As I entered the last 6 months at All Nations Christian College, imagine my surprise when my Church Mission Board told me they required me to find a sending agency before I could be a fully supported Mission Partner and commence what I felt was my calling. Of course, in hindsight, it all seems very sensible, but with a dissertation looming, I decided I'd finish my studies and then tackle this new 'project'! After graduating in late June I had booked myself on a TESOL English Teaching course in August, so I had a month to start finding a sending agency. But where to begin? If only I'd had an article like this to read to give me the top tips to ensure a pain free process to success! The happy ending is that after nine months, attending 10 weekend conferences, courting 24 agencies, numerous interviews, studying statements of faith, prayer and reflection, I was offered to join 5 agencies. Here are my tips that I hope could make the process easier for you! (Ed - links to various OSCAR sections are added to get you started)
Tip 1 - Check out your calling
As a slow developer, I 'felt' my moment of calling in 2005, and then took a YWAM discipleship course to have time out with God. After 7 months in the USA and on outreach in Asia, I'd reflected on my ministry, had a 'vision' and 'country' and could discuss with my Church Mission Board, before choosing to go to Mission College to study Islamics, gender, development and anthropology - suited to my potential ministry. Take time to 'test' your calling and prayer it through with others.
Tip 2 - Research your context
I spent the summer after returning from short term relief work in Africa in 2004-5 volunteering in different contexts - children's work in Belarus, house building in Sri Lanka. At All Nations I studied Jewish and Islamic studies, worked in Muslim English Teaching in Luton and did placements in a gender based violence unit in Somalia/Kenya, and a year at my church. These, along with preaching at different churches, gave me time to check out cross cultural mission and adapt to varying contexts. As you 'research', you distil your calling and can narrow your focus.
(see www.oscar.org.uk/opportunity/locations )
Tip 3 - Skill up!
Mission requires a huge variety of skills! I've had to hang a mosquito net with only paper clips and elastic bands(!), brief a Sudanese cook on making roast chicken and chocolate cake with no common language, and learn how to birth babies by text book and Urdu classes! All Nations offered hairdressing and self-defence, first aid and teaching English. My tip is to learn everything that's going - it all comes in useful some day! In learning new skills, you learn what you like and don't like, are good and less good at, so you can major on your strengths and passions!
(See www.oscar.org.uk/service/training )
Tip 4 - Research who's doing what you are interested in - and hang with them!
I volunteered in Muslim work in Ladbroke Grove, London, and taught English to a Punjabi lady in Barnet to gain some cross cultural skills. I also practised my 'talks' on the long suffering Church youth group, elderly club and women's groups - less scary than preaching to other churches, to start with!
Tip 5 - Reflect on yourself and seek feedback
Questionnaires like Strengthsfinders (www.strengthsfinder.com), Belbin's Team Types and Myers Briggs Profile all help your learn about yourself. Ask your friends, homegroup leaders and elders for feedback - and then see how your strengths and development areas fit with your ministry. Seek prayer for clarity and guidance, and remember it's all feedback and other people's opinions (not always the only perspective!).
(See www.oscar.org.uk/opportunity/vacancies/whoami.htm )
Tip 6 - Research organisations in your sector
I looked at an A-Z of Mission Agencies. I wrote a list of all agencies in African, medical and education work. This helps refine your focus. I wrote to 24 agencies, studied their visions, values, focus, goals, doctrines, websites, current mission partners - and then visited their weekend conferences, before deciding to apply formally.
(See www.oscar.org.uk/mission_organisations )
Tip 7 - Check out the fit!
In discussing my sense of calling (to help eradicate female genital mutilation across Africa) I had some fascinating conversations with agency personnel! Some told me they were 'too conservative' or 'were not ready for me'(!); others that I was 'too unconventional'! The Baptists wanted to know why an 'Anglican' was applying to them, and others wondered how I'd fit into their agency. Try and get a feel for their leadership, ethos (Evangelistic/Church Planting/Team Ministry etc), women's roles, pastoral care etc.
Tip 8 - How do you find the people?
Decide if the PR professional image on the web and in the brochures is the same as the people you meet. Check how cared for you feel and what the benefits are like (housing, allowances, education, prayer, support). Can you work with these people?
Tip 9 - A two way selection process
You will learn a lot about yourself and the organisation(s) as you complete pretty long forms, offer references, analyse your beliefs and answer some highly personal questions. You may well be (should be!) asked to attend a psychological profiling and complete a child protection screening. These all tell you how professional an organisation is, and how good a reputation the agency has. Ensure there is clarity over funding, how much funds you need to raise and how supportive the agency is in helping you raise funds.
Tip 10 - How does the agency interact with your church?
Every church is different, and you need to ensure your agency and your church fit together as your church 'commissions' you to work under the umbrella 'covering' of your agency, often seconded to work for a Bishop, beneficiary project or NGO in a mission context. Check how church links work around prayer, newsletters and visits. Ensure that orientation and training occurs before you join, during your ministry and at the end of your service. There should be seamless cover of your needs between your agency and church, so nothing falls between the cracks!
Finally, enjoy the journey! It may seem to take a long time to find the right agency, but the relationship is a long term partnership and just like marriage, the more you prepare, the better the outcome!