Through God’s provision, The Austin Stone sent out our 250th goer in 2020, marking a huge milestone since the 100 People Network was established in 2009. As we explore the history of mission at The Austin Stone in this edition of the Field Memo, we talked with some of our most recently launched goers, Polly and Winston, who serve as cross-cultural workers to the Middle East-North Africa region.
In this interview, Polly and Winston shared how The Austin Stone played a foundational role in equipping them before moving overseas, as well as insight on what it looks like in their lives to think strategically long-term but to remain “adaptable in our days.” (Note: Goer pseudonyms have been used.)
What did your journey from Austin to the field look like?
Polly: It felt like a long journey for us, but we know that the time it took to prepare in Austin was important in light of how long we’d like to remain on the field.
[Winston did a Disciple-Making Intensive (DMI) when he was in college and then did a Goer Missional Community after he graduated. While Polly and Winston were engaged, they took the Mission of God class together. Once married, they did a DMI together, then a GMC together, and then did another post-GMC group as they raised support and finalized their launching overseas.]
The DMI was a great exposure to God’s call on all believers to make disciples, regardless of their current location. GMC helped to solidify that call as well as show practical, strategic steps involved in planting churches and trying to make our ministry reproducible. It also exposed us to more unreached peoples and various teams around the world. In all, the journey took about four and a half years for Winston from when he started pursuing training from The Austin Stone to when we launched.
How were you first exposed to overseas work and how did you sense God’s leading in that direction? How did The Austin Stone play a role in this?
Winston: My first exposure to overseas working was at a very young age. I grew up around Andy Kampman [For the Nations’ Long-Term Mobilization Director] and my parents were very passionate about the nations being reached with the gospel. I remember sitting in on support-raising meetings that goers had with my parents, and I took Perspectives in middle school. As a middle-schooler I felt a strong call that I was supposed to serve in the Middle East/North Africa region, so I began studying Arabic in high school and college in order to be as prepared as I could be.
When I came to Austin and got plugged in with The Austin Stone, it turned out that Andy Kampman had beat me in moving to Texas, so we connected and he told me about DMIs and I jumped in. Polly was exposed in college when she heard from the Traveling Team and during her time with The Navigators. When we got engaged and took the Mission of God class together, she was exposed even more to God’s heart for the nations and how it’s not just in Matthew 28:19-20 but actually a central thread of the entire Bible.
What was your experience in being equipped by The Austin Stone when preparing to move overseas? What are you thankful for from that process?
Polly: We took advantage of a lot of The Stone’s equipping resources, like the DMI and GMC groups, as well as a condensed version of The Austin Stone Development Program (ASDP). In these groups we learned a lot and gained a ton of practice sharing the gospel.
Winston: We know it doesn’t go this way for everyone, but our GMC experience was like a mini version of what it has been like to be on a team overseas, so a lot of the rhythms and values felt familiar when we landed over here.We are also thankful for the friends we made while we were being equipped.Many of these friends are financial and prayer partners with us now, and it is very cool how they’ve gotten to see the progression and process of our desire to go overseas, to being equipped more and more, to finally launching. All in all, we are incredibly grateful for all of the equipping that The Austin Stone provided for us— it has made the transition much easier.
If you were to offer advice or perspective to a future overseas worker from The Austin Stone, what would you encourage them with?
Winston: We can’t say it enough—we highly recommend the trainings that The Austin Stone has to offer. We have benefited greatly from the solid theology we learned in ASDP, the practical training of a GMC, as well as our understanding of God’s heart for the nations from Mission of God. Take advantage of the resources at your disposal!
Polly: Abide! Spending time with Jesus and growing in your affection for Him and your relationship with Him is foundational. There will be days that the training and preparing process feels unending or when you reach your initial location and the language seems impossible or even when you see parts of the culture you’ve entered that have not been redeemed by Christ and just make you sad or angry.
In all these times, your devotion to the nations or your love for unreached peoples will not be enough to endure you—only your love for God will let you keep going. So do the work on the front end to be in a healthy and solid place with the Lord prior to launching overseas, since it really doesn’t get easier when you’re going through culture shock.
Winston: Some other advice that we were given and we appreciated was that it makes more sense long-term to find a team that fits your personality, vision, and values prior to joining a sending organization. You will have much more interaction with your team long-term and those relationships will be close, vulnerable ones, so the fit with your teammates is likely more important than which organization you launch with. The Austin Stone has connections with a lot of teams, so they can help you get in touch with teams prior to selecting an organization, whereas without their connections you might need to join an org prior to being able to connect with teams.
Polly: It’s also never too early to pursue some counseling. Being overseas will shine a greater light on any aspects of sin (generational sin, ongoing sin struggles, past trauma, etc.) so getting started with some counseling beforehand could be very beneficial. Also, don’t be afraid to do counseling beforehand or fear that it will potentially delay your timeline of launching as it will benefit you in the long-term and help you thrive on the field.
What does it mean to you, as a goer, to think strategically long-term but to remain “adaptable in our days”?
Winston: We think this is a fundamental core value, not just for goers, but for all believers. Although it isn’t written as a team value, our team is designed around the idea that the best way to get to where you believe God is calling you to serve long-term isn’t necessarily to go straight there. Our [hub] team takes people for one to four years, in order to first learn language and be exposed to the culture of the region, as well as to continue growing in our abiding with Christ and getting experience in church planting movements. This means that most people on the team will not still be in our current country after a few years, but we believe that starting here is the best long-term strategy so that we can be effective when we land in the next place that God has called us to serve by having a strong foundation in those three areas of focus.
Polly: More recently for us, we have just learned that we’ll need to return to the States for a season. It feels like a step back, but we are trusting God that adapting our plans to our current situation is the best thing for our long-term work on the field. Ultimately, we’ve learned that things don’t always go as we plan, but they always go the way God has planned.