Its not who you know

In School of Mission we recently spent some time exploring redemptive networking and social capital. If I could sum it up in a phrase it would be ‘its not who you know its who they know: its not what you can do its what they can do.’ We have recently experienced our own little taste of this reality.

Lorena from Albania had been taking part in School of Mission. She is a new mum with a heart and passion for youth and missions work. Her maternal responsibilities have meant that she has been much less able to engage with her team, the work and her other calling. Taking part in School of Mission from the comfort of her home had become a bit of a life line for her, providing the connection and stimulation she so desired, she appreciated exploring themes that could be applied to strengthen the work in her country. It was all working so well. And then her computer died.

We decided that it was too important to do nothing, but of ourselves the School of Mission crew had no capacity to fix the problem. So we found out how much a new laptop would be in Albania and put out the word, it was lent so we encouraged people to give up 10 coffees or 5 lunches and put the money towards a new lap top for Lorena.

The response was astounding! Even after we transferred the money for her to make the purchase, money kept pouring in! Two months later, we have raised twice the amount we needed for the lap top! That money is going to Albanian team, some of it will be used to help Lorena with payment for internet access, but they have also decided to give some of it to the South Africans so that we can purchase some good quality speakers, microphone and a webcam so they too can engage more fully with School of Mission and other web conferencing commitments they have.

I love it, Lorena and her little boy Matia (and her husband Erion of course!) now exist in the lives of countless people across the UK and Australia. As a result she has not only been able to continue with School of Mission, but she has been able to stay connected and be incredibly productive supporting the local team with writing and editing and in many other ways.


the grand experiment


In November 2012 we embarked on an experiment that would impact the future of training across Europe and Africa in my organisation. Keen to facilitate mutual support, learning and fellowship amongst the leaders in our network and in our movement, I led a process that resulted in a School of Mission delivered through web based conferencing. As I have said in previous posts, we have had teams from South Africa, Albania, Preston and Oxford taking part. With almost a month to go before the end of training delivery, we have learned a lot. I am excited to spend the rest of 2012 refining the course, sharpening our delivery and facilitation systems, lining assessments up with national curriculum and much more. In five years time I think we will have developed something very precious for those in mission across Europe and Africa, and beyond.

I am quite amazed how, despite being separated by huge distances and sometimes struggling with technology, participants have felt a strong commitment to stick with it. Against the odds a sense of fellowship and connection has grown. I think this has been out of a growing appreciation for each other as we have shared dilemmas, insights, wins and defeats. Most sessions are a matter of presenting data or frameworks and concepts that we then dialogue with together, bringing our own perspectives and experience and learning from each other.

One practical change that we made a month ago was to change the length of each session. We were running 5 sessions a day, one hour each. Given the variety of sessions, the reality of technology and the intensity of engagement required, people found the rhythm exhausting. We decided to change to four sessions a day each of 80 minutes length – facilitators were encouraged not to try and increase what they covered but allow more space for process and dialogue. This has made a huge difference to the experience, I sense too that learning and engagement has been deeper as a result.

Another thing that has become clear is that for team leaders taking part in the School of Mission, finding the additional 3 or 4 hours a week outside of class time in which to prepare assignments or module reading, has not been possible. We will therefore be pushing back the graduation date for the course to November, making it a 12 month course; participants will have 5+ months in which to complete assignments. We will meet for a morning every 6 weeks or so during this time so that participants are encouraged to keep progressing. Every assignment is a practical application of the module it relates to, there by facilitating the integration of the journey of School of Mission into the work of each participant.

So yes, the grand experiment is almost over – well the first phase at any rate – and I am still really enjoying it!!

one week on and the story continues

Life had been somewhat full in the week between days one and two. We all started the day a little more tired than last week, or perhaps it was that the excitement of the first day was gone and reality was beginning to hit! I felt prepared but less ‘pumped’ than last week.

