Graduate's mission, far and away: Calm the chaos

Chloe Childerston took an unusual route to her Christian studies degree. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

Slideshow and replay of Friday afternoon ceremony

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Every single one of them has stories.

Graduates often can tell fascinating tales about how they got to Grand Canyon University, what happened while they were on campus and what else they have done in the world.

Chloe Childerston with her fiancé, Jeff Soledispa.

But it’s hard to imagine anyone at Friday afternoon’s Commencement ceremony in GCU Arena coming within several thousand miles of what Chloe Childerston has lived since she was 15. 

They couldn’t possibly have traveled as much as she has traveled or seen what she has seen or experienced what she has experienced abroad.

They most likely didn’t start speaking and understanding Spanish just like that through what only can be described as divine intervention.

And let’s hope they haven’t had anything close to the airline mishaps she has encountered.

Childerston, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Studies with an Emphasis in Global Ministries, wants to be a missionary with her fiancé, Jeff Soledispa. They are getting married in July and plan to be in Costa Rica for at least the next two years with a team organized by Inca Link International, which mainly arranges missions in Latin America.

Childerston’s story starts four years ago in Manta, Ecuador, where she was on a mission trip for a year after graduating from high school.

She had gone there by herself and didn’t know Spanish. We’ll let her take it from there:

“I think at first, it was like an adrenaline rush and was all very exciting. On a mission trip, it’s like, ‘Oh, love and Jesus are our common language.’ But after two weeks that faded, and it was really hard.

“Church was four hours in a language I didn’t speak. Bible study, same thing – how am I supposed to tutor kids if I can’t understand their homework or communicate? Food, bus, taxi, the whole thing – it was exhausting.

“I felt completely deaf and mute. It makes me have a lot of good grace on people who move to the U.S. and don’t speak English.”

Three months into her mission, she still was struggling. To make matters worse, people in Manta speak in slang.

“OK, God, you’re going to have to do it because I’m tired. I’m really tired,” she prayed.

Then it happened. Just like that, she was speaking and understanding words she had never learned. Again, she picks up the story:

“I definitely know it was a miracle Lord thing. Obviously, immersion helped so much, and the kids were super gracious, and my fiancé was really helpful. But I can’t explain it other than Jesus. It kind of just flipped the switch. Then it went to, ‘Oh yeah, I can understand all the sermons.’

“It was still gradual. I am so much further now than I was then in Spanish. There obviously are still holes, but it was a drastic switch. It’s not one of those things where I need to think of it in English and then translate it.”

Travel trauma

Chloe and Jeff, who lives in Ecuador and has never been to the United States, talk solely in Spanish – he knows a little English, but not much. And if they’re talking about what seems to always happen to her at airports, only one word comes to mind: caos. That’s Spanish for chaos.

“My friends joke that wherever I go, chaos follows,” she said, laughing. “It’s like if something is going to go wrong, it usually happens to me. I’ve never had travel abroad go smoothly.”

Childerston used her wits, and again was blessed by a little divine intervention, on a trip to Peru.

The next time you have to wait in an airport for an extra hour or two, remember this story of Childerston’s trip to Peru:

She was going there with a friend, but they got separated and the airline sold the friend’s seat because she was late. Then Childerston’s flight to Miami was delayed, she missed her connection, was stuck overnight there and the airline was out of hotel vouchers. So she had to sleep at the airport.

Believe it or not, it got worse:

“My phone was dead, I had never been to Peru and my friend had all the contact info for the people we were meeting. I thought I’d get a charger when I got to Lima, but there was no charger and they had completely closed the airport – I don’t know why.

“My next flight to Trujillo was supposed to be at 5 a.m., so I didn’t want to go anywhere. I spent the night outside the airport with a lot of people. I was really tired and hadn’t eaten for a long time.

“Then that flight got delayed. I finally got on that flight and landed in Trujillo, but there was no charger, I didn’t know who was picking us up, I didn’t know the place we were going and my friend’s flight had gotten canceled.”

On top of that, people around her made it clear that this was a dangerous place. But then, as if through more divine intervention, the person she was supposed to contact walked up to her an hour later and took her where she was supposed to go.

The challenges didn't stop there

There have been other dangerous situations, such as the shooting while she was at a mall in Ecuador. And then the story of what happened after she arrived at GCU is a little harrowing, too.

She liked the fact that GCU is Christian, affordable, based in an area with a lot of Latino culture (she’s half-Mexican) and has an active Global Outreach program.

Chloe Childerston has faced language and travel challenges in the mission field, but Friday she reached her GCU destination -- graduation. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

But after seeing so much poverty in Ecuador, it was a shock to her system to be on a campus so livable. She also had to adjust to being surrounded by Christian students after she was the only Christ follower in a class of 450 at her public high school in Kansas City, Missouri.

“It was definitely a transition,” she said. “I think my re-entry shock was worse than my culture shock” in going abroad.

“I think a big part of my learning here and what later became my ministry here on campus was creating that safe space to bring sadness and how Christianity comes into that – you can’t just slap a little Bible verse on it.

“I think I needed to heal. There was a lot that I had seen and gone through growing up and in the field in Manta that I hadn’t dealt with, and this was a safe place to learn and grow.”

She and Jeff haven’t seen each other since November, but that’s a drop in the emotional bucket compared to the 620 days they were apart during the pandemic. He proposed to her last August in the coolest of ways: They were on a monkey tour in the jungle with her parents, and at the end of the tour, friends were waiting with a sign and lights and flowers.

Childerston tells these incredible stories with such calm, it begs the obvious question: How do you remain so stoic about it all?

“It depends on what the chaos is, and then what needs to be done, I’ll do,” she said. “If I need to freak out, I’ll freak out later. It’s not helpful in the moment.”

Keep that in mind if you think chaos follows you around. And if you travel overseas, prayer and a sense of humor go a long way, too.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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