Mission trips turn into ‘aha moment’ for students
By Karen Fernau
GCU News Bureau
Hannah Salazar spent part of the summer learning about the sex trafficking of children and the brothels in Thailand and got to help girls who had escaped.
The Grand Canyon University senior also spent time learning of Khmer Rouge’s genocide spree, one that killed nearly 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.
“I walked over bones in the killing fields. It was so hard to imagine that one out of four people were killed in that short time span,” she said.
Salazar’s lessons were learned during a two-week mission trip to Southeast Asia sponsored by GCU Global Outreach in partnership with Destiny Rescue, an international organization devoted to ending the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children.
Destiny Rescue has helped rescue nearly 1,400 children since it began working in 2001 in Thailand, according to organizers.
For Salazar, leader of a 15-student GCU team, the mission fortified her resolve to become a human rights lawyer and advocate.
“I love being part of a global church, traveling across the world to places where people speak a different language, live a different life, but have the same God in their hearts,” said Salazar, a psychology major from Albuquerque, N.M., who has participated in six international missions since high school.
For GCU missionaries such as Salazar, traveling to poverty stricken areas breaks their hearts while strengthening their faith.
“The missions have a lifetime impact,” said Blake Small, GCU’s global outreach manager. “The students can see that God’s doing work in countries that is so different from ours. It’s an ‘aha’ moment that changes their lives forever.”
All GCU missions combine evangelism with humanitarian work, but there is no one template.
“Every mission is different in its own way,” Small said.
This year, GCU sent 328 full-time undergraduates to 20 countries for a week to two months during spring and summer breaks. Mission destinations include Haiti, South Africa, Honduras, Kenya, Russia, China, Mexico and the Philippines.
All missions are in conjunction with 10 organizations, including the Australian-based Destiny Rescue.
Maggie Ciscomani, GCU’s global outreach coordinator, said the missions help students “find their global niche. They find out if they want to help refugees here, work with foreign students or find their passion abroad.”
Students spend months preparing for missions to minimize what can be an unsettling experience — gritty poverty, language barriers, sleeping in huts, eating unfamiliar food and witnessing the aftermath of war or natural disasters.
“Missions can be difficult, but the rewards are greater than the hardship,” Salazar said.
Those interested in mission work are invited to attend an information fair from 7-9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12 in Antelope Gym.
Students must apply and be accepted to the mission program. Teams are formed and October, and students meet twice a month until leaving on the mission.
Contact Karen Fernau at (602) 639-8344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.