In 2009, Avant launched an official internship program, offering cross-cultural experiences to college students who want to spend their summer break serving on international fields. This is the story of three of those students—Rebecca and Janae, who spent last summer shadowing Team Italy One in Genoa, and Matt, who worked with Avant missionaries in Bamako, Mali. Last fall, Rebecca Williamson was sitting in class—a church planting class at Moody Bible Institute—when she started to get the idea that perhaps the lecture meant more to her then just facts to memorize for an exam. “I’ve always wanted to do missions, but I didn’t know what that would look like,” Rebecca said. “During my church planting class, God started to tug on my heart. I realized that I needed to consider church-planting.”
She had heard about Avant from a few of her classmates who had grown up as MKs with the mission. “I talked to them about what Avant does and how they’re a churchplanting ministry,” she said. “When it came time to look for internships I narrowed it down to my top three agencies that I wanted to intern with, and I started making phone calls to see what opportunities were out there.” Learning cross-culturally Avant has always informally sent interns to various fields, but the placements came at the
Matt Ezell spent his summer interning in Bamako, Mali, participating in college ministry and English cafes. He kept a written record of his experience at his blog, along with photographs and video. Some of his entries are excerpted below.
People in Bamako speak and understand both Bambara and French. I thought these are related—they are not. No similarities at all. So I am trying to learn basic introductions in Bambara and French for everything else. The people here very friendly and they enjoy talking with me. Poverty runs deep. There are countless kids on the streets begging day and night. There is actually a fair amount of technology here. Almost everyone has a cell phone and they are very cheap (you can get one for about $10) and then buy a SIM card and purchase minutes (which can be as cheap as $2) . I am taking this next week to follow Avant missionary Steve Cochran around and learn from him. We have jumped right in and I have been learning huge amounts of information on how to best communicate and use my time. He is very strategic and has explained in detail how and why the standard missionary model doesn’t work in this part of Africa. He continually must become more creative in order to be effective here.
I went to the University today. It had a bunch of new buildings. My tour guides, Togola and Amagana, were very proud to show their school. Amagana is one of the most outgoing and dedicated young believers that I have met here and Togola is Muslim, so introducing the two of them and creating that friendship was great. We went by the dorms and they were about the size of a normal dorm and looked the same with one exception. There were 15 men living in it! Bunk beds held three to four people and then three more mats were stored in a closet. It was like this in every room. Amagana does a lot of work with the local orphanage so I will spend all day there tomorrow. That will be capped off with an English Bible study with four Malians. I only know Amagana so I’ll get to meet a few new friends, but more importantly, Bible studies are not a typical Friday night activity here by any means so that is especially exciting.
request of individual students who were connected to an Avant missionary in some way. In the beginning of 2009, the leadership team decided it was time to formalize the process in order to better assist and educate students who were spending their summers on Avant fields. Because of the popularity of inter-cultural internships, Avant wanted to guarantee that the opportunities were meeting requirements set forth by schools, so that students would learn new information and have a quality experience. “Schools are
now requiring students to have not just an internship, but a cross-cultural experience,” said Dave Rathbun, vice president of personnel development for Avant. “The world is smaller and it is important that college students participate in other cultures.” Each intern comes to Avant’s home office in Kansas City for an orientation that includes sessions on culture shock, safety, finances and Short-Cycle Church Planting before leaving for the field. After spending six to nine weeks shadowing an Avant missionary or a Short-Cycle Church Planting
team, the interns return to Kansas City for a debrief. “We help them understand reverse culture shock, they learn to tell their story and we ease them back into life in the states,” said Adelle Johnson, who oversees orientation and debrief. “We have a desire to mentor students and help them understand where God might be calling them to be used,” said Johnson. “Our internships allow students to get into the cultural process. They have an opportunity to experience culture shock and cultural immersion,” said Rathbun. “And
if the interns have a great experience, they’ll be Avant fans for life.” An Avant Fan Rebecca’s experience certainly encouraged her enthusiasm for church planting. Her decision to spend the summer of 2009 interning with Avant’s Short-Cycle Team in Genoa, Italy ultimately came down to the idea that her unique gifts were useful on a team context, a central Short-Cycle principle. Sitting in on team meetings, she was encouraged by how Team Italy One interacted with one another. “Every person on
the team is important in making decisions,” she said. “They aren’t there by themselves; their goal for being there was as a team.” Language school, cultural learning and shadowing the Short-Cycle team were all experiences that Rebecca and her fellow intern Janae Rempel, a student at Tabor College, had during their internship. Along the way they formed friendships with young Italians, spent time exploring Genoa and sampled lots of gelato and espresso. “When we met up with the missionaries and they gave us assignments we were able to complete them without needing the team to guide us around everywhere,” said Rebecca. “I we lived our lives there, connecting with Italians and having conversations that went deeper.” Rebecca and Janae had the opportunity to form a close relationship with Gabriella, a young woman they met at their language school. “Gabriella was someone we saw every day,” Rebecca said. “We were able to see her outside of the classroom and invest in our relationship with her. She ended up going to a Bible study with us where she accepted Christ.”
