Lopes take road less traveled on mission trips

Grand Canyon University public health/pre-med senior Abby Abraham (back row, center, wearing glasses) helped lead a health nutrition class in Buena Vista, Nicaragua. Abraham spent three months as a medical intern while on a mission trip with Students International in Nicaragua this year.

There’s a lot to love about Masaya, Nicaragua, the “City of Flowers,” brimming with all its colonial charm. It’s home to the Masaya Volcano, the Mercado de las Artesanías (the city’s famed craft market), the Coyotepe Fortress and the 18th-century Nuestra Señora de la Asuncíon church.

But those sites weren’t what Grand Canyon University public health/pre-med senior Abby Abraham loved the most.

“There is such community, such an emphasis on relationships here,” said Abraham during a call from her summertime home in Masaya, where the rain from a rainy-season gully washer pinged off the tin roof. “I’ve learned what it means to truly rely on and live in community with one another.

“Our lifestyles back home are very independent of one another; we’re a very individualistic society. But here, it’s completely the opposite. The community helps each other out, looks out for each other.”

The Honors College student was in the final week of a three-month mission trip as a medical intern for Students International, one of GCU Global Outreach’s many partners in connecting students to missions all over the world with a focus on everything from medical trips to evangelism, teaching, women empowerment and construction, to name a few.

Abraham (center), an aspiring doctor, spent her summer working alongside nurse Rebeca Diaz (left) and Dr. Celia Hernandez (right). Hernandez has been bringing medical care to Nicaraguan communities for more than a decade.

Abraham spent her summer staffing medical clinics in five rural Nicaraguan communities alongside Dr. Celia Hernandez, who has been embedded in those communities as a long-term medical missionary for more than a decade. Abraham took vital signs, helped translate and took on minor pharmaceutical duties.

She also assisted at clinics for families with malnourished children and at women’s support groups, where she would participate in “charlas,” or educational talks.

Abraham’s trip to Nicaragua wasn’t her first as a medical missionary. She has served with Students International since she was 16 years old. Her last trip was as an intern for the same organization in the Dominican Republic.

“I keep going back because I absolutely love the organization, and I love the way they set up missions,” she said of Students International, which places students with long-term missionaries and focuses on occupational or vocational ministry to get the Gospel out and build relationships through medical clinics, special needs schools, agriculture, finance and the like.

But Abraham, who will return to her student worker position with Global Outreach in the fall, also keeps returning to serve a purpose higher than just leading a charla or handing out medicine.

“It is so evident how much God is working through the communities here. It is very easy to lose hope when you are seeing so much material poverty. But it also shows you how, in spite of the lack of material things in these communities, they are very fruitful in their relationships, in their faithfulness to God and in their trust of God.”

Office of Spiritual Life Global Outreach Manager Njenga Maina said at least 127 GCU students served on mission trips arranged through his department this spring and summer (though not all the mission organizations GCU is partnering with have turned in their numbers, he said).

They traveled to such countries as South Africa, Mexico, Uganda, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria and France, as well as to few undisclosed locations.

“Students were excited they could travel again,” Maina said of the return to mission trips after they were halted in 2020 for about a year because of the global pandemic.

Njenga Maina, Global Outreach Manager for the Office of Spiritual Life, tries to pair students with mission trips that match their passions.

At the fall 2021 Mission Fair, which featured almost 35 mission organizations, Maina spoke to about a half-dozen students who had never served on a mission trip before.

“They said, ‘Njenga, where can I go? Where can I start?’ … I’d ask them, “What is your passion? What are you pursuing at GCU? You want to work with women? Wonderful,” said Maina, who is always eager to connect students with trips that speak to their passions.

Discovering Peru

Global Outreach helped do just that for Daniel Withers, a senior majoring in Christian studies with an emphasis in global ministry. Withers spent time on a discovery trip in Peru this summer with a small team led by Theology faculty member Dr. Chip Lamca, a former missionary whose area of interest is short-term mission trips.

