A Better Return: Partnering with Volunteers


The wisest man in earth’s history understood the value and mathematics of partnership. One may be good. One may have good ideas, skills and energy, but two — two have the potential to be great because their individual ideas, skills and energy can combine and grow in new directions. Ultimately, Solomon’s conclusion is that “two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work” (Eccl 4:9).

A good return for our work. Isn’t that something we all want — especially in the mission field? More work done and more hands to do it. More people healed and taught and led. Yes, we all want a good return for our work. Fortunately, Solomon, in his God-given wisdom, has given us a very practical avenue through which to get this good return: partnership.

In the mission field, partnership is essential, as are good partners to help do the work that needs to be done. But where can full-time missionaries find good partners to help them get a good return for their work?

One answer to that question is in the men, women and young people who sign up with Adventist Volunteer Service (AVS). A small number of full-time missionaries have already found great partners in Adventist volunteers.

Some missionaries like Davonna Church, who runs the Cradle of Love Baby Home in Tanzania, have enlisted the help of volunteers to teach their children. Other missionaries like David Bell, an administrator at Chiangmai Adventist Academy in Thailand, have called volunteers to teach English to the students of the schools that they administer overseas.

No matter what task the volunteers do, however, the full-time missionaries who work with them have found great value and lasting benefits in the partnership. Mack Tennyson, the former Vice President of Finance at Mission College in Thailand, remarked, “Volunteers make all the difference in the world. In fact, I doubt we could survive without them!” He said that the volunteers, who held both faculty and leadership positions at the college, contributed “expertise, enthusiasm and spiritual energy” to his team of “overworked and tired” missionaries and employees.

The words Tennyson used to describe his volunteers at Mission College can be used to describe what volunteers in general bring to the mission field. Volunteers supply expertise; many of them are skilled workers and are educated in areas ranging from computer science to agricultural education to homiletics.

Enthusiastic about sharing their expertise, many volunteers bring vitality and new ideas to the mission field. “Often when our own energy expires, we can look to [volunteers] for inspiration,” said J. Maxwell Dowling, an international service employee (ISE) who was director of SDA Language Schools in Thailand.

Finally, since many volunteers sign up for AVS because they have a desire to serve God and go wherever He calls them, they often have a sizable dosage of spiritual energy to share.

Even after they go home, volunteers can benefit ISEs and their work. David Bell said that volunteers who have good experiences overseas have “often taken a good report back to their home churches about the work going on in our area. Those people then become supporters” of the same mission and often give support both in terms of prayers and money.

With all the benefits that come along with calling volunteers, many fulltime missionaries attest to the fact that they are getting a good return for their work because of the partnership. In fact, John Thomas, former principal of Maxwell Adventist Academy in Kenya, felt that the volunteers made such a positive impact at his school that he “would encourage any place using ISEs to gain the benefit of volunteers.” Mack Tennyson echoed his sentiment, saying that, “ISEs need to have as many volunteers as they can get their hands on.”

Undoubtedly, the present partnership between ISEs and volunteers is good, but it has the potential to be even better. Currently, the number of missionaries who request volunteers is few, and though volunteers have a wide range of skills, missionaries call them almost solely to fill teaching, assistant teaching and dormitory dean positions.

Things could be different. ISEs could take even greater advantage of the volunteer program. They could call more volunteers to fill more — and more diverse — positions. Volunteers could certainly help ISEs get an even better return for their work.

Imagine the possibilities. An ISE who runs a small clinic in Zimbabwe could call a newly graduated medical student from Loma Linda University. With the medical student’s help, the clinic may be able to help more patients than ever before.

A union president who is an ISE might call a volunteer with a degree in computer science to do maintenance and upkeep on the computers in the union office. Because of the volunteer’s expertise, the union employees might be able to do their work with more efficiency.

A missionary who is the pastor of a quickly growing church in Chile could call a theology student to work alongside him as a youth pastor. An ISE who is in charge of a publishing house in Bulgaria could call a volunteer to help translate church documents into the natives’ mother tongue.

By calling volunteers to work with them side by side, ISEs may be able to accomplish more tasks than they ever thought possible.

Volunteers are not limited, though, to working directly with ISEs. An ISE who is a conference director in Southern Asia Division or East-Central Africa Division, for example, would surely benefit from calling volunteers to help in remote areas of the conference where there is a great need for workers, but not enough ISEs to fill that need.

Perhaps this conference director needs Pathfinder directors or church pastors to fill positions in remote areas; maybe he needs people who could to help teach worship orders and styles to a newly born church congregation.

For these kinds of positions, volunteers with degrees in education or theology would be an asset for the conference director even though they would not be working directly with him.

Whether they call volunteers to work with them directly or indirectly, if missionaries were to really take advantage of all that volunteers have to offer, the possibilities could be endless, and the return would be great.

Yet there seems to be one big obstacle to this beneficial partnership. Many institutions headed by ISEs simply do not have the money to pay for a volunteer’s room, board, insurance and stipend. If only there was a way to host a volunteer for free!

Imagine for a moment that there is a way to host a volunteer free of charge. Imagine that there is a program through which an ISE could call a volunteer who has been fully funded by a church, organization or wealthy individual. For ISEs who cannot afford to call volunteers, such a program could make a huge difference.

This program, however, need not be imagined; it is a reality! It is the His Hands program, and it is facilitated by the AVS office. The mission of the His Hands program is to encourage churches to fully sponsor volunteers who would like to serve overseas for a certain time period.

In return, the same churches would also be able to host a fully funded volunteer. The program is designed to make hosting a volunteer possible for churches or institutions that could otherwise not afford to do so.

Through His Hands, a clinic director could call a volunteer as a medical aid without having to write a check. Through His Hands, a conference director could, without having to pay a dime, bring a Pathfinder director from overseas to an area is his country where there is a need. Through His Hands, missionaries could build an even better partnership with volunteers.

All that the AVS office needs from institutions, conferences, schools or churches that want a His Hands volunteer are calls.

Regardless of the financial situation of their institution/conference, ISEs can fill out service requests for the church leaders and pastors, Pathfinder directors and teachers, nurses and computer technicians that they need. On the service request itself, an ISE can mark that he or she needs a fully funded His Hands volunteer.

While we cannot find volunteers for calls that we don’t have, we can do everything in our power to fill the calls we do have, regardless of the funding that calling institutions can or cannot offer.

Perhaps it is time now to ask yourself, could His Hands help you have a better return for your work in the mission field?  If the answer is yes, maybe it’s time to consider partnering with volunteers.

By Jill Noel Walker

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#Cross-cultrual Leadership, work

#Intercultural Communication, conflict, cross-cultural communication

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