Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It’s coming!

Though it may be ancient history for you (as it is for me) an important day is fast approaching for a certain group of people. It is the day that the latest graduates from the AIM program will cross the stage, receive their certificate, and officially conclude their commitment. Though most have been back from their field assignments for months, this will still be a significant experience as it marks the end.

For those of you that experienced it, what are your specific memories about that day? What was it like for you? Do you remember how it felt to see everyone again? Can you still remember how much people had changed, physically and spiritually? Maybe you felt sadness because it was done or maybe you felt excited because of what you were doing next, but whatever you experienced you probably have some strong memories about it.

Well, on March 13 I have the privilege to speak to these students. I have thought and prayed long and hard about what to say to them. I do realize, though, that I am limited. I am limited to my own experience. Though I have talked to hundreds of AIM alumni over the last 15 years, I still only have my vantage point. So I’m wondering, what would you say? More specifically, what do you wish someone had told you? If you were able to go back and address your AIM class what would you have want said to you that would have helped you to get through the transition smoother and in an even more healthy way? What would you have said to encourage? To challenge? To help your audience cling even tighter to their relationship with the God who made and has purpose for them? What would you say?

I have no illusions that this one speech will fix everything, but if it is able to bless one student, that is a tremendous blessing that I want to participate in. I ask that you would be praying for me that I would do this in a way that would bring honor to God and that you would send me your thoughts so that I could more fully express ideas that would bring greater healing to His people.

- Jason Thornton


  1. Wow, that's a big question. I can't wait to hear what you have to share. I'm sure it will bless many.

    This wasn't graduation, but I remember the first time I was with AIMers again after being home from the field for almost 6 months. I remember being overwhelmed with a feeling of belonging. I hadn't realized I was missing it, but being with teammates, I felt a bond over what we had experienced together. Being with fellow AIMers again renewed my soul in a way I didn't know it needed.

  2. In March of 1997, AIM began to offer a 2 day reentry program that happens right before graduation. One of the main reasons was to accomplish exactly what you are talking about Tim. We greatly underestimate the restoring power of shared community. AIM so intensely bonds you with people, especially your classmates, that being back together can be a huge part of the transition process. I sat through portions of AIM Reentry last year and found it very powerful. For those of you who are graduating, I highly recommend it.

  3. Dear Graduates of AIM,

    Congratulations on your graduation day. You have earned the right to stand where you stand today, through hard work, sleepless nights, separation from family and home, and the "drinking from the firehose" that is any class taught by Ed Wharton. Enjoy and celebrate this day.

    But with all of my heart and passion I tell you this: do not think that you are now no longer an AIMer!

    The saying, "Once an AIMer, always an AIMer" means something, because it contains the truth of the fact that your journey has only just begun.

    It has been said that for the ("real") AIMer, "You can take the AIMer out of the mission field, but you cannot take the mission field out of the AIMer." This saying, too, has deep and true meaning.


    If you have caught and keep the vision of world evangelism...
    If you have learned and seen the heart of Christ for the lost...
    If you have tasted the delicous joy of being used by God to bring unsaved souls to the cross...
    If you have witnessed the miracle of resurrection in seeing a spiritually dead person descend into the grave of baptism and arise from it to walk in newness of life...
    If you have felt the crushing burden of walking among the masses of the lost...
    If your heart has broken and your eyes have cried bitter tears for those who do not know God's grace...
    If you made mistakes, failed at times, longed for home and sometimes just wanted to quit, and saw God do something with and through you anyway...
    If you have shared the words of life given in the Scriptures and seen the awesome transformative power it wields...

    Then dear AIM graduate.....MARCH ON. Stay in the fight. Keep the faith. Share what you have learned. Tell someone else. Promote and recruit others to AIM. Now that you have gone, SEND.

    Now that you have returned from the field, you have been transferred to a new platoon, but the same spiritual war for the souls of men and women rages on. Whether you enter college, the corporate world, or marry and settle down in a home of your own, NEVER STOP AIMING. Wherever you stand, there stands your mission field.

    You did the hard and noble work required to grant you the privilege of standing here today. But you also were given such an awesome privilege from the generosity of others. Honor their contributions and their investments in you by refusing the temptation to treat AIM as only a 2-year activity, which now completed, can be laid aside and left in the dust of your pursuit of your future.

    Never stop AIMing. Always keep moving forward. And may God richly and deeply bless your life and that of those whose lives and eternities God will change through your willing obedience to His call.

    Yours In Christ,

    Jon K. Smith
    AIM '83
    Botswana, Africa

  4. Excellent work Jon. Very well-written. Thanks!

    I have had several send me messages at my FB and they have also had great suggestions. Every suggestion is helpful because it either reinforces the importance of sharing something or opens my eyes to other aspects that need to be addressed. Thanks so much for your help. Together we are much more effective than when any of us work alone. So don't hesitate to send your thoughts because each of us has a unique perspective that won't be shared unless we express it. If you don't want to comment here, feel free to send to jason@memorialdrive.org or message me at my FB. Thanks!

  5. I have thought about this same thing Jason, what would have wanted to hear and what should I have been told when I graduated. I would have loved to have heard that it was going to get harder. I don't know if people go away from their AIM graduation believing that they have arrived, or they have done their tour of duty on the mission field and that was it. I have talked with a lot of people that seemed surprised that life outside of AIM was harder than when they went into AIM. Truly I dont know what you could say that would help. I will tell you something that help me though was knowing that people still needed me and were still praying for me.

  6. Joe - I think you make a great point about it begin more difficult. There are enough of them that have been back long enough to have come to this realization, but I think someone saying it out loud does help. Our expectations shape our experience so the more realistic feedback that can be provided, the better. I think your point is also well made that feeling needed and prayed for is a big deal. I am still prayerfully considering how to best express this.
    Thanks for your thoughts!