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New Mission Institute director Doss to prioritize missionary families

Institute smoothes cultural transition for Inter-Division Employees

New Mission Institute director Doss to prioritize missionary families

New Institute of World Mission director Cheryl Doss teaches one of several three-week intensives during which missionary families worldwide learn the skills they'll need to effectively minister in a new culture. [photo: courtesy Adventist Mission]

Missionaries might not learn to like a new cuisine in three weeks, but during the Institute of World Mission's training intensives, they get a jumpstart in cultural sensitivity, says the Institute's new director, Cheryl Doss.

Doss is no stranger to adapting to new cultures -- a United States native, she spent her teenage years in southern Africa, where she met her husband. The couple later returned to Malawi, where they served as missionaries for 16 years and raised a family.

"You have to be willing to give up some of your comforts, maybe even some things you consider essentials," she says. "The idea is to follow Jesus, who came to Earth as an example of a missionary," she says.

Since 1966, the Institute of World Mission -- based on the campus of Seventh-day Adventist-run Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States -- has helped smooth the transition between cultures for thousands of missionaries and volunteers worldwide.

The Institute currently trains up to 120 missionaries and their families every year during about four intensives in various locations. Next month, 27 will meet in Thailand. The course is designed to equip missionaries with the tools and the mindset they need to "not only survive, but thrive" in a new environment, Doss says.

"If you can learn to work with and love people who are very different from you at the Mission Institute, at least you know it's possible, and you have a better chance of doing it outside," she says.

A missionary's attitude toward change is what successfully roots him or her in a new culture, Doss says. "Can they suspend judgment when they see differences? Can they appreciate people who are different, and even affirm those differences? And can they survive as an intact family and maintain personal spirituality through all this?"

Williams Costa, who, along with his wife, Sonete, attended an Institute intensive taught by Doss in 2009, said he's pleased to see her as its new director. "I was impressed by her attitude toward differences and willingness to learn," he said.

Despite the "concentrated" nature of the course, its discussion on how different cultures relate to food, clothing, behavior, time management and money proved invaluable when he moved from Brazil to world church headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, to serve as associate director for the Communication department, Costa said.

While some missionaries "slip through the cracks," almost all Inter-Division Employees attend an Institute intensive, either before or soon after their departure, Doss says. After 10 years at any post, they're encouraged to attend again.

In 2000, while working on her doctorate in Christian Education with an emphasis on intercultural and mission studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, Doss began working part-time for the Institute as a curriculum developer. Later she moved into a post as associate director.

Now, as director, Doss says the Institute's five-member team is hoping to expand its services. On their to-do list is developing an online database of training materials, teaching aids and other resources for missionaries, volunteers and educators. "We're constantly developing new things, and we want to make them accessible to people everywhere," she says.

Of particular interest to Doss is an expanded continuing education program for missionaries. A three-week intensive might be enough to secure a strong foundation, but "it needs to be reinforced," she says, not to mention missionaries inevitably face challenges and situations they couldn't have anticipated before actually moving to a new culture.

"We'd like to have an online support system once culture shock really sets in, or if a couple starts a family and wonders how best to raise children in another country," Doss says.

Doss earned her master's degree in Christian Education and Family studies, and she says missionary work can challenge family unity if its members don't balance the stress and demands of a missionary post.

Under her watch, Doss would also like to see the Institute develop a stronger research focus and continue to serve as a mission resource for the church. The Institute hopes to study missionaries and their families to better understand missionary family dynamics and issues surrounding cultural adjustment and job effectiveness.

"We need to learn what helps missionaries be effective so we can empower them to better serve the mission of the church," Doss says.

Doss replaces the Institute's former director, Lester Merklin, who last year accepted directorship of the Adventist Church's Global Center for Adventist Muslim Relations.