Are You Training Before Deployment?
Before a military unit is ever deployed or mobilized to go overseas, there is training. Every soldier goes through “basic training,” more affectionately called “boot camp,” by those not from a military background. It prepares the soldier mentally, physically, and emotionally for shouldering the responsibilities that come from putting on the uniform. Camaraderie, physical and mental endurance, and combat training are all part of the preparation the military branches design for recruits. Pulling them away from their known world and “indoctrinating” them in military jargon and expectations of discipline in an environment conditioned for stress breaks recruits of the old habits they formed over their lifetime. The new habits which will be needed during their service are engrained deeply to the point of muscle memory.
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to a be a soldier.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
Many places in the Bible refer to the Christian life as the life of a soldier. We are given armor because we are in a very real spiritual battle here on Earth. Growing up, I felt like youth camp was similar to Christian Bootcamp. The place I went was so far out in the middle of nowhere that there was no cell service. We were isolated from the rest of the world with no technology, or at least no internet or texting. Same thing, right? We woke up early each day in the summer to do a devotional at the flag pole. The rooms were inspected for cleanliness every day. The preachers always spoke on relevant topics for our challenges as teens. The games and activities were designed to foster camaraderie among the young people. Each day there was a set time for personal devotions, worship, and preaching. We formed strong habits isolated from the rest of the world before we went “back on the front lines.”
But the truth is, I wonder how many people do any real training as Christians?
If you placed your faith in Jesus and got saved on the day you “enlisted” in the Lord’s army, how much training have you gone through since?
Going overseas with many different mission teams I’ve got to experience various training practices. Here are some of the ones that I loved and why:
One: Shared Devotional Books
I wholeheartedly recommend this practice for a team planning on going overseas together. Find a simple daily devotional that everyone can do together in the months leading up to the trip. For the monthly and weekly meetings, come together and share how the Holy Spirit is moving in your life from the devotionals. This gives some accountability to the spiritual discipline of daily devotions. It helps create an environment conducive to discipleship from veteran Christians and new converts by working on the same scripture passages. I felt like I knew the team before we left.
Two: Soul-Winning Training
One of the groups I went overseas with spent the weeks before the trip studying different evangelist resources. They would go out together and get comfortable with the material through door-to-door evangelism. They “practiced” in the United States before going overseas. This helped them learn where people might have difficulty understanding and what questions they could expect. For many, it was the very first time they ever shared their own testimony with a stranger. Memorizing critical verses in the Bible is a significant first step. Still, if you have never shared the gospel in the United States with people who speak your language and are from a similar culture, then it can be extremely daunting to do so overseas. Some countries are highly receptive to the gospel; others it can be divisive. I loved how this group practiced together. Training together makes a difference.
Three: Cultural Training
This is a BIG one for me. The first group I went with out of the country made everyone read Sarah Lanier’s book, “Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot and Cold-Climate Cultures” before traveling. I can’t begin to explain how important I believe this book is to every Christian’s basic training. It is not a big book, nor is it a deep book. It will, however change your paradigm about communication. As a communication major in college, I studied multiple modes and aspects of communication. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I believe one of the most significant hurdles Christians today face is understanding a person's culture of communication when you are trying to witness. This means understanding more than just the language or their religious background. Good communication is so much more.
Dear veteran missionaries and Christians, read this book. Dear new Christian or a young person wanting to become a better witness for Christ at home/abroad, read this book. After all my time working with people from multiple cultures around the world and asking about their experiences with Americans, I firmly believe this book should be mandatory training for all Christians.
I will forever be grateful to that missions team for introducing it to me before my first trip.
Four: Travel Safety
Some countries are more dangerous than others, I understand. However, before you go outside of the United States, there are some basic things you need to be taught to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” as the Bible says. I traveled to one of the most unstable governments in the Western Hemisphere, and I learned with that team fundamental safety rules I apply everywhere I go. 1. Team shirts are not good to wear at the airport. They identify you as inexperienced or an easy target for predators. Team shirts advertise your “wealthy American status,” making you a good target for criminals. Often times the team shirts give enough information that criminals could figure out where you are staying because of the organization’s name on the shirt. That sets you and your host up to be burglarized or carjacked.
2. Carry a "drop wallet". This is an extra old wallet staged with old gift cards, small bills, and no personal identification. If you get stopped or pick-pocketed, this is what they see, so this is what they will take. No harm done, easy to give away at gun or knife point. With a few small bills, they will assume it is your only wallet.
3. ALWAYS have a form of communication with the team and outside resources. If you don’t own an international phone plan, have someone on the ground meet you with local cell phones, satellite phones, or radios. 4 basic numbers should always be programmed in from the beginning. The number of the primary leader or “ground contact,” the United States Embassy (make sure you know the address as well), local emergency contacts, and the other team members. You need this information even if you are going to another first-world country (France, Brazil, England, etc.). You never know when a natural disaster, an act of war, or a pandemic may hit. Even the wealthiest of countries can become chaotic quickly.
4. Bring copies of everything. Give the team lead (or reliable person) a copy of your passport, shot record, travel insurance, etc., in case your things are stolen, damaged, misplaced, or happen to drop off the top of the van/ fall off the boat into the river. It hurts nothing to have extras.
I've never forgotten these 4 safety lessons. They made all the difference in the world for my travels. I am so thankful that I received training from a former military missionary before and while I was in high-risk areas.
Tying It Down:
Training before you are on the front lines can significantly affect your stress and success levels.
Christian, if you are a soldier, act and prepare like one. Spend time training your mind, body, and spirit. Create new habits that will make you a better soldier.
Team leads, are you properly training your troops? Are you preparing them with more than Bible verses and packing lists?
Matthew 10:16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
2 Timothy 2:2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
Training is a lifelong endeavor. Even the most experienced Christians should be actively engaged in training.
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