Missionary Training in the Most Diverse Mile of America

Brooke wants to be a missionary long-term, and she needs training and experience to get there from here. She found both with a ministry in Clarkston, Georgia.


Marti Wade


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May 25, 2023


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Say you sense God leading you to pursue cross-cultural service. What would it look like?

  • You might be a medical professional, an engineer, an English teacher or an aid worker.
  • You might serve in a jungle or desert, a distant megacity or among refugees in your backyard.
  • You could be an evangelist and church planter, a team leader and Bible teacher.

With so many possibilities, getting trained can be tricky. Yet Pioneers has several training partners who do a great job helping people get a solid foundation for serving in missions, wherever God may lead them. This may be particularly important for those just getting started in missions… people like Brooke, who graduated from high school about a year ago.

Open to anywhere

We asked Brooke how she got interested in missions. “I don’t think there was a specific moment I thought, ‘I really want to be a missionary,’ but shortly after I truly came to know the Lord and began walking with Him, I realized that changed everything. How could I possibly spend my life doing anything but sharing Him with others?” She was 15 or 16 years old at that point.

“I’m open to anywhere, any people group. I don’t have a specific ministry I’m interested in,” she says. “That makes it hard to narrow things down.”  She wanted to go on a short-term mission trip, but anything that was just a week or two didn’t seem long enough. She approached a well-known missionary agency. That door closed when they couldn’t find a placement for her.

Then she heard about the Pioneers Venture program, which places people with long-term teams among the unreached for at least a month and up to a year. It’s great for people passionate about the gospel but not ready to buy a one-way ticket to the nations. They can experience missionary life up close and explore ways God might use them while being mentored by long-term missionaries.

Training with GFM

In the meantime, Brooke learned about Global Frontier Missions (GFM), which has an immersive five-month Missionary Training School in the Atlanta suburb of Clarkston. The program is designed to help students grow in knowledge, personal character and hands-on experience so they can be effective in cross-cultural ministry overseas or in North America.

And Clarkston is a great place to do it. The city is home to thousands of refugees from more than 60 countries who speak more than 100 languages and dialects. It’s described as the most diverse square mile in America. In Clarkston, you can meet and learn how to engage with people from all over.

Brooke didn’t see it that way at first. “I was like, ‘No way. I want to go overseas somewhere.’ But then I went to a week-long discipleship program where God taught me a lot about surrender. Not just saying I want to live wholly for His glory but truly desiring that and laying my life before Him.”

In Clarkston, you can meet and learn how to engage with people from all over.

As she learned more about Clarkston and the Missionary Training School, she realized how helpful spending a season there could be. Pioneers, a long-time partner with GFM, gave the program its stamp of approval. If she liked, she could pair the five-month Missionary Training School with seven months on a Venture trip, making it a one-year experience. GFM calls this a Train and Go Apprenticeship. Brooke’s parents were also more comfortable sending her to Georgia rather going overseas immediately.

Whether Brooke will go with Venture and where and when—or join Pioneers long-term—remains to be seen. But the lessons she’s learned through her GFM experience will help her make a strategic impact wherever God takes her.

Partnering to equip and send missionaries to the unreached

GFM partners with a variety of sending agencies. These ministries send would-be missionaries to Clarkston for training or experience. And when GFM has students who don’t have an agency and are looking for someone to send them, GFM is quick to suggest they consider Pioneers.

“We love Pioneers and the intentional, innovative way they go about sending to the unreached,” says Laney, GFM’s Partnership Coordinator. “They are a large, established organization,  well able to come alongside local churches as they shepherd, send and support cross-cultural workers in hard places. They have many locations where individuals can serve. And they prioritize serving on a team. Pioneers also works with local, indigenous churches and church leaders when possible and provides holistic care for the missionaries sent their way.”

What’s included in the Missionary Training School?

We called Brooke in Clarkston as the five-month Missionary Training School was wrapping up. “I’ve loved being here and loved all the people I’ve met,” she said. “Being surrounded by such a close community of mission-minded people pursuing Jesus has been one of my favorite parts.”

Brooke’s class has only eight people, while most Missionary Training School cohorts are a bit larger. This group is also younger and earlier in their mission journeys than most. “For four of us, this is our first time away from home,” Brooke says. “A lot of us aren’t entirely sure what our next steps are.” The program also accepts people who are already connected with an agency and decided or been encouraged to pursue this type of training before they go to the field. One of Brooke’s classmates is preparing for a two-year assignment in South America.

In the classroom…

The eight students spend their mornings in the classroom, focusing on a different missions-related topic each week. Trainers address mission motivations, the role of prayer, team dynamics, world religions, evangelism and discipleship, community development and more. Students read a different book each week, write responses to what they are reading and learning and have other homework to complete. “It’s pretty intense,” Brooke admits.

But the program is not just academic. Students explore what the Bible has to say about each topic and consider a variety of views. The GFM trainers avoid supplying easy answers or telling the students what to think. Instead, they encourage each class of students to wrestle with the topics and discuss them.

Much of the training is very practical. Brooke’s class learned about language learning and spent hours applying methods missionaries use on the field to start learning Amharic, a language spoken in Ethiopia, with help from Amharic speakers in Clarkston. Throughout the program, Brooke has been struck by the importance of valuing and loving other people and approaching ministry as a learner, not someone coming in with all the answers.

… And on the streets

When they aren’t in the classroom, the class is out in Clarkston, serving and building relationships. Some have been tutoring refugee children or teaching ESL classes. Brooke’s group has knocked on doors in a specific apartment complex where many refugees live. When people answered the door, she explained, “We ask if we can pray for them and just go from there.”

Sound awkward? The first time they tried it, Brooke was unsure. “That was probably the most surprising thing for me. We’re just going to knock on people’s doors and expect them to invite us in?!” As she discovered, though, refugees are often lonely, and most are hospitable. They enjoy guests. When people welcome them in, the group visits them again to get to know them, learn about their culture and listen to their stories. When appropriate, they also share scripture and minister to those they meet.

“We’re just going to knock on people’s doors and expect them to invite us in?!”

“We’ve met quite a few believers,” said Brooke, who was surprised about that. “I loved getting to hear their testimonies.” A formerly Muslim woman from Iran shared how she always used to feel distant from God. The harder she worked, the further away He seemed. She felt God was angry with her and had no peace. Then she met some Christians who had what she was missing and came to know Jesus. Persecuted for her faith, she went to Turkey as a refugee and eventually was able to make it to Clarkston.

“Her English is not the best, but she explained, ‘Now when I’m sitting on the couch, it’s like I’m leaning my head on Jesus’ shoulder. That’s how close He is.’ That was so cool. Jesus is the same all over the world!”

Lessons learned

With all she has learned in the classroom and the community, Brooke feels she is a completely different person. “Maybe it’s because I’m young, but there are so many things I had no idea about. They prepare you in ways you don’t even think you need to prepare.”

Brooke still struggles to know what’s next—college? Pioneers? Something else? But she knows the important thing is to keep walking with God. “I realized I don’t actually care about what I do and where I am. I just want to be with God. Where He is. I’ve learned there’s not just one way to serve Him or share the gospel. All the ambiguity and not knowing exactly where I land on things has been challenging, but I’ve also learned to just trust God. I don’t need to have it all figured out right now.”

Missionary Training School classes start twice a year. Apply by June 1 to join the August to December class.

Note: “Brooke” is a pseudonym.

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