Monday, November 16, 2009

Why have another AIM Alumni Group?

As of this moment there are at least 3 different AIM Alumni or interest Facebook Groups. So why add another? Ultimately the reason is that we feel led by God to serve those who are hurting, but let’s begin at the beginning.

When a person enters AIM they are typically at a place in life where they desire change. Though the type of change varies, change is what is desired. And AIM quite skillfully provides the way to make that change. Through intense classes, intense relationships and intense scheduling each student is refined by fire with a specific target in mind: The Field. For those that continue on to go to The Field, this intensity continues. Whether you are in the US or in a foreign country, you are placed in the center of a community and church culture that is not your own, under the guidance of someone you don’t know, serving people that you desperately want to help. It is intense. By this point you don’t think about it as intense, you think about it as “being an AIMer”.

Then suddenly, everything stops. You leave the field a month, a year or 20-something months later and life changes dramatically. It is not that you don’t have things to do or goals to accomplish. It is that you have had an identity refined by fire that suddenly ends. Though there are times that any AIMer wishes they weren’t called by that name, the loss of that name is startling, even if you don’t consciously notice it. Though there is now freedom, that freedom comes with the cost of suddenly feeling…AIMless (I know, I know, I’ll try not to do that in the future). Yes, reverse culture shock is a big and real issue, but culture shock doesn’t entirely account for the emotional whiplash that many encounter and the struggles with God, the church and themselves that they experience.

So that you will know, I love AIM. AIM was the tool that God used to change my life dramatically. My wife, 2 brothers and 2 sisters-in-law have gone through AIM. I have been an Assistant, a Staff Coordinator and a Field Coordinator. In the 7 years I have been at Memorial Drive Church of Christ, I have been thrilled to be part of sending 12 students to AIM and we are preparing others to go in the future. Any association I can have with AIM I jump at because I love the vision and love the people leading it. But the bottom line is that AIMers coming off the field need help and we want to be one of the places that they can get it. AIM has done its job of providing training and a place to live that training out. Likewise, they offer a brief reentry to help with the first steps back. Yet we, as alumni, want to do our part.

We want to provide a place where very specific information about the post-AIM experience can be gained. We want to provide encouragement and support to each other as a family of believers who share a common experience. We want to be a place where people can make connections so that recently returned students can find mentors to guide them through the first months home. We want to provide a forum so that we can share ideas that work. We want to be a catalyst for grass roots efforts to provide regional places to connect such as retreats. We want to help.

Anyone can be a critic. I have loads of experience in this area. We want to put all of our insight to good use. If there is something that would help others, instead of sitting on the sidelines and complaining about it, let’s jump in and see how God will lead us to be a blessing to the next generation of returning AIM students. Who knows, as we help others, we may find God healing us as well.

By faith…Jason Thornton


  1. Jason, this is wonderful! Thank you for getting this started. I would love to send this link to those about to leave the field or who have just left - would that be okay? Or would you rather people find out about it through another route?

    Re-Entry/Reverse Culture is such a hard time that, like their field experience, there is just no adequate preparation to deal with it. I pray that this avenue reaches more people and reaches them more deeply than what our little session before Graduation can.

    God bless you! (and we still miss you guys around here!)
    Barb Smith
    AIM '81 - Lesotho Africa

  2. Great idea Jason. If you're able you might think about coming to talk to the AIMers during re-entry, if only for a few minutes about how there's alumni out there who would love to help you adjust to coming back. Just a thought.

  3. I've always thought of it as a two-fold struggle. As I spent time reflecting on my AIM class over the years I saw two large lists of people who struggled. There were those who fell apart on the mission field and those who fell apart once they returned home. I think you're dead with your description of that second group Jason and I hope and pray that this serves as a tool to help AIMers when they return.

    Concerning those who "fell apart" on while on the mission field I've always grieved for them because the whole time you're in Lubbock you feel like a rockstar. You go around carrying your flag, being David going up against goliath, etc. But when you get to the field you painfully find out that you're not invincible and you begin to wonder if you should have taken Saul's armor!

    Anyway, I pray that your ministry brings a sense of peace and mission to those who return!

  4. Feel free to send this link to anyone who might enjoy reading it! We want to try and influence as many people as possible to know that there are others out there who understand and care!

  5. Thank you Jason. I had not thought of it this way, but you are right. I did feel some of this but not had a way to voice it. I pray this will be a great connect with those returning and that God will use all of us in this and other avenues for God's work. Again thank you. Charlynn

  6. Thanks for all the comments. It is tremendous to get this dialogue going.
    Barb - Great observation. Like most things that we have yet to experience(marriage, parenthood, cliff diving, etc.), it is nearly impossible to be fully ready for reentry. I had thought for the longest time, "If we just teach the students this or that, then they won't have these struggles". Though AIM can and will always tweak what they offer to provide the best experience they can, there is no way to prepare for all the things they face. (This is true of any educational environment).
    Ryan - I agree. I'm hoping that our efforts here will eventually broaden to help both groups.
    Josh - Great idea! Whether I can get down there or not the info needs to be shared. But since my brother is graduating and my sister-in-law is in this class, you may see me. :)
    Charlynn - You are so welcome. One of the challenges we face is that everyone's AIM experience is slightly different based on who they are, what their actual experience was and what they are returning to. Our advantage though is that there are so many of us in the Alumni group with so many varied experiences that, together, we should be able to offer great insight. The quicker we can help each student to find a "way to voice" what they are going through, the smoother they can transition to what God holds for them next in their journey.
    Love you all!

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. I am so excited that I have found this your post because I have been searching for some information about it almost three hours. You helped me a lot indeed and reading this your article I have found much new and useful information about this subject.