Earlier this month five intrepid young people flew out to Zambia, and found that seven of their bags of luggage and equipment hadn’t arrived.  Cue wry smiles all round among the experienced travellers.  “Welcome to Africa!”

This is all part of the training for young people on the Soapbox African Quest (SAQ) missions training course.  For six months they will learn the art of cross-cultural mission not in a lecture hall in England, but in situ, living and working alongside African people.  Experienced Zambian pastors will give lectures, eat meals with them, and work alongside them in their churches and communities, as the students develop and hone the skills they will need to function effectively as mission workers.

The course, which has been running now for 15 years and has dozens of graduates, continues to be a key part of preparing people for the mission field.  It is specifically designed to mix academic study, personal discipleship, field experience, and practical training in the skills needed to help them survive – including bricklaying and motor mechanics.

Many of the students have gone on to become full-time mission workers, and most of them have maintained a passion for global mission, made regular short-term visits, and been involved in missions on the home front.  Several students have returned over the years to become leaders and pass on to a new generation the experience and understanding of mission that they have had.  And for all of them, there is the long-term impact of SAQ on their spiritual lives, as the continue to unpack the significance of their training, experience and learning.

It’s not all about the students, though.  SAQ has left a legacy of people who have met Jesus through their ministry, not only in the environs of Ndola but in neighbouring districts and countries as well.  Their outreach programmes have touched thousands of lives, whether through the gospel presentations, relationships they’ve forged, or the buildings they’ve constructed.  Several church buildings, widows’ homes, schoolrooms and orphanages have been raised through the participation of SAQ.  They’re even responsible for introducing clean water supplies to a number of villages.

SAQ is based in a purpose-built accommodation block at Kaniki Bible College in Ndola, where they are able to meet, befriend and work alongside a number of future church leaders from several African nations.  The SAQ block includes dormitories for the students and separate accommodation for the leaders, together with a communal lounge, kitchen and study room.  Staff and students live and work alongside each other, which adds to the discipleship aspects, as experienced leaders share their lives with the students.  Tim & Gemma Mills, who have led the team for the last two years, describe the experience: It is a pretty intense program.  Each day we work alongside the volunteers visiting orphans, those suffering from HIV/Aids and doing practical projects together in various communities.

SAQ is run by the well-known mission agency Soapbox, and you can find out more about it at its website http://www.soapboxtrust.com/New/SAQ/Overview.html.  We particularly recommend SAQ for people looking to do something productive with their gap year.  They will have a great experience, blending personal development with practical service to others.  The programme runs from January to June, leaving several months after the end of the academic year to prepare and raise funds.  It’s not too early to apply for the 2013 intake though!