New WMU book addresses training youth volunteers

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)--It's important for Christians to learn from a young age they should be on mission for God, but it's also important that missions volunteers be well trained.

That's according to Pamela Smith, the author of a new book "Excel: Simple and Effective Missions Team Training for Youth" (Birmingham: New Hope, 1997).

Smith, a schoolteacher in Ridgecrest, N.C., began writing the book during her seven-year tenure as state Acteens director for the Virginia Woman's Missionary Union.

She gathered information from a variety of audiences, including missionaries, pastors, missions volunteers and staffers at the Missionary Learning Center for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Smith used the information gleaned from these groups to form the seven goals for youth to accomplish during an "Excel" study. They are:

-- Verbalize an understanding of and commitment to missions service.

-- Identify personal strengths they can contribute to the missions effort.

-- Recognize cultural issues that help them relate to other people.

-- Define what it means to be a team.

-- Give a clear presentation of the gospel that is natural and comfortable.

-- Perform specific tasks required by the team's missions assignment.

-- Evaluate their spiritual readiness for missions service and prepare themselves spiritually for the task.

Along with these goals, Smith said in an interview, youth should have "hands-on" experience before going to their assignment.

"One of the key things we say is critical is that volunteers find a local ministry and actually go on site and investigate the ministry," she said. "We suggest they choose something similar in kind to what they'll be doing on the mission field."

A youth team planning a trip to help with inner-city ministry might benefit by contacting a nearby Baptist center in their own geographic area, Smith suggested.

"It not only gives them a picture of what they're going to do, but it gives them some experience," she noted. "When they come home, if they have contacted that local ministry and had that interaction, they can plug right back in. The skills and experiences they had on mission can transfer into their everyday life."

Smith's book emphasizes the value of practical experience and makes concrete suggestions to youth and their leaders on how to prepare for missions trips.

"What makes this material different from other training materials is it's based on the 'experiential learning theory,' which says experience is the source of learning," she explained. "All the activities have the kids experiencing something as they work through the course."

In preparation for a missions trip, Smith suggested if possible "team leaders actually go where the team will be serving and interview the pastor, missionary or local church leader. Then they report the information to the team as they prepare to go."

A good time to begin working through the "Excel" materials could be the beginning of a school year, Smith said.

"If a youth group is planning a mission trip for the following summer, they could begin the prior fall studying the materials and preparing the young people," she said. "It's designed to be an eight-month process."

Smith acknowledged in the book "everyone has a preferred learning style, which is the way a person takes in information and the way he or she processes the information."

These learning styles can be labeled by the questions that learners tend to ask:

-- Why? "These learners learn by listening and by sharing ideas," Smith said. "They enjoy activities that allow them to interact with others, reflect inwardly and respond with commitment."

-- What? "These learners take in information through thoughts and use it in reflection," she said. "They enjoy activities that allow them to watch and think, to collect data and to critique information."

-- How? "These learners are practical persons who like to play with ideas to see if they are rational and workable," Smith wrote. "They enjoy activities that allow them to tinker with things, to decide what to do and then to test that decision."

-- What if? "These learners are go-getters," Smith said. "They learn best by doing, through trial and error. They enjoy activities that allow them to discover truth for themselves and to lead others to action."

But Smith urged youth group leaders to realize that even though each young person may have a preferred learning style, trainees need practical experience in all four styles.

"For a total learning experience, your youth need to do it all -- connect, reflect, think and act," Smith said. "Therefore, it is important that each of them participates in all of the activities that are part of the training program, not just the ones that appeal to their style. As they do, your youth will learn."

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