RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Joletha North sees the emergence of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s missionary apprentice program as perfect timing for her.
The Waco, Texas, native was named in the board’s first group of missionary apprentices. She will work overseas while gaining necessary experience to be qualified for appointment as a career missionary.
“I’m relieved. For this specific program to come along when it did was a confirmation of their (IMB leaders’) value of me. My friends are calling me ‘Lottie Jo,'” said North, 28. She will coordinate strategy for an unreached people group in Southeast Asia.
Imagine someone who hears the call to missions and is approved to go except for the necessary ministry experience — and then is sent overseas to get it. Those are the people agency administrators had in mind when they developed the missionary apprentice program.
The program enables individuals to serve a three-year term before they are appointed as career missionaries. It’s designed to allow would-be missionaries “to get to the field faster, learn the language while they are younger and not get sidetracked in a stateside job,” said Avery Willis, senior vice president for the board’s overseas operations.
“For years we have talked to students at seminary who are committed and ready to go to the mission field,” explained Jim Riddell, the board’s associate director for personnel selection. “And then as time goes on, they get into having a mortgage payment, children, increased church responsibilities. The things of America begin to hold tight.”
With a young family and lack of ministry experience, Kevin and Leslie Rutland would find it difficult to move into overseas missions without the program. The Rutlands, of Goldsboro, N.C., and Wayne, Mich., respectively, value the financial support they will receive as missionary apprentices, which is close to what they will receive as career missionaries.
“We feel like this is something made just for us and people like us,” said Rutland, 37. The couple will serve in Moscow in general evangelism and through church and home outreach.
The apprentice program is based on the success of the church planter apprentice program begun in 1991. One means of encouragement and education in the new program is to provide a veteran missionary as a mentor.
“Learning occurs less through the reading of books and listening to lectures,” said Don Kammerdiener, the board’s executive vice president. “Rather, it happens best with hands-on experience under the mentorship of an experienced practitioner.”
Missionary apprentices must meet many requirements imposed upon career missionaries, and they must be approved by trustees. They attend career orientation before moving overseas.
The board provides a salary and medical coverage. Once on the field, apprentices normally will complete a full-scale language program.
Applicants may qualify for assignments in some area of church-related ministry, such as church planting, church developing, youth ministry, student ministry and music. They also could work with unreached people groups as strategy coordinators and creative access personnel who gain entrance into a region because of their secular skill and then look for opportunities to share their faith.
Lloyd Atkinson, associate vice president for mission personnel, sees the excitement, sense of call and awareness of the world’s unreached peoples putting new apprentices on “the cutting edge.”
“I think today’s candidates have a much more accurate worldview and recognize the challenge to reach those groups,” Atkinson said. “I see people who become missionary apprentices as not wanting to tend to something someone else has started. I see them wanting to be pioneers.”
For more information about the missionary apprentice program, call the board’s initial contacts desk at 1-888-422-6461 (I CAN GO 1) or by e-mail at [email protected]