and a full week’s stay in a Kenyan village home. The program’s first session, which began Sept. 20, proved to be an intense and rewarding experience for the participants.

“It confirmed that God has called me for this,” said Kay Frost of First Baptist Church in West Monroe, La. Frost, an international church planting student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., will be serving as strategy coordinator for the Subi people of Tanzania. “This is what I was made to do.”

Such confirmation of calling is only part of what program developers hope new missionaries gain in the process.

Jack and Judi Sprayberry, who direct the program, want new missionaries to understand the African people and their way of life, to entrench into their mission calling sensitivity, perseverance and effectiveness, as well as a balance of empathy and skill.

The program seeks to prepare new missionaries not only for situational survival and life in the African bush, but also in such areas as basic vehicle repairs and maintenance; supplies and shopping; culture and anthropology; language learning skills; diet, hygiene, health and medical care; spiritual growth; environment and ecology; and travel, communications, security and finances on the field.

New missionaries begin their “pilgrimage” at Brackenhurst International Conference Center, 45 minutes north of Nairobi, Kenya. In the relative comfort of the center’s cottages and dining hall, participants receive a three-day orientation to East African culture through a blend of lectures and hands-on training. The next five days are spent at Cross Currents Indigenous Conference Center, where missionaries learn to cook outside, wash clothes by hand and begin to make the transition to bush living.

For the next 24 days, missionaries live in tents in the African bush near Kijabe, Kenya. The program culminates with seven days living in the home of a Kenyan family, after which participants find their own transportation back to Brackenhurst for two days of debriefing.

Like Frost, many of the new missionaries are students in Southeastern Seminary’s international church planting program, which allows students to spend two years of their degree program in the field with IMB personnel.

For many of the new missionaries, the preparation provided by the program was invaluable.

“It makes us more effective more quickly,” said Kimberly Samuel of Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. “It would have taken me five months to get to where I’m at after only 40 days.”

Jody and Emily Jennings of North Wake Church in Wake Forest, N.C., were among those couples taking their children with them during the training. Commenting on the effect the program had on them and their 7-month-old son, Silas, Jody noted, “We can survive whatever the conditions may be — not just survive, but thrive in conditions much more difficult than those we came from.” Jody will serve as a church planter in Jinja, Uganda.

For 15-year-old Nathan Simmons, son of Eddy and Amanda Simmons of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., it was an opportunity to see how his family can minister together.

“It changed my perspective on what our family would be doing,” the teenager said. “I thought we’d kind of have a normal life and stay home while dad when out. Now I see how my mom can have a ministry to women, I can have a ministry to other kids. It’s not just my dad, we can all have a ministry.”

Amanda Simmons noted that living with a Kenyan family gave her a greater appreciation for the lives of the women she’ll be ministering to.

“How do you minister to a woman who is busy from 6 in the morning to 6 at night?” Amanda said. “How do you get the Word of God into her life?”

The program came about through a desire to improve orientation for the region’s new missionaries, said Bob Allen, a leadership team member for the board’s East Africa region.

Prior to creation of the “Forty Days” program, the region had asked a few new missionaries to go through a similar safari-training program administered by the SIL organization. Participants and regional leadership alike were pleased with the results, but SIL later decided to cancel the program.

Soon afterward, the Sprayberrys were appointed to direct the IMB’s own program.

“Judi and I originally wanted to call the program ‘East African Training with Biblical Use, Growth & Study,” Jack related, tongue in cheek. “So, in keeping with the ‘acronymophobia’ of our organization we would call it ‘EATBUGS.’

“However, after a test safari by our regional leaders, it was decided that the name Forty Days, Forty Nights was more appropriate, in keeping with a time of testing, growing and becoming more like the One we are here to serve.”

Allen noted that all new missionaries to the East Africa region are to participate in the orientation, in addition to normal language study. Veteran missionaries in the region also are being encouraged to take part in the program during the next few years.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BRAVING THE BUSH, SEEING CONFIRMATION and TRUE-TO-LIFE TRAINING.

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  • Clinton Wolf