By Emily Drayne
People who serve mission organizations or other ministries that utilize interns should consider five important matters to ensure the experience is enlightening, enriching, and enjoyable.
Be a Mentor
Come alongside the intern. Work with them. Take time to explain what you do and why you do it a particular way. Encourage workers—whether in an office or in the field—to do the same.
During my internship in China, I taught English. Even though I loved my internship, I quickly learned that teaching was not my strong suit—or something I wanted to do my entire life. But it didn’t negate from my experience. Being pushed out of my comfort zone helped me gain experience (and coping abilities). And what helped most was having supportive coworkers.
Give Them the Experience
Internships are designed for learning and growth. It’s a time for an inexperienced person to explore an area of ministry. Don’t assign only menial tasks to interns.
Ask about the intern’s likes and dislikes and try to line up activities and responsibilities that correspond with their skill set. Ask for their feedback and suggestions about your programs. Give responsibilities to interns as you would anyone else. Even if an intern fails, offer them constructive criticism with some grace.
Provide Intentional Training
A person excels when they are given the right tools at the beginning. It’s best to assign an intern to an employee who can provide that training in a helpful and friendly way. (Be sure to clearly indicate who that trainer is.) For any job, training is part of the process. Some interns require more training than others, and some tasks also require more training. Be patient. If you take the time to train an intern, the likelihood of success increases dramatically.
It’s important to make interns feel like part of the team. Encouragement goes a long way toward achieving that.
There were times in China when I felt so dumb trying to tutor someone in English, but having missionaries and workers there support me and say, “Everyone here has struggled,” set my mind at ease to just keep working at it. If you’re a missionary and you dig wells, work with farmland, teach local women a trade, or perform any specialized skill, think about your first few days on the job and remember that no one is perfect.
Be upfront and truthful with your interns. Tell them what to expect, especially those interns who will be traveling overseas to a mission field. Most importantly, tell them what’s expected of them. It can be scary going into an unfamiliar environment without a clear direction! Provide a sample schedule of what they’ll be doing day-to-day.
Do an honest self-assessment, as well. Do you have enough work for an intern? Do you have time to talk with, train, and instill a positive experience for him or her? There’s no shame in saying no.
Interns are a lot of work for the employer. It’s important to make sure you’re both on the same page.
Focusing on these key areas will help you provide a well-rounded experience for your interns. Who knows, you may even think about keeping them on after they’re internship ends!
Emily Drayne lives in North Carolina and has served with the International Conference on Missions since 2011.