All summer Rebecca pondered what part God might be preparing for her in international ministry. She loved the relational ministry and the emphasis on team that she’d experienced, but making the final decision to commit her life to a Short-Cycle team felt intimidating. “A few nights before we left one of the missionaries told me that I don’t need to have all of my ducks in a row before I commit to full-time ministry,” she said. “Jump out, take a risk on faith and see what God does with that. It was good to hear.” After landing back home and considering full-time ministry options, Rebecca hopes to join a Short-Cycle team after she graduates this coming spring. “There is a need for the gospel in all corners of the world,” she said.
Today I got the idea to call my buddy Togola and see what he was up to. He was enjoying his first night of guard duty. He got this job through a friend to make some extra money during summer break. Guarding basically consists of drinking tea and sitting with friends while you stare at a building or gate for an eight-hour shift. I sat with Togola for about three hours through the night. He introduced me to every person walking by while we sat and talked about God, marriage, American dating, the BBC, Michael Jackson, the US soccer teams chokejob against Brazil, and some other odds and ends. It was great. I get the feeling that God is going to truly reveal himself to Togola very soon.
My time in Mali is quickly running short. I am looking at 17 days right now and intentionality is becoming essential. I had an awkward exchange with my buddy Togola and his store keeper friend about a talisman he had for protection. I buy tea from him all the time so I figured it would be okay to ask some pointed questions, but I quickly realized Togola was not translating English to Bambara and vice versa but instead to the universal language in order to be politically correct. I asked him to translate directly, and I think everyone within ear shot walked away with something to think about, but at the same time I think the three of us were a little frustrated by the end of it. I look forward to following up with that.
July 18 “I can help people realize their potential in sharing the gospel with people in their own city.” Next summer, Avant will offer internships everywhere from Alaska to Spain, Brazil to the Middle East. “Our interns are going to get into the cultural process,” said Rathbun. “They’ll have the opportunity to experience cultural emersion while spending the summer serving Christ.” Rebecca’s advice to potential Avant interns? “Pray about, and if you have a heart for missions—go for it. Just try it.” ●
The question I’ve been fielding for the last week or so more than anything else is, “are you ready to be home?” The answer really is that it depends on what hour you ask me. I have learned I am not immune to homesickness. At the same time, when looking at what I am here to do and what I think I have been called to do here, I am feeling a time crunch with a lot of relationships. Beginning next week I am working cooperatively with another mission and a couple students they have out here this summer to put on an English cafe. Basically what it will amount to is each night there will be a topic and there will be some information given. Then there will be breakout sessions which will be led by me and the other missionary folks with the purpose of “intentional conversations.” I am excited about it, but the Malians I have signed up for it are way more excited than I am. I have invited three or four of my really strong Christian English speaking contacts here and I will try to spread them out so there is one in each group. The rest of the participants are expected to be Muslim. I feel like I keep hearing God tell me over and over to be patient, even now with 8 days left. My attention has really been turned to discipling the current Christians who have helped put me in touch with the Muslim friends I have been witnessing to. Matt is not going to be in Mali a week from tomorrow. But, though few, there are native Malians who are believers and my whole focus right now is encouraging, empowering, and teaching these men as much as possible. ●