Bethany Keener
Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Opportunities for cross-cultural learning increase

CHICAGO (Mennonite Mission Network) — Beginning this fall, RAD (Reaching and Discipling) participants will have a chance to experience the diversity Chicago offers. The discipleship training portion of RAD’s yearlong program will move from its present location near Fort Wayne, Ind., to the Windy City.

The board that governs RAD and the Great Lakes Discipleship Center began a discernment process about the future of the program last fall, according RAD director Darrell Gascho. The vision to move the training to an urban setting was fulfilled by a call from Glenn Balzer, national director of the DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) program. Balzer invited RAD to consider moving to Chicago, where the two programs could combine resources and personnel while remaining independent of one another.

The RAD board approved the move at their January meeting. The first Chicago training will begin in August and will be housed in a building owned by DOOR. The building in New Haven that has housed the discipleship center since its first participants joined in 1998 will be sold.

Both DOOR and RAD are partner programs of Mennonite Mission Network.

The RAD training period will decrease from three months to nine weeks. Morning teaching sessions will continue to provide biblical exploration of faith from an Anabaptist perspective, while afternoons spent in service locations will help participants think about how to live out what they’re learning.

“We’re inviting groups to take faith seriously and have discovered that the time spent in inner-city ministry reaffirms the faith development journey,” Gascho said.  He hopes evening times of reflection will be a place where young adults can discuss their experiences in a safe environment.

Discipleship training through RAD prepares participants for eight months of outreach, a portion of the program that will remain largely unchanged with the move. Teams are currently serving in Argentina, Sweden and Thailand by teaching English, doing service projects and supporting the ministries of long-term workers. The 2006-07 locations will be finalized later this summer.

The newest addition to the program is a two-month internship served in the participants’ home congregation following outreach abroad. A mentor from the home congregation will provide support for the duration of the program, including helping participants integrate their experiences into their congregational setting. Gascho said the internship rounds out the program and will be an asset to the sending congregations.

By moving to Chicago, RAD gains access to numerous resources through the partnership with DOOR, including leadership of the program’s city director, Krista Dutt. Along with her DOOR responsibilities, she will serve as training coordinator for RAD.

Gascho is excited about the possibilities training in the city will bring. “Chicago will provide a cross-cultural context in order to better prepare participants for their outreach experiences,” he said.

On any given day, Dutt can practice her Spanish with neighbors, eat authentic Indian curry or take a bus anywhere she wants to go. As a white woman, she worships with an interracial congregation and has plenty of opportunities to discover what it feels like to be a minority. 

“Diversity isn’t just about skin, but about culture, too,” Dutt said. She’s hopeful that cross-cultural experiences in the city, as well as overseas, will help young adults sharpen communication skills that they can use, even in what may seem to be a homogenous setting when they return home.

In the past, most of RAD’s participants have come from rural, white communities. Dutt will ask women and men who are leaders in Chicago’s African-American faith community to give spiritual direction to each participant during training. Gascho said this aspect of training will help participants begin to think about living cross-culturally as they meet a wide variety of people in the city.

“Hopefully [participants] will feel free to open up and learn from someone with a different perspective,” said RAD alumna and current prayer coordinator Kristen Whitehurst. Whitehurst thinks beginning this process of exploring other cultures early in the program will give participants a chance to challenge their assumptions, face fears and become more flexible before traveling to their outreach sites abroad.

 

 

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