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