Withers wanted to be a missionary pilot but changed gears, hoping to be a pastor after he graduates.

Not that he has stopped serving on mission trips. In addition to Peru, he has been to the Czech Republic, Spain and Rwanda.

On this latest excursion, Withers went on a fact-finding trip for his home church, CrossPoint in Chino, California, where he serves on the missions development team. He was there to experience what it’s like to travel in Peru, view living conditions, and visit with pastors to see how to best serve the communities there.

“We were seeing what in short-term missions has changed. What do we need to do differently? Do we need to increase team sizes? Do we need to decrease team sizes? Logistically, with all the restrictions, how are we able to get back into the field?” Withers said.

It is our task, as Christians, to go out and spread the Gospel. I find that to be the most fulfilling part about it.

Christian studies/global ministry senior Daniel Withers

But he also visited one of Peru’s must-see sites.

“When you go to Peru, you can’t miss out on Machu Picchu. One of the best parts about going to a new country is being able to dive into the culture — see how these people live life and to be able to learn a little of the language. I never took a second language in high school, so for me to try to learn Spanish was amusing to the professor,” Withers said.

He added, “For me, God has called me into His ministry.” In doing mission work, he feels he is fulfilling God’s Great Commission from the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus urges His apostles to make “disciples of all nations” and “baptize them.” “It is our task, as Christians, to go out and spread the Gospel. I find that to be the most fulfilling part about it.”

Evangelism in Rome

Riley Mattson would agree.

The GCU elementary education/Christian education major spent almost three months on an evangelical mission trip with the Greater Europe Mission's Ten2 Project in Europe, where she worked alongside several missionaries.

“We were helping them kind of shake up Rome,” said Mattson, who was among six students on her team — Ten2 aims to send 125 students to 20-plus European cities during the summer. They ministered to refugees and at children’s camps, embraced street evangelism and engaged in something as simple as starting Gospel-centered conversations.

Riley Mattson (second from left) started her missionary journey with the Ten2 Project in the French Alps before heading to Rome, Greece and Slovenia.

Mattson first felt a spark for missionary work during her senior year in high school, when she went to New York to teach English. Last summer, she lived in Zambia for two months before this latest mission trip to Europe, which took her to Camp des Cimes in the French Alps for a week for training, Rome for nine weeks to serve alongside missionaries, Greece to explore European Christian history, then Slovenia for Greater Europe Mission's annual conference, which brings together more than 400 missionaries from more than 26 countries.

She found joy in the friendships she made and the richness of the experiences she had.

In Greece, “We got to go explore some of Paul’s second missionary journey, which is super cool. We got to go to Corinth. We got to go to Mars Hill. We got to explore Athens.”

But the trip wasn't without its challenges.

Mattson (right) said on her journey this summer, she was reminded of the love God has for her.

“If I’m being brutally honest, this summer has been brutally hard with my relationship with the Lord,” Mattson said. “I think we expect to see fruit when we’re serving the Lord, and sometimes that doesn’t always happen — and we have to be OK with that,” Mattson said of being in Rome, the fountain of Catholicism, where less than 1% of Rome’s residents are Protestant.

“So I think what I’ve learned is joy doesn’t always look like what we think it does. Joy doesn’t always look like laughter. But joy looks like contentment in the Lord and waking up and serving Him and being obedient to Him,” said Mattson, who is thinking of teaching internationally with a mission-minded mindset. “I think I’ve just been really reminded this summer of the love that He has for me, and that’s where I found a lot of my joy.”

Mattson (right) gives a Lopes Up from Europe.

Maina said it’s that joy, faith, compassion and love in these students that make him proud as they represent GCU in their missions around the world.

“I had a new organization reach out to me. They said, ‘I heard so many great things about GCU. Something unique is happening there.’

And hearing that, Maina said, “It excites me.”

The next Missions Fair is scheduled for Oct. 10.

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


Related content:

GCU News: Love knows no boundaries on mission trips

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

GCU News: After hail clears out, students storm Mission Fair


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