KCoats [this coming year's SPACE intern], ESunde [last year's SPACE intern] and I went to visit the Merge team tonight. The team is doing great, they are having a great time. Intriguing first comment from JWhitt [one of the leaders], "This is nothing like I expected. It isn't a missions trip, it's a week long retreat."
JWhitt was one of my students that I had brought to the SEMP conference in the summer of 2000 - SEMP being the precursor to Merge. It's been fun to watch as she has taken the lead this year to bring a team back.
They have definitely done some neat things at Merge. There was a replica tabernacle set up and part of the experience was to walk students through each component experientially, giving them a hands-on experience of what some of the elements of the Old Testament tabernacle really mean. There was also a 'stations of Jesus last hours,' also the same kind of thing - very experiential. They have also integrated small service projects that the teams are involved in. Good things no doubt.
Those good things aside, it wasn't quite what I expected either. Anybody that went to a week of SEMP got exposed and trained on how to share their faith, at multiple depths. Whether it was identifying spiritual roadblocks, writing a letter to a friend or sharing verbally on the street, they all got both classroom teaching and on the street experiences of sharing their faith in their own culture. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that standing on a street corner screaming the Four Spiritual Laws is the goal. I AM saying that there is a correct midpoint somewhere on the spectrum between:
1 - screaming the Gospel to strangers
2 - having kids go to another culture with zero training about how to talk about Jesus and their faith.
And I'm also saying that the combination of evangelism training and community service projects sounds like a real winner. But Merge was definitely not about the evangelism training.
Our purpose for sending students to Merge revolved around the evangelism experience and training - and service projects would have been icing on the cake. Sending students to serve in another culture requires them to have experience in their own culture first. Sadly, although Merge sounds like a great week, I'm not sure it fits the type of preparation we want our students to have. Not a concluded decision yet, but definitely requires more evaluation. And hey you guys that have spent time in other cultures with students, love to hear your opinions...
Photo: KCoats, ESunde, JWhitt - Merge team leader and JSutar - Merge team leader.