After an extensive search, SEND International named Michelle Atwell as the organization’s US Director. Michelle brings more than 18 years of experience working at ministries and nonprofits to the role. Today, she shares about SEND’s “Mount Everest” goals, why she wants to partner more closely with churches, and her desire to smash the roadblocks that keep people from becoming missionaries.
You’ve been on the job for about four months. What new things have you learned about SEND?
I am humbled and impressed by our people — people who give of themselves to the work of the Lord, whether it’s at the US Office or in far-away places. SEND has the best people. Their hearts are big. I love to share their stories.
You’ve actually had a long relationship with SEND. How did you get connected with the organization and what roles have you served in?
Some dear friends who were associated with SEND knew of my fund-raising background and brought me on board to serve on the Financial Development Committee. After a year there, I served on the US Council for five years. I also went through short-term term leader training, which prepared me to do church planting in Chernobyl, Ukraine.
When did you first feel called to missions work?
I’ve had a heart for global missions ever since I came to know the Lord as a college student at Oakland University in Michigan. Soon after I became a believer, I attended Urbana and learned that the world was much bigger than me and my area of Michigan, and I made a promise to the Lord that I would give my life in service of him to the nations in whatever shape or form that would take.
What experience have you had living overseas?
My first trip was a summer in Russia, doing lifestyle evangelism. I lived with Russian students and basically learned what it meant to minister incarnationally with people — to live life with them, to build relationships with them, to learn about their customs and their culture and how to share my faith in their context.
I developed a close relationship with a Russian family. I’d go visit them on the weekends, and that’s when my heart for the lost became real. My Russian “mom” would want to read my palms all the time and tell me about my fate, and in those moments, I was able to share with her that my story is written on the palms of Jesus.
I also was afforded the opportunity from 2011-2015 to lead teams from my local church to Chernobyl, Ukraine, for short-term, church-planting activities in remote villages.
The job description for your new role as US Director includes a pretty challenging goal: Double the number of missionaries mobilized each year while also cutting in half the time it takes to get them to the field. Why are these important goals, and how will you go about meeting them?
The Great Commission is important. There are still nearly 3 billion people who have not heard the name of Jesus, who have no access to a local church. So, why is this goal important? It’s important so that we can recruit more people to go to the field to proclaim the name of Jesus, to make disciples.
I certainly know that that is a Mount Everest goal. So, how do we approach it? Well, first in prayer. I can’t accomplish this goal on my own. I’m not gifted enough. But the Lord knows. He is the Lord of the Harvest. He calls people to the field. So, relying on him first and foremost is the number one strategy.
But then we work hard. A few things that I think are key:
- First, I’m very excited about working in partnership, in collaboration with other like-minded organizations like TEAM that bring tremendous value to SEND.
- Second, we need a good marketing strategy. How do we leverage digital marketing to our advantage? We know that approximately 60 to 70 percent of our leads come from online, so we need to invest there.
- Third, we need to remove roadblocks. We need to look at the whole mobilization process, from submitting a Get Started form all the way through to deployment. Do we have roadblocks that would be preventing people from becoming missionaries through SEND? Some factors are beyond our control, but we need to zero in on what we can control. So, for instance, I’m excited that our next Candidate Orientation Training will be five days, rather than two weeks.
What’s on the horizon for SEND US?
SEND International has a goal of sending 150 new missionaries to the field by 2020 — and the US Office aims to provide 90 of those. We also want to engage more unreached people groups. There are currently unreached areas in this world where we — and where our partner churches — want to place missionaries and build teams.
How is SEND partnering with local churches and mobilizing more missionaries?
This is an area that I’d like to see grow. My philosophy is that SEND is a servant to our churches. We work in partnership with our churches; we serve our churches. In spite of our name, it is really the church sending out missionaries. We need to partner with our churches to ensure they have the resources so that their missionaries are well-sent, well-trained, well-prepared.
I plan to spend a significant percentage of my time meeting with our churches to say, “I’m interested in what God is doing in your congregation. How are you dreaming about participating in the Great Commission? Is there space for SEND to come alongside of you and partner with you in that process? To share with you what is happening in the world of global missions? To share with you what we are seeing and hearing from our missionaries? To share with you training resources that we have that we will just give you if you are interested in doing something on your own?” We have a great breadth of churches of all sizes across the States. Especially for middle-sized or small churches, the resources we have can be a great toolkit.
What is your long-term vision for SEND US?
SEND US will be recognized as the agency of choice for short-term and career missionaries because we will offer the most effective, most efficient and most impactful care and support. We will listen to their needs, exceedingly deliver on their expectations and offer the greatest opportunities to fulfill the Great Commission. We will use innovation in marketing and technology, coupled with excellent relationships and partnerships with our churches, donors and support networks, to recruit more missionaries, reduce the time from appointment to field placement, and have the most competitive support requirements.
You helped run a ministry for the homeless for almost two decades. How will your experiences there affect your role at SEND?
The relational aspect of the work at SEND is very similar to what we did at Grace Centers of Hope. “People first” is what I learned at Grace Centers, and I take that with me wherever I go. People are our greatest resource.
In part 2 of this interview, Michelle shares her top tips for fund-raising, how she finds work/life balance, and what she would do with an unexpected $1,000,000. You can also click here to read more about her.
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