Once again the teams from Preston, Cape Town and Haddenham were represented but this time Lorena was able to join us from Albania. It was lovely, she has a baby boy just a few months old, so there was something very special about being able to welcome her into the class. Lorena is a key part of Fusion Albania’s core leadership and for her not to be excluded from the training opportunity is huge. I love that we are finding ways for anyone to participate who needs both the training and the fellowship with others outside their context. These are people in leadership who have given their lives for Christ, his mission and the team around them; they are worthy of every effort to make things work.

Team Cape Town hit some internal coordination difficulties so we were down to just two of them and no microphone! Not only could we not see them but we were relying on ‘chat’ to hear from them. The fact that they hung in there and maintained their engagement throughout the day was testimony to their patience but also I think their desire to grow and or be connected to the broader group.

At this stage of the course we are really laying foundations from which to explore mission, leadership and how to go about transforming our societies. Exploring how each of our personal journeys is part of God’s eternal work through history and how he calls us to be in mission with him. In the book of Acts, discussing 6 Radical Decisions, looking at Personal Narrative, Self Management and journaling, we have been discussing what it means to distinguish between the work of God and the work of our own needs and drivers within us; living with Christ at the heart and living with ‘us’ at the heart. Surely this is the nature of discipleship and mentoring others; indeed it could be said that mission is about seeking God’s best in time and space, bringing his response to those around us.

Next week we get to hear from each other as each of us share our journey with the group; its going to be a precious time.

A Global Classroom, for real

I want to share my journey through a 21 week training experiment. For 21 Wednesdays between now and the end of May next year, I will be facilitating a School of Mission with about 15 people taking part from 4 or 5 countries. I am writing at the end of day one – the 14th of November 2012.

The dream was to set up the game for a life changing, educational experience for anyone leading a process of community transformation in their neighbourhood and society… across the UK, Europe and Africa. Traditionally in the movement I am part of, people have had to take six to eighteen months out, to head to Australia for intensive residential training in youth and community work. As we approached 2012 in the UK and saw the potential of groups right across the country inspired and wanting to be equipped for effective, long term community mission, we saw that sending them all off to Aus wasn’t an option. We needed something more accessible, more flexible and dare I say more readily applicable in a range of different cultural and socio-economic settings.

So drawing on my own experience over the last few years, some research into the needs of our target group and calling on some of the senior trainers in our movement, we put together some content, re-constructed the training processes and called it School of Mission (day a week training).

As it happens we don’t have any of those new groups from across the UK participating, but today we had teams from South Africa, Preston as well as a couple of the team from Wheatley! The Albanians will be with us from next week and the Ghanaians are hoping to join us as well if they can make internet arrangements.

The day had its fair share of hurdles, the ineptitude of some Webex staff meant that we had to opt for another web conferencing solution at the last minute – that was a bit risky, but worked OK! (Except I wish you could minimise the program ‘boxes’ more easily!). Then about 10 minutes into the first session we were informed that the room we were in had been booked by another group! (In an effort to save money, we had decided not to book the room for a fee on the basis that if its free anyway we get to use it at no cost – nice idea if it’s not in use!!). SO after a bumpy start we were on our way for the day.

A concern for me is how we build a sense of community within and between the groups when we are connecting via internet rather than being in the same space together. The design of the training relies heavily on people learning through sharing with each other, so building enough safety for people to not only share but even interrogate the material or assert a difference in opinion to others is crucial. I think having people in groups helps – no one participating today was in a room on their own. Video links mean we can get some visual cues from each other, sadly the South Africans were only able to use audio which meant the connection between us and them was greatly reduced – they couldn’t see us and we couldn’t see them.

The responses from today’s training were very positive with people taking away substantial challenges from the subjects covered. Next week the complexity will almost double with the Albanians joining us and possibly the Ghanaians. It’s a tricky thing as a trainer, engaging with people on the screen as well as in the room you are in. Its a tricky thing as a participant engaging with a process with others when you can’t look many of them straight in the eye as you share.

Well the train has definitely left the station, but i wonder what next week will hold!