By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
At the Nehemiah Teams Training Center in Mentone, the view is expansive and so is the mission — to prepare young missionaries to finish the Great Commission in this generation.
“IMB President David Platt has called for limitless missionaries going out to the nations and for more pathways to get them there. Nehemiah Teams Advance Operations Training (AOT) is working toward that goal,” said Jess Jennings, an International Mission Board (IMB) representative in Southeast Asia who provides leadership for AOT.
Open to young adults ages 18–29, AOT is a residential training program held at the Nehemiah Teams Training Center at the top of Lookout Mountain in DeKalb County. Whereas Nehemiah Teams are deployed for summer-long international missions assignments, AOT trainees spend four months on campus and are then deployed to work alongside IMB and North American Mission Board (NAMB) personnel for assignments ranging from two months to two years.
“With AOT, we strive to fill longer-term requests through the normal channels of the IMB and also meet strategic needs in North America among refugees and unreached people groups,” Jennings said.
The AOT model is part of the strategy Jess Jessings and his wife, Wendy, have been using in the Philippines for the past six years. There, Filipino believers engage in discipleship training and are mobilized to go to unreached communities in their homeland to evangelize and plant churches. About 60 Filipino national believers have been trained in church planting and evangelism so far, Jennings said.
AOT in the U.S. will serve the same mission for American believers though their missions field may be anywhere in the world, according to AOT trainer Tyler Faught, who lives and works at the training center.
“We focus on evangelism tools and a church-planting framework that our team members can use in a variety of situations,” Faught said. “We also see a big part of our focus as mobilizing Americans to be involved in supporting and sending missionaries.”
For trainees time spent at AOT is not unlike a college semester though the focus is on nurturing a closer relationship with God and with other participants. Mornings are spent in Bible study and prayer. Afternoons focus on team-building and cross-cultural missions activities, once again focused on strategies that can be applied in a variety of contexts. The goal is to give trainees a “toolbox” of resources to serve effectively anywhere in the world.
Building community is another important part of AOT, Faught said.
“For many in this generation, communication and hanging out are done online. They’re not doing as much in person as they used to. So AOT is an opportunity to demonstrate what a healthy, gospel-centered community looks like,” Faught said. “Trainees see the value of having accountability, of working with others who are passionate about their relationship with the Lord and of supporting each other in striving for Christ-likeness together.”
Training is about developing independence as well as nurturing team dynamics, both of which are important in the missions field, he said. When he travels to Africa in July to assist Nehemiah Teams in the region, Faught will be evaluating whether the teams are meeting the goals set by the missionaries and how well team members are working together.
“It’s all about trying to find out ways we can better prepare students to help missionaries carry out their strategies,” Faught said.
Sending well-prepared volunteers into the field makes a big difference in their effectiveness, said Chad Stillwell, IMB student mobilization leader.
“For every hour of discipleship or training students in programs like AOT receive prior to missions service, we see real rewards in both their confidence and effectiveness in sharing the gospel, discipling new believers and starting churches,” Stillwell said. “AOT is a model for training and discipleship of student and young adult missionaries.”
AOT also offers an opportunity to experience the church like it was in the beginning, Faught said.
“In Acts we see how the church grew and how determined believers were even in the midst of persecution to share the gospel and go where the gospel had not been spread,” Faught said. “This semester really shows you how you can be part of what Scripture calls us to do. To me, that’s pretty exciting.”
AOT fall semester will begin Aug. 17 and run through Dec. 17. No prerequisites are needed to apply for AOT. Applications and more information about program costs and expectations are available at www.ntp52aot.com. Applications received by Aug. 1 will receive first consideration.
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