Mission Trips Leave Lasting Imprint on North Park Students

Post a Comment » Written on July 30th, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO (July 30, 2009) – North Park University senior Chelsea Redding still isn’t quite sure how the deep relationship developed between her and Am (accompanying photo), the woman she stayed with in Thailand during two mission trips.

“Am speaks no English, and I speak a little Thai, so there was a lot of smiling, a lot of hand gestures, and a lot of  ‘I don’t knows,’ ” recalls Redding, who says every day Am would wake her up in the morning, feed her breakfast, and drive her to the fish farm where she and a team of her North Park classmates were working.

At night after dinner, some days Redding would stay up and watch Thai TV with Am and her husband, Dan. Most evenings, however, she would fall asleep early, exhausted from the day’s labor.

Before the students returned to Chicago, the team and the people from the village participated in a string-tying ceremony. Originally a Buddhist tradition, the fish farm adopted it into Christianity as a way to show love between people. Every member of the community tied a white string on the wrists of the Americans as a way of expressing thanks to them and to God.

“This past trip, when Am came around to tie a string on me, she was overwhelmed by tears,” Redding recalls. “She tried to speak, but kept crying and choking up. I couldn’t keep my eyes dry either, and we hugged and cried together.”

ThailandRedding says she still wonders why Am cried. “I didn’t do anything,” she reflects. “I only ate her food, slept on her bed, and brought home my nice white T-shirts all sweaty and muddy every night—which she insisted on cleaning for me.”

It was Redding’s second trip to Thailand through the school’s Global Partnerships program. This year, 155 students are working at sites around the world for one to three weeks at a time. Like Redding, who grew up attending Covenant churches in Attleboro and Springfield, Massachusetts, some have returned multiple times to the locations at which they previously served.

The Global Partnerships program began in 2006. Prior to that, University Ministries had no coordinated plan for mission trips. Rather, students would approach staff to express interest in leading trips to certain locations and ask if the university would help support the experience.

Ultimately, the staff decided an organized program would be more advantageous for everyone, says Julia Styles Hastie, the Global Partnerships coordinator. The trips can be expensive, but funds from a Lilly Endowment grant have helped to defray costs for most students. An anonymous donor also provided $20,000, she says.

Global Partnerships works internationally with partners in Thailand, India, Zambia, Mexico, Ecuador, and formerly Bolivia. In the United States, students have worked in Alaska, New Orleans, and Appalachia.

Many of the ministries already are connected with the Evangelical Covenant Church, such as work in Thailand and Fuentes Libres, a bank in Mexico that provides microenterprise loans to women so they can start or expand small businesses. The newest partner is Truthseekers International in India, which seeks to bring about reconciliation among people of the different castes. Covenanters Kyle and Noel Becchetti, help direct the organization’s operations.

“I came to North Park timid and excited to serve, but as a follower,” says senior Nicole Taylor, who has participated in four trips. A co-leader on her second trip to Bolivia, she says she found herself forced to make spiritual, financial, and medical decisions that really allowed her to grow as a leader and to trust God on a more intimate level.

That newfound intimacy has changed her life. “I have struggled with relational trust my whole life because I am afraid of failure,” she admits. “But, I have learned that God is unfailing. His love is unconditional and unchanging.”

“For children who have so little, to be so joyful in giving what they have was a humbling experience to witness.”

Nathan Albert, a third-year North Park Theological Seminary student, says the first time he traveled to India, he was touched by the way children shared possessions. “I was asked by a young child if I was thirsty,” he says. “She made sure I had the coldest water, and although plastic cups were what were usually used for water, she made sure I had one made from glass.”

Hannah Schultz has traveled to New Orleans twice and Zambia twice, leading her second trip to Africa. It was there that children from an orphanage showed her how to give back to God.

“There was one church service we attended while in Zambia in which everyone danced and sang and brought up their tithes to the front as a celebration of what God had provided for them,” Schultz says. She watched and reflected on how the Africans gave with such a joyous spirit, realizing that she and others often do so grudgingly.

“One of the older children from the orphanage that we worked with got up and brought to the front an offering that she and the other 14 orphans had collected and gave it to God,” she remembers. “For children who have so little, to be so joyful in giving what they have was a humbling experience to witness.”

Styles Hastie says she hopes North Park students will influence their churches at home to get involved in their own global partnerships. The students already encourage their classmates who didn’t go on trips to contribute.

Even the missionaries are touched by the students’ commitment. “I enjoy seeing the enthusiasm of the students and how they approach life with hope and optimism,” says Randy Bevis, a Covenant missionary who oversees the work in Thailand. “It’s a good reminder for those who have been around the block awhile and sometimes lose sight of those qualities.”

Editor’s note: portions of this material were drawn from an online article published on the North Park University website.

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