Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the August 2019 issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version, click here.
By Ashlee Larrison
Vamos a hacer rompecabezas. ¡Vamos a jugar un juego!
Grand Canyon University junior Karli Burns and her team heard those pleas regularly when they arrived at their mission site. They didn’t need to know Spanish to understand that the children at the Boys and Girls Club in San Jose, Costa Rica, wanted to do a puzzle or play a game – the kids’ actions needed no translation.
“I can’t tell you how many kids I met for the first time and they ran and jumped into my lap and hugged me,” she said. “Language didn’t matter.”
Burns and her fellow students were able to communicate through gestures as simple as a hug. And it brought to mind a treasured memory when she was teaching an English class and got to share her favorite Bible verse (John 15:5):
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.
“It was kind of a full-circle moment for me because I remember when I first learned that verse, being in church at a pretty young age. Being able to share that with others now that I’m 20, I think was just a really beautiful thing,” she said.
That sort of message rang true for Burns and the other GCU students who went on mission trips this summer. Everywhere they went – Africa, Asia, Central America – they could feel God’s presence on a global scale.
“God is the same everywhere, and He doesn’t change whether you’re in the United States or in different countries,” Burns said. “It was worth it because it just showed me how much God’s love is universal.”
It opened their eyes
Junior Morgan McIntire had a similar experience on the other side of the world. McIntire and her group traveled to Cambodia and Thailand and were exposed to things that were inspiring and things that were hard to witness.
Destiny Rescue, a nonprofit focused on trying to end child trafficking and sexual exploitation, organized the trip and opened students’ eyes to the severity of the problem. One of their stops was in Bangkok, home to several large red-light districts, and what McIntire and her team saw put knots in their stomachs.
“It’s so hard to just walk by these bars and see girls half naked that look your age or younger and you know what’s going on,” she said. “Just having that pre-awareness going into it of like, ‘This is what’s happening, this is what these girls are doing, this is what these girls are put through,’ and then walking through it and seeing it is super hard.” Yet through it all, McIntire still was able to find God’s love through the work being done in a rescue home in Cambodia.
“A lot of girls were training to do hair and nails, so lots of us got an updo or our hair done, people got their nails done, three of us got our hair cut, just so the girls could practice,” she said.
“Just to be able to smile and laugh and be encouraging and say, ‘It looks beautiful, you’re doing great,’ it’s really cool, especially knowing where they come from. The fact that they’re not looking at their past anymore and they’re focusing on their future is inspiring for me.”
Another issue they were exposed to was the lack of clean water. McIntire treasures the memory of what she saw after her group worked with villagers in Thailand to install a water-filtration system.
“We got to see them turn it on, and you saw the water change color,” she said.
It was yet another lesson in how human trafficking affects people there, both directly and indirectly. Having clean water could make the difference in the number of medical bills a family accrues, lowering its debt and ultimately lessening the odds of a child going into the city seeking work and getting tricked by traffickers.
McIntire also witnessed firsthand the effects of labor trafficking – people being forced to work in sweatshops and produce items that could be sold at a fraction of the normal cost. It made her more conscious of where she spends her money.
Finding common ground
Senior Jack Fielteau’s eighth mission trip gave him the opportunity to share the gospel with fellow university students in Côte d’Ivoire (aka Ivory Coast), West Africa.
Fielteau and his team shared the word of God with people of different faiths and taught them how to share God’s love within their community. His favorite experience came during his last full week in Korhogo. “We just really got to just go up there and have a lot of great conversations with Muslims,” Fielteau said.
It made him realize that the two faiths can find a level of common ground before discussing differences.
“We all stem, Muslims and Christians, from the Abrahamic faith where Abraham is a common ancestor, and so they acknowledge that Jesus was a good prophet but believe that He’s not the son of God.”
Learning more about the Muslim culture, he said, was a “really cool” experience, but it was nerve-wracking for some in the group because they thought they might be expected to have all the answers. Fielteau eased their nerves with one simple message:
“It’s important to just step out in faith and share Jesus with them because that’s the most important thing we can do as a follower of Him.”
Fielteau’s work in Côte d’Ivoire might not be over. While in Korhogo he was invited to come back for a yearlong internship, and, while contemplating whether to do it, God gave him his answer while he was writing in his journal.
“Right as I was about to write out, ‘I don’t think I’m going to do it,’ God was just like ‘Why not?’ and I was just like, ‘I have no good reason not to do it.’ “I haven’t committed, but I think that’s what I’m going to do. I guess that’s what’s next, doing a year internship in Côte d’Ivoire.”
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Not only was God’s love universally shared between the missionaries and the locals; doing this work brought together the GCU students as well. The relationships built during a mission trip were summed up best by Burns:
“Literally everyone here, we love God, we love everyone here, and so it went from not knowing each other that well to having that love for one another, which I thought was amazing.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
GCU Today: Honors College students travel the world