Students on mission trip: ‘Closest thing to Jesus’

April 30, 2019 / by / 0 Comment

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

Sophomore Colton Davis said that verse — John 13:35 — was the soul of a trip he and 13 other Grand Canyon University students took to the Dominican Republic this spring.

A team of 14 GCU students went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic this spring.

Davis and Corien Whitney led a group that assisted in multiple projects. Some students conducted Bible studies with women and children, others reached out to young men on the streets and in prison.

Students were split up during the day to different sites geared to their specific areas of interest.

Davis did social work and was among the group of students in the prison ministry. His group spent one day encouraging inmates and reminding them that people still care about them.

“We met a guy that had just been sentenced to 15 years three weeks ago and he was really discouraged in that, so we were just there to encourage him and to show him we really do care and people outside of the prison really care about him, because they sometimes don’t feel that way,” Davis said.

Freshman Abigail Haverdink said she fell in love with a group of special needs children who, despite hardships in their lives, showed her what unconditional love looked like.

“The joy and love of the kids, that’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Jesus,” Haverdink said. “They loved everyone there so unconditionally, and that’s what Jesus does with us.”

Abigail Haverdink (third from left) and several other GCU students worked with special needs children on the trip.

Haverdink worked in one of only three special needs schools in the country and bonded with a group of under-served children. She spent her week teaching children, but by the end of the trip they had taught her something, too.

“They taught me so much about how we need to be treating everyone,” she said. “Here it’s pretty easy because everyone is super great at GCU and it’s easier to just get along, but there’s other people where it’s a lot harder and I have been able to put that into practice.”

In the mornings, her group would have a day camp with the students, but in the afternoon her group would do occupational ministry.

Naomi Gaddy-Thurmin also learned from the women and children there, but just as educational was observing a local woman who worked with other women.

“She didn’t have to travel far,” Gaddy-Thurmin said. “That really impacted my life because I was thinking about doing women’s social work and traveling and I can do it in my own community, and I can impact the same lives here that I can anywhere else.”

Gaddy-Thurmin and others in her group participated in Bible studies with the women in the community played games, such as tag, and did arts and crafts with the children.

In many ways it was what you could expect from a mission trip, but for the GCU students it was so much more. Gaddy-Thurmin found the Dominican stay to be much more meaningful than a previous trip to Mexico.

Students who barely knew each other before leaving grew close while on the trip.

“More relationships were built and seeds were planted,” Gaddy-Thurmin said. “I feel like I’ll go back again, and I will see the same people all working in the same community and I’ll see the seed grow into something beautiful. In Mexico I was more like, ‘I’m going to do all this stuff but I’m not going to see you again,’ like, ‘Here is all of me, this is all I can give you.’”

Haverdink also had been to Mexico and said the biggest difference was how small the group was on the Dominican Republic trip.

“In Mexico I went with a team of like 75-plus people, and so for this, only being there with 14 people, you just grew so much together. We just truly knew each other’s hearts, and I think that was super awesome,” she said.

Davis said the group was able to grow close in a short time despite not meeting before they left for the airport.

“We had people coming up to us and asking how long somebody has known someone and they say three days and they say, ‘Oh, I thought you guys had been friends for years,’” he said.

The students’ flight to the Dominican at the start of the trip was delayed 4 1/2 hours, leaving plenty of time for everyone to meet and start forming relationships.

“God had a plan for our layover,” Gaddy-Thurmin said.

Several students said the experience was so beneficial, they want to go back. Davis said it showed him “how to actually love people the way that we’re supposed to love as believers.”

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or


Related content:

GCU Today: Children’s faith inspires students on mission trip

GCU TodayMission trips turn into ‘aha moment’ for students

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