Transformed by missions, students become 'gospel-global' citizensby C. Walter Overman
During his three years as a student at Chowan University, Austin Tallant has participated in mission trips to Haiti, Cuba and New York City.
“There is nothing in this world better than going on a mission trip and experiencing God in a different way,” said Tallant, a rising senior from Phoenix, Ariz. “I can’t get enough of that.”
When Tallant heard about Chowan’s annual international mission trip in May he quickly volunteered. For Tallant, mission trips are a natural outlet to serve others.
“I’ve had so many opportunities in my life; I just have to go,” he said. “It wouldn’t be right for me not to go.”
Tallant was one of 15 students and staff from Chowan to participate in the recent mission trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where they ministered among more than 200,000 street children who call the city home.
Orphaned or abandoned, and as young as five years old, the children come to the city in search of money, food and shelter.
Money, food and shelter are in short supply in Ethiopia, where the average income per citizen is $125 per year. When children arrive in Addis Ababa they often have little choice but to live on the streets where they beg and sometimes steal to survive.
Yet, despite their circumstances, they have a contagious zeal for life and a love for others, and all they desire in return is love.
“These kids are so loving; it’s remarkable to see,” Tallant said. “If we could just have their exuberance and their love throughout our lives, imagine how much better the world would be.”
The Ethiopia trip was part of Transform 122, a collegiate missions initiative sponsored by North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) and Baptist Campus Ministry that seeks to help involve college students in global missions opportunities. Transform 122 is based on Romans 12:2.
“We want college students to grow a passion for missions, to see a vision of helping others,” said Tom Beam, NCBM student missions mobilization consultant. “The way to do that is to involve them in missions in our local area, in our country and all around the world.”
Through Transform 122, the Chowan team worked with Onesimus Ministries, a Christ-centered organization that provides tutoring, social work, character building and spiritual ministry to street children. The organization’s goal is to place the children in Christian foster homes, or to reconnect them with family when possible.
The Chowan students ministered daily at a drop-in center operated by Onesimus. Every day children at the center receive clothing, showers, food and participate in activities such as Bible stories, music, art and soccer clinics.
“It’s a complex problem,” said Mari Wiles, Chowan campus minister. “They have the largest number of documented street children of anywhere in the world. There’s a myth in the rural areas that if one can make it to the city they can find wealth and prosperity.”
Wiles said the children’s stories were heart breaking because in many cases their plight was caused by adults who acted irresponsibly.
“One child said he travelled 500 miles under a bus. When he got there no one was there to help him so he started begging and stealing to survive,” Wiles said. “Children shouldn’t have to survive on their own.”
Each year Wiles coordinates three or four mission trips for Chowan students, including an international trip. She said the trips stress the importance of God’s people being engaged globally.
“God is global and the needs of God’s people are global. One thing we talk a lot about is that maybe the call of God and the cries of the world sound the same,” she said. “There’s nothing like leaving home to help you become a gospel-global citizen, and that’s one of the beauties of the trip.”
Wiles said the student’s experience transformed their understanding of success. Unlike American culture, which pushes status as the measure of success, she said the students learned that real status in the eyes of God is humble service.
“Maybe we couldn’t solve the whole issue of street children, but it was making a difference in the individual lives and that matters,” Wiles said. “Our students also got to see that they can be a part of the solutions to the world and not be apathetic, and that it’s ok when your heart breaks for the cause of Christ because that kind of break makes us stronger, not weaker.”
Troy Dicks, a rising junior from Charleston, S.C., has participated in mission trips in the United States, but this was his first overseas experience. He said no amount of preparation could fully prepare him for the trip.
“When you go overseas it’s a different lifestyle. You get thrown for a loop because you don’t really have the base that you have when you do mission trips with kids in the United States,” he said. “You can’t understand that reading that out of a book.”
During the trip Dicks saw 20 children trust Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior – the highlight of the trip.
Dicks said his overseas experience reminded him how blessed he is to live in the United States.
“This trip allowed me to feel even that much more blessed and humbles me even more to know that God has put me in this situation where I can be a help to people,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to do if I have the opportunity.”