Friday, July 1, 2016

SIMStart Conference

In May, I had the opportunity to attend the SIMStart conference at SIM USA's headquarters in Charlotte, NC. Let me share a few memories from that event...

After weeks of working on applications, submitting references, and completing a battery of psychological and personality tests, I was finally invited to attend SIMStart. This 4-day conference was designed to orient prospective missionaries to SIM's values and practices, meet other prospective missionaries from around the US, interview on-site with SIM staff, discuss the specific training and reading materials I should complete before moving overseas, meet in person with my selection coordinator (the SIM HQ staff person that assists a missionary through the application and acceptance phases), and begin planning how I am going to raise prayer and financial support. It was a whirlwind of a week, and we had a tight schedule to make sure that everything went smoothly!

I arrived into Charlotte on Wednesday afternoon after renting a car and driving from Ft. Bragg, NC where I had the chance to meet my new nephew and spend some time with my brother and sister-in-law. I was picked up by an SIM staff member at the Charlotte airport, and the two other girls in the car, Aimee and Jessica, turned out to be my assigned roommates for the week.

We stayed at the SIM Guesthouse on the SIM USA campus, so the dining room, staff offices, chapel, and meeting rooms were all conveniently located. The conference started off with a wonderful dinner, an orientation/welcome session, and a group devotional. When I looked at my schedule, I was surprised to see that I had my medical consult (including blood draws!) at 7:15 the next morning!

Well, that turned out to be nothing to worry about, and the lab work was to determine what anti-malarial medication will be most effective for me should I contract malaria while serving overseas. After breakfast and morning chapel with the entire SIM USA staff, I spent the day in meetings with my selection coordinator, the pre-field education director, the psychologist, and two of the chaplain's office staff.  I was pretty wiped out when it came time for dinner! We had some AMAZING curry, and Randy the cook was kind enough to give me the recipe which I am sharing here with you! (right click to open the photo in a new window and enlarge it)

The second day I spent the morning interviewing with two SIM USA staff members. (Fun fact: one of my interviewers was a man who had worked in the same chemical company as my dad, nearly in the same department, back in the early 1980s). I was a bit nervous, but then I realized that they were just trying to get to know me and see if there were any previously undiscovered issues that might affect my ability to serve with SIM. Again, I had to remember that each of these meetings and interviews would give SIM more information about me, about my passion and life purpose, my spiritual maturity, and my personal struggles/accomplishments. As much as I felt like SIM was the right organization for me, they had to make sure I'm a good fit for them as well as ensure that I am ready to embark on this grand adventure.

That afternoon, we took a trip to the SIM International headquarters about 15 miles away and across the state lines into South Carolina. While we were there, we saw the library of spiritual resources, history books, collections of folk stories, and recipe books written by SIM missionaries throughout the past 100+ years. I was amazed to hear that some of the resources about indigenous people groups and their religions used by universities and researchers around the world were actually written by SIM staff living and serving among these people groups. In fact, one of the books that a friend recommended to me a few months ago about the history of Niger is written by an SIM missionary.
We also got to see the archives where file boxes are stacked floor to ceiling in a climate-controlled room. We peeked into a few boxes and saw stacks of annual reports, slide carousels (thank God for Powerpoint nowadays), artifacts, and even the original journal of Walter Gowans who was one of the three young men who founded Sudan Interior Mission in 1893. I was struck by the following passage:

"Well Glory to God that He has enabled me to make a hard fight for the Soudan [sic] and altho [sic] it may seem like a total failure and defeat it is not. We shall have the victory and that right speedily. I have no regret for undertaking this venture and in this manner my life has not been thrown away. My only regrets are for my poor dear mother for her sake I would have chosen to live.
Mother Dear: and what a mother you have been it seems I appreciate you now more than ever I did oh how often I have thought while lying here of your love and how I have longed to see you again in the flesh. Don't mourn for me darling dearest mother if the suffering was great think remember it is all over now and think of the glory I am enjoying and rejoice that "your boy" was permitted to have a hand in the redemption of the Soudan [sic]."

Our last sessions that day were regarding SIM's history and core values, as well as basics of security/crisis management. We were fortunate to hear from the man who coordinated the SIM response to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia in 2014 and who arranged transit back for Nancy Writebol, the SIM nurse serving at ELWA hospital who contracted Ebola. Dr. Kent Brantley who was also transferred back to the US and who convalesced at Emory hospital with Nancy was actually affiliated with Samaritan's Purse while serving at SIM's hospital, so his organization handled those affairs. Then he opened a box and pulled out this banner which had been used to designate the Ebola treatment wing of the ELWA hospital—crazy, right?!?

Community hour that night was good as we talked about what it means to truly serve someone and how to have that mindset of service. We also role-played through several scenarios regarding cross-cultural sensitivity and issues that might arise as an American tries to become part of a local church body. In my group there was a young man going to work in Paraguay, a girl planning to be a professional counselor in a Muslim country, and a middle-aged couple who was going to move their entire family to Ethiopia. Each of us had a different perspective on the given scenarios and none of us were completely right nor completely wrong!

On the third day of SIMStart we talked a lot about the principles of raising support, creating a budget, how SIM manages finances, and building a support team. We also had a time of Q+A to make sure all of our questions were answered; anything from "what education opportunities are available in XXX country for my school-aged children?" to "how do I present my ministry with SIM to my church and get them involved?" After dinner, several of us girls took a walk on the paths around the SIM campus and then spent several hours playing card and board games.

On Sunday, we had a worship service of just us SIMStart attendees and a few staff members. Then it was time for a quick debrief meeting with my selection coordinator and she gave me the exciting news that I'd been accepted as a missionary with SIM, beginning with a 1-2 year commitment. I could not have been more excited! After meeting with her, it was time to pack up and head to the airport for my flight home.

I left SIMStart with a gigantic to-do list and quite a few books to read and courses to attend, but I also left with an expanded vision for where God is working and how I can be part of that. Never once did I feel like I had to apologize for my passion and intensity, and I never had to make excuses for why I'm so young or why I'm "throwing away a good job." I felt like I truly belonged among that group of conference attendees, and I was further convinced that God is leading me to partner with SIM!

Many of the SIMStart attendees will be attending the SIMGo! conference starting in just a few weeks. I had planned to be there as well, but I need to first visit several SIM hospitals in Africa and finalize a placement. Once that is done, I will be able to plan more effectively and will be better able to share my vision with other people. I'm planning to attend SIMGo! in October, and that three-week conference will give me much more information on the nuts and bolts of serving with SIM, more training on raising financial support, and planning for the specific challenges I'll encounter in my chosen location. 

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