'LAUNCH' event equips professionals for missions

by Don Graham and Laura Fielding, posted Tuesday, March 24, 2015 (2 years ago)

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- To some it might sound like the opening line of a bad joke: What do a New Jersey trauma surgeon, a Louisiana electrical engineer and a California marketer all have in common? But this isn't a stand-up routine. Instead, it's evidence of a growing trend that's transforming the way Christians are responding to the Great Commission -- they're using their careers to take the Gospel overseas.

The surgeon, 32-year-old Jeremiah,* the engineer, 30-year-old Mark,* and the marketer, 27-year-old Corrie,* were among 21 Christian professionals and students from across the country who attended the first "LAUNCH" equipping event, March 8-13, near Richmond, Va. Created in partnership between the International Mission Board's Marketplace Advance initiative and Skybridge, LAUNCH bills its five-day training as "an intensive experience" designed to prepare Christian professionals and students to make disciples as they work, live or study abroad. Skybridge, an IMB partner, is a global community of marketplace professionals who seek to impact the nations with the Gospel.

"God is moving in the hearts of ordinary believers, professionals from all walks of life, stirring a desire to use their profession, background, skills, talents, energy and passion for the advance of God's kingdom around the world," said Scott Holste, IMB vice president for Global Strategic Mobilization. "Perhaps even more critical is that many of these professionals can go places and connect in circles where traditional missionaries can't."

That's a culture shift for IMB, an organization that for the past 170 years has encouraged Christians to do just the opposite -- quit their jobs in favor of becoming full-time missionaries. But lagging funds have severely limited IMB's sending ability in recent years. That's why in a February address to trustees IMB President David Platt announced his intentions to "blow open" IMB's funnel, creating new pathways for churches to send "limitless" missionary teams -- teams that include both full-time missionaries and marketplace professionals that include surgeons, engineers and marketers. See related story.

For the marketer, Corrie*, whose firm has recently offered her a choice of several marketing positions outside the U.S., the timing couldn't be better.

"I needed this kind of connect-the-dots training; I love business and love missions, and for me LAUNCH has provided this dotted line between these two points," she said. "It has been in my heart since college to take the Gospel to the nations ... but I wanted to take this thing that I loved -- branding, managing and marketing -- and use it to engage places that don't know Christ."

Corrie wasn't the only one waiting for an event like LAUNCH. Mark*, the electrical engineer from Louisiana, works for a Fortune-500 energy company that's preparing to send him to Southeast Asia. He says it was a relief to meet other "marketplace missionaries" like himself, people who were drawn to missions yet couldn't shake the feeling that God had created them for something other than full-time religious work. While exploring his own call to ministry earlier in life, Mark once thought becoming a pastor was the only way to serve God.

"I really wrestled against the traditional mindset of preaching behind a pulpit from Sunday to Sunday because I still had a legitimate passion to utilize my engineering gifts, but also a fascination with Southeast Asian culture," Mark said. "LAUNCH gave me a game plan to be prepared before I get on that mission field."

More than a conference

LAUNCH is more than just a "conference," says Steve Collins, director of the event. Instead, he compares it to a hybrid version of the three-month training that prepares full-time IMB missionaries heading to the field. The difference is that LAUNCH has been boiled down into a focused five-day training that's tailored specifically for professionals. Class size is purposely limited to create an intimate atmosphere that's highly interactive, as opposed to simply listening to a litany of speakers common at larger events. Another unique aspect of LAUNCH is that students are encouraged to stay on IMB's International Learning Center campus during the event, which Collins says is intended to build community while insulating students from the distractions of everyday life.

Collins worked for months in partnership with IMB and Skybridge to build LAUNCH's curriculum, assembling a team of missional marketplace experts to lead students through more than 15 distinct training sessions. Topics cover a range of practical issues from cross-cultural evangelism and disciple making to surviving culture shock and language learning -- even finding an international job. Case studies expose students to real-life examples of professionals already using their jobs to spread the Gospel abroad. Collins adds that class time is broken up by tangible experiences, too, including cross-cultural field trips and personalized, one-on-one coaching sessions.

Many LAUNCH students, like Jeremiah*, a trauma surgeon, say they found the coaching sessions invaluable, allowing them to explore challenges unique to their situations. Right now, Jeremiah is weighing two potential overseas job opportunities, one in the Middle East and one in East Asia.

"LAUNCH has helped me figure out where my skills would be needed the most ... and also understand the groundwork that needs to be laid between now and a year from now when I hope to be sent abroad," he said.

For Jeremiah, LAUNCH has also supplied much-needed affirmation. Coming from a family of full-time church planters and pastors, he says medicine wasn't an easy choice.

"Oftentimes the career missionary path is the only one presented, and you're stuck wondering where it is in God's kingdom that you really fit," Jeremiah said. "There was an incredible amount of pressure to pursue seminary, but I didn't feel led by God to do that. ... I decided to go into medicine because I really had a knack for science and the biology of the human body; I love to interact with people on a more personal basis to really get to the heart of their needs emotionally and physically."

Future launch events

Though dates haven't been finalized, Collins said future LAUNCH events are already in the works for later this year. Anyone interested in attending can learn more at launchequipping.com. LAUNCH updates are also available through IMB's Marketplace Advance Facebook page, and on Twitter @Mktplaceadvance.

*Name changed. Don Graham leads IMB's Marketplace Advance communication team. Laura Fielding is an IMB writer.
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