Mission Trips, Remixed

Date Posted: 
Monday, September 21, 2015

Mission trips can be all about doing. Overseas trips can be about construction projects, leading a kids’ camp, or teaching English.

But they can also be all about simply being. That being leads to the important, hands-on leadership lessons that students from across the RCA gained this summer through Project Timothy, a two-week mission experience for high school and college-age participants, with an emphasis on leadership development.

Teams of seven to eight students and leaders traveled to one of four sites—Brazil, India, Italy, or Peru—to work with RCA missionaries and mission partners in an intensive leadership and cultural immersion experience that helped deepen their ideas of leadership and expand their cultural awareness. It also gave them a chance to implement their leadership skills.

Leadership growth

During orientation, after taking assessments to discover their strengths and spiritual gifts, the students were commissioned to be leaders on their trips. The weeklong trips provided lessons in flexibility, patience, and other essential leadership qualities.

“Before the trip, I would have called myself a follower; I liked to have orders and follow them. That was my comfort zone,” says Elizabeth Fil, who worked with JJ and Tim TenClay, RCA mission personnel in Italy. “However, on the trip, I had to do my own thing and lead myself. No one was teaching me how to connect and overcome the language barrier. So, overall, I grew by making myself get out of my comfort zone.”

Sometimes the leadership growth came out of small things, as it did for Brenna Ellington, who also went to Italy. She responded to a request to braid hair from a little girl at Casa Mia, one of the places the team served. Quickly, the request from one little girl spread to all of the little girls at Casa Mia, and Ellington found herself braiding each girl’s hair—sometimes multiple times throughout the day.

While she was braiding hair for the umpteenth time, she felt the Lord saying to her, “Brenna, you need to pray for them.”

“So I started praying,” she says. “I prayed that they would remember their weird American friends. I prayed they’d remember their faith, and that there’s people out there who care for them.”

Cultural immersion

Each of the four sites also engaged the students in intentional cultural experiences. In Peru, RCA mission personnel Albino and Sandy Rodriguez work with youth from the countryside who come into the city of Cusco to further their education. Many of the indigenous youth are separated from their families for the first time and don’t have connections in the city, so the Rodriguezes help them find employment and lodging.

During the trip, the visiting students and the local Peruvians engaged in intentional activities to learn from one another and get at the cultural “whys.” For instance, the American students and the Peruvians each cooked and served one another a typical cultural meal, and then discussed why things are done the way they are done: Who is served first? How are people seated? How do you expect people to behave?

Another day, mixed teams of Peruvians and Americans participated in “The Amazing Race: Cusco.” They raced around the city, completing tasks that were actual jobs the Peruvian youth often do when they come to Cusco for school. The teams peeled potatoes, picked up trash in the street, helped transport bricks in a brick foundry, and hauled produce in the market.

Experiences like these helped both sets of young people understand each other more deeply, and connect despite the language barrier.

“I learned that relationships are built on so much more than just words,” says Holly Mungovan, who traveled to Peru. “Even though some of us spoke hardly any Spanish, and the Peruvians spoke very little English, we found a way to communicate with our shared love of Christ.”

A profound impact

Stephen Graham brought $6 worth of bouncy balls and Jolly Ranchers on his trip to Brazil. He shared them one day when the team was hanging out with children in an Amazon village. He was blown away by the reaction.

“Such tiny things brought such happiness,” he says. “I was really humbled. Their reaction helped me realize that I want to show that I really am a Christian instead of hiding it down inside.

“Why can’t we live like we’re missionaries all the time no matter where we are?”

The team that traveled to India visited an orphanage and distributed stuffed animals, each of which contained an audio Bible in the native language of the children. The stuffed animals and audio Bibles are part of JP Sundararajan’s outreach. Sundararajan works with Audio Scripture Ministries, an RCA mission partner, to distribute them.

Many of the volunteers were sobered to realize that this might be the first stuffed animal these children have ever received.

“Their rooms were so filled with laughter and joy of them playing with the stuffed animals, but the real joy was the audio Bibles in their language,” says Garrett Longino.

“Even though we were there for an hour and a half, which wasn’t my goal in being there, I saw that the short time we were there had the power to completely change their lives because of God’s word.”

Transforming communities

Mission trips can stamp youth in a way that produces lasting change.

Students like Jessie Bundz plan to bring new leadership knowledge and insight back to their home churches. Bundz’s church is looking for a youth pastor, and her experiences serving in Italy both challenged her to step up as a leader in her youth group and gave her a vision for how her community might be transformed.

“I’d like to see our community grow,” she says. “It’s very possible that there are people going through the motions day-to-day when they could be believing, hoping, living, and serving in Christ.

“During this trip I have felt called to be a leader at my church, and to help transform people and the community.”

Through their varied experiences, the students grew in courage, in cultural sensitivity, and in their commitment to God—all fundamental characteristics of Christian leaders.

“It showed me the joy found by life in Christ,” says Ashley Bakker, who went to India. “It made me fear God in a beautiful way, inspired me to live my faith out even deeper, and humbled me to see how large his kingdom is.”

Want to connect deeply with your faith and our world? Visit www.rca.org/volunteer and search for a volunteer opportunity.

Pray for the next generation of leaders in the church, asking God to develop their capacity to lead well.

Thank God for strong relationships with our mission personnel and partners that allow mutual learning.

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