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Grueling sojourn in African bush helps new missionaries prepare

TIGONI, Kenya (BP)–An ordeal in the African bush — designed to prepare new missionaries to live, work and serve with different cultures and peoples — has achieved a new level of effectiveness, thanks to a partnership with missionaries from another “Great Commission Christian” organization.

Thirty-five missionaries and their children — over half of them from Wycliffe Bible Translators — recently completed the International Mission Board’s grueling “40 Days, 40 Nights” intensive field orientation in Kenya. The six-week program, in its second year, includes 24 days of living in safari tents.

The “40/40” program drops participants into an extended stay in the African bush that includes a week in the home of a Kenyan villager.

This year’s cooperation with Wycliffe, which carried out a similar training program for many years, was an extremely beneficial improvement in the program, directors Jack and Judi Sprayberry reported.

“Our partnership with Wycliffe began in 2002,” Jack Sprayberry recounted. “They know the value of cross-cultural exposure, and they provided expert instruction for the program, especially in anthropology and medicine.”

Sprayberry noted the value of interacting with missionaries from other countries and with a focus differing from that of IMB missionaries.

“Because they are translation experts, they bring a fresh focus to our Baptist teachings,” Sprayberry said. “Their input gives us new value and respect for the importance of God’s Word being translated into every language.”

The Wycliffe personnel who came from the Netherlands, Ireland and Great Britain gave the Southern Baptist workers opportunities for valuable cross-cultural interaction.

“It was amazing how God called people from all over the world, from vast differences in background and experiences and ages, to all be united here in Africa to share the Good News of Jesus Christ either through church planting or Bible translation,” said program participant Jonnie Brawley, a Texas native who will be working with his wife, Juanita, among the Baganda people of western Uganda.

As part of the program, participants received training in anthropology, CPR and first aid, spiritual warfare, ethnomusicology, chronological Bible storying, water purification, solar energy and cooking over an open fire.

Hands-on experience was provided for tasks essential to life in the bush: chopping firewood, riding in crowded mini-buses, eating in roadside cafes and buying fruit, vegetables and meat at a village market.

Also included was an introduction to major religions in the region, including African traditional religions, Islam and Hinduism. This year’s training included a day’s session at a Muslim resource center and a visit to a mosque.

As challenging as the event is, “40/40” gives participants valuable insight into African people, Brawley said.

“It helped us to better understand the culture of Africans,” he said. “It gave us a close-up experience with the ways nationals live and work.”

Westerners need the kind of training the program offers, said Bob Brown, a Florida native who will serve with his wife, Bobbi, among the Japadhola people group in east Africa.

“There is a dramatic difference between the U.S. and Africa,” Brown said, “and I think people need to be aware they’ll face things that will test their patience and force them to deal with ambiguity.”

“The need for new missionaries to learn empathy and better adjust to this culture is of growing importance in successful and permanent mission careers,” Sprayberry noted. “New missionaries come into 40/40 apprehensive and uncertain about the test before them. We see them transformed into confident, informed servants, ready to plunge into whatever eastern Africa offers.”

Cross-cultural food encounters were among the challenges 40/40 participants faced during their stay in the African bush.

“Once Jonnie ate a piece of a raw goat kidney,” Juanita Brawley said. “The Maasai tribesmen who helped slaughter the goats would pop a whole kidney in their mouth and chew it up with happy expressions on their faces.”

With the recent merger of two IMB regions, missionaries from southern Africa will be joining workers from eastern Africa in the program’s next sessions, scheduled for January and July of next year. Their inclusion will mean an even broader exposure to the variety of missionary personnel God is calling to eastern and southern Africa.

For Jonnie Brawley, that’s one of the key benefits of the 40/40 program.

“This is a good opportunity to see how other people really are,” he said. “It is a stressful environment. I’m glad to say that everyone stuck it out, and I believe grew stronger as a result of their experiences.

“I was encouraged to know that I had such great people on my team in African missions.”

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  • Clinton Wolf