In June 2017, I went to China with a team from my church to serve for just over a week. We worked primarily with a couple who were IMB missionaries, but they also had a Hands On student serving with them. He explained to us what the Hands On program was - college students taking off one or two semesters to go to a foreign country and serve alongside career missionaries, some using it as an opportunity to see if they could see themselves being full-time missionaries. I remember thinking to myself as he explained it, “That sounds super cool for some people, but I would never do that, NEVER. It’s definitely not for me.”
I maintained that mindset for a while, but it slowly began to change.
In October 2018, my church, First Baptist Rogers, hosted a Global Impact Celebration (GIC). This event is held every three years, each time for about five days. Many of FBCR’s mission partners come and attend a variety of events, allowing members to interact with them and learn about what they are doing. In years prior, I enjoyed GIC, but I had never made a point to go to most of the events. For some reason, in 2018, I felt the need to go to as many events as possible.
One of the meetings was an IMB representative talking about various opportunities for people to serve with the IMB, including students. I heard about the Hands On program again, but this time my reaction was quite different. I immediately thought to myself, “Maybe I am supposed to do this.”
Another thing I learned about at the GIC was a class called Perspectives - a semester-long class that dives deep into God’s heart for the world and our call to be a part of it. I signed up right away, excited for it to start and hoping it would aid me in making a decision.
Every Tuesday of Spring Semester 2019, I spent three hours learning about God’s desire for all nations to turn to Him. I don’t remember exactly which week it was, but I do remember sitting there one day realizing that I HAD to go. God had been preparing my heart for this realization for months, if not years.
How could I stay in my comfortable life when there were billions of people without the hope and peace I have in Christ? How could I say no to a God who has given me everything? How could I choose my comfort over the lives of others when Christ died for me?
So I had come to the decision I was going to do the Hands On program, but I didn’t know when or where. These are kind of important. I am fortunate my degree plan had some flexibility, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to take a semester off. I decided I would go in Spring 2020.
The final decision was where to go. I spent the summer months of 2019 frequently looking at the IMB Opportunity Finder as they slowly added more and more Spring 2020 Hands On locations. By the end of July, I had it narrowed down to two opportunities - the first in Spain, helping teach English to students in schools and the second in Uganda, empowering women by teaching them how to read.
In August 2019, I went to Collegiate Week. A lot of good came from this week, including my decision of where to go. One thing the speakers repeated over and over was to “Put your yes on the table,” meaning we must be willing to go wherever God calls. I talked to an IMB representative, and she helped me decide to go to Spain. I had been studying Spanish for about six years, so she encouraged me to use this to glorify God. I knew the Bible said to do everything for the glory of God, but I guess I never quite realized what that truly meant.
I went home, and I quickly started the application. By the end of the month, I had submitted the application to go to Spain. By the beginning of October, I was approved and began fundraising and preparing for the journey ahead.
On January 25, 2020, I flew to Los Angeles for a five day training before flying to Seville, Spain on January 31.
I lived just outside of Seville in a pueblo (town) called Tomares. Each week, my teammate and I served in different areas within the church and local community. We helped in 9 different English classes a week at one of the high schools. We got to know the students and were able to invite some to different youth parties at the church. Each week, the church hosted English chats so adults could practice and improve their English skills. We also went into a barrio (neighborhood) in Seville each week to do street evangelism. This pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best way possible. Every other week, the church had a food distribution. This was an awesome opportunity for us to interact with the community, helping meet physical needs while sharing the Gospel. One of my favorite things we did was plan the youth events at the church. We chose what to talk about, games to play, activities to do, and invited the students. These parties were great ways to deepen our relationships and share the Gospel.
Getting to serve as part of a missionary team was amazing. They taught, in word and action, the difference between a mission trip and missional living. They mentored us in weekly Bible studies. The team was kind, welcoming, fun, and supportive. Getting to see the way they served and cared for their community was a privilege.
I think the most important lesson I learned throughout this whole process was that God’s plan is greater than mine. Yes, I had heard this before, and I thought I understood it. But until God completely changed my mindset about missions and plans for the semester, it hadn’t quite clicked. I didn’t think I would ever leave the country for much more than a week, but I did. I was supposed to spend three months in Spain, but I only spent seven weeks. Because of COVID- 19, my plans changed, and I got on a plane home on March 19. While this was a huge surprise for me, God knew the exact day and time that I would leave before I even knew that I